Kia Niro PHEV Test Drive Review


The plug-in Niro excels in many ways, even though its battery range is not segment-leading.

– Detroit, Michigan

VERDICT    7.1 / 10

Kia, the new Niro Plug-In Hybrid is an easy way to convince shoppers of the virtues of electricity: with a larger battery and more powerful motor than the non-plug-in hybrid Niro, it can travel up to 26 miles on electricity alone and still returns 46 miles per gallon combined when the battery is exhausted. Just like the standard Niro, this plug-in hybrid hatchback eschews the weird tropes of other eco-focused cars, packing its thrifty drivetrain in a fun and useful package.

Pricing         6.0 /10

With a starting price before destination and options of $27,900, the Kia Niro PHEV compares favorably to the sticker prices of its key rivals: The $24,950 Hyundai Ioniq PHEV, $27,100 Toyota Prius Prime, $33,220 Chevrolet Volt, and the $33,400 Honda Clarity PHEV. (Of course, the Niro’s score here suffers because it’s relatively pricey as hatchbacks in general go.) Yet it’s quite easy to add a lot to the car’s price if you move up the trim level walk; this tester, the top-tier EX Premium trim level, is $35,440. However, the Niro PHEV is eligible for a federal tax credit for plug-in cars of $4,543, which can help offset that cost. (Find out what tax breaks rival PHEVs are eligible for at this website.)

Kia Niro PHEV

Design & Exterior         5.4 /10

The Niro scores big points here for looking more like a normal hatchback than most of its rivals; there are very few eco-car styling cues, which is a positive. Like most new Kia designs, it’s a fun and funky look, with lots of rounded corners and a squat stance from having the wheels pushed out to the corners. Yet as much as I like the look of the Niro, it doesn’t do a lot to stand out from the crowd. Especially in this tester’s subdued Gravity Blue paint on its nondescript 16-inch wheels, the Niro looks stylish but somewhat anonymous.

Interior & Comfort         7.4 /10

The materials are pleasant to look at and touch, with clearly legible gauges and switches. But there’s not a lot of visual flair here to draw your attention. Still, driver and passengers will be comfortable, with lots of headroom afforded by the Niro’s tall-box design. Cargo space with the back seat raised is about on par with other hatchbacks, like a Volkswagen Golf, though in this tester the 120-volt charging kit did take up a backpack’s worth of space. Still, I had no issue fitting a carry-on suitcase and backpack for a trip from Detroit to Chicago, and the rear seatbacks fold down easily if you need more room.

Urban motoring on electric power is nice and quiet, with almost zero noise coming from the drivetrain. When the gasoline engine is running, you’ll know it: the 1.6-liter is gruff and loud, especially under hard acceleration or highway cruising. The Niro’s cabin also admits more road and wind noise than the segment average.

Technology & Connectivity         7.8 /10

Both versions of the Kia Niro PHEV’s touchscreen infotainment system are excellent, and both come with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto support standard. On LX and EX trims it’s a 7-inch screen, while this EX Premium tester has an 8-inch display that adds built-in navigation. The on-screen menus and graphics are crisp and fleet to respond to the touch. Being a plug-in car, the Niro also has myriad displays for monitoring your energy usage, scheduling charging times, and so on. LX and EX models receive a 4.2-inch color trip computer, while this EX Premium upgrades to a 7-inch display with even more room for music, fuel efficiency, and navigation information. The EX Premium also packs wireless phone charging, conveniently in a rubber-lined compartment ahead of the shifter that perfectly holds my phone.

Performance & Handling         5.5 /10

Zippy off the line, thanks to the swell of low-end torque from its electric motor, the Niro’s acceleration diminishes notably above urban speeds. Response from the accelerator pedal is direct and responsive, but with just 139 horsepower combined, the car is not especially brisk for highway passing. On the other hand, its very car-like driving experience is a welcome change from some other plug-ins. The steering has a solid heft to it, and the brake pedal is remarkably firm and consistent whether the regenerative or friction brakes are at work. The ride is a little choppy over broken pavement and the Niro can wander a little on longer highway drives, though.

Safety Features         8.6 /10

Kia generously equips every Niro PHEV with pre-collision warning and braking, lane-keep assist, and adaptive cruise control. It’s necessary to move up to the mid-grade EX level to add blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert, while the EX Premium I tested builds on those with front and rear parking sensors. Overall, that’s a healthy list of safety features available for modest prices.

Visibility is quite good in all directions. The rear window is short in height, though, so the wiper is small and does not clear the farthest sides of the glass; you’ll find that a frustration when driving in snow or rain.

Running Costs & Fuel Economy         9.1 /10

Plug-in hybrid technology will save buyers plenty at the pump. EPA estimates say the Niro PHEV should travel 26 miles on a fully charged battery. Even when the battery charge is depleted and it’s driven as a normal hybrid, the Niro should still return 46 miles per gallon combined, with 48 mpg in the city and 44 mpg highway. Juicing up the lithium-ion polymer battery at a 240-volt (Level 2) charger, as is commonly found at public charging places, will take just two and a half hours.

That all-electric range, by the way, is good but not quite class-leading. The Ioniq manages 29 miles of EV motoring on a single charge, the Clarity PHEV is rated for 48 miles, and the Chevy Volt is EPA-rated at 53 miles of range. Kia is ahead of the Prius Prime, however, which can only do 25 miles.

See The Range Of All PHEVs Here – Compare EVs

Kia Niro Specs

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42 Comments on "Kia Niro PHEV Test Drive Review"

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DCT + weak electric motor = weak offering to me. The engine would need to light to get me up one of the hills on my 5 mile commute (I know this because my Volt can display power utilization on the fly). The BEV version looks like it will be pretty compelling though.

What is that actual value?

I can see kW draw with my Prime and I know that some claimed needs fall apart when real-world data is reviewed.

Nothing about the lack of battery-sourced heat? That feels like a huge disservice the Korean PHEVs do to what I would think is the standard use case of a PHEV – short trips on battery, long trips in hybrid mode.

I have to agree.

What’s the point in making a PHEV version of this car if you can’t drive in full electric mode without the gas engine coming on to heat the interior of the vehicle in the winter for short drives?

I agree – it is lame that turning on the heater will drastically reduce the mileage, in addition to preventing running on battery. The other brand PHEVs or hybrids don’t have this issue. This is one of the main points that need to be mentioned in a review of this car.

Dramatically reduced emissions & consumption still applies, even if a small amount of gas is used.

Keep in mind, the engine won’t run continuously for heat. It will cycle on & off. It won’t run with a heavy load either.

Hey here is a unique idea, how about making a light weight vehicle out of carbon fiber and coupling it with a small efficient diesel engine. It would run circles around these over complicated high tech crap cars

You’d lose the affordable price.

Low MSRP is key.

Because diesel exhaust is extremely harmful to the health of anything with lungs. That is why.

My 2016 Sonata PHEV guzzles gas when the engine in running to heat the interior of the vehicle.

It goes from over 99.9 mpg to between 30 to 40 miles per gallon for in city driving, depending on whether or not I’m using the traction battery to propel the vehicle.

Using the vehicle engine just to heat simply heat the interior of the vehicle is probably the worst thing you can do, especially for short trips!

Basically for my usage, the car is an EV for about 7 to 8 months of the year and a HEV for 4 to 5 months a year.

If the vehicle’s engine was driving a bigger generator while heating the interior of the vehicle to be useful enough to drive the traction motor I might be a little more forgiving.

Unfortunately, I didn’t do enough homework, but I can warn others.

I hadn’t thought of the clutch/motor arrangement limiting engine flexibility.

That video shows a recent drive with my Prime, in Minnesota at 19°F on my commute home. I started with a cold engine and only 1% battery available.

Not only does it place extra load on the engine for faster heat, but you can also increase it yourself by switching to charge-mode. The end result is better use of the engine, rather than wasting so much just so heat.

Does the Clarity PHEV engine turn on for the heater? How about during aggressive acceleration?

Comments like this drive me nuts:

“Of course, the Niro’s score here suffers because it’s relatively pricey as hatchbacks in general go”

A hatchback is *MORE* than a sedan, not less. Is it only Americans who can’t figure this out?

Yes, a hatchback means Camping is easy.

VW Golf Sportwagen is the appropriate comparison in my opinion. Especially since Hyundai/Kia stole the head of engineering from Audi.

Yep, only Americans … as far as I can tell. Where else do they discontinue importing hatchbacks in exchange for a sedan version of the same car … well, Canada sometimes, because we often have to take what US imports … power of volumes, it’s called.

Great mpg from a hard working engine. This is a great cross shop from a CrossTrek or RAV4

“EPA estimates say the Niro PHEV should travel 26 miles on a fully charged battery.”

Sure, but what did it *actually* do, and how often did the gas engine kick in?

How was the seat comfort?

I could have written this review without even driving the car, although I have driven the regular hybrid version.

But I really want the BEV Niro.

The Niro’s styling makes the Bolt look sexy.

Only blindness can make the Bolt look sexy!

Sorry, it doesn’t in my eyes. But, I will be glad to give you a draw with the Soul … that’s all you get though. But I have to say the seats in the Soul feel upscale when compared with the bench kind you got in your car … 🙂 … and you know what we do all the time … “sit” in our cars … not to look at them from outside.

R u Chevy salesperson or do you own Bolt?

You must be new here if you have to ask.

He owns a Bolt and has a blog site for it.

He’s a huge Bolt fanboi…nothing wrong with that.

What about the suspension, handling and ride?

Full independent multi-link suspension all around.
Nissan needs to take lessons here.

Owner of EX Premium Replaced my totalled Hyundai Ioniq. Still own 2 Ioniqs. The interior front volume is much appreciated -6’4″. The gas engine doesn’t “kick in”. You have a button to choose electric or hybrid. I run errands and only use electric on those short trips. Work at home most of the time and office is only 2 miles. I actually get about 30-31 miles running electric with regen. Only have purchased gas once with 500 miles on odometer and that was about 2 gallons to top off tank from where dealer didn’t give me a full tank. With running electric only, it shows 999mpg. With operating electric only about 70% of the time, I am at 280mpg. My overall range is still showing 480 miles every time I start driving. I only charge with 110v in my garage overnight. For every hour charged, it is adding 14% charge to battery. It rides better than either of my Ioniqs. I understand my driving habits aren’t typical. But, I plan my trips to fully take advantage of the vehicle’s capabilities. I don’t do jack rabbit starts and look ahead at traffic and lights/stop signs to get the best mileage possible.… Read more »

Thank you. This says more about the car than the “review”

That’s what happens when petrol heads review cars with EV features. Basically waste of time …

Bingo. I love this car. Test drove the hybrid and waiting for the PHEV to buy. I owned a 2001 Hyundai Elantra wagon, 2003 VW Jetta Wagon, and 2009 Audi A3 wagon. This thing was on par at least with the VW if not the Audi in terms of comfort, ride, etc. I say again…Kia/Hyundai done good when they got Audi’s chief design guy. The ever so slightly lifted seating position makes for great ingress/egress. And I love the fact that there’s a DSG transmission instead of the blasted CVT. A pleasure to drive. No special stupid chargers necessary. Just plug it in overnight. My utility just came with a sub-metered EV rate for 5.5 cents off peak (10 pm to 5 am) so that’s going to be super-cheap.

Great job making a great car that can be bought for reasonable money and be extremely efficient and practical.

Thanks for the info. Those are good things to know. I have been thinking about thos car too.

About that dsg – what is the maintenance cost and frequency? Back in 2009 I had a TDI sportwagen that I chose the 6 speed manual on INSTEAD of the DSG due to the DSG being bith an expensive option and the recommended maintenance being expensive every 40k miles if I recall.

I had a 2009 Audi A3 with a DSG which is the exact same transmission as you describe. Drove it 185,000 miles and the dealer didn’t even so much as suggest servicing. I just looked up the 2009 Audi DSG service schedule and it doesn’t call for changing. The Kia Niro owner’s manual says to ‘inspect’ at 40,000 and 80,000 and to change at 80,000 for certain harsh driving. DSG’s are really just a fancy manual and so there’s not as much maintenance as a standard automatic. Page 9-14. Note 6 says change anytime it gets submerged…duh.

Interesting. Everything I heard was it was much differrnt. At the time folks were paying 400-500 at the dealer at 40k. Some more.

Maybe you had better dealers nearby or the cost went down later.

I do not regret getting the 6 speed manual though that aspect was fun. That is the last car I had with a manual and given that I am more interrsted in EVs now there might not be another.

All you have to do is read the manual and show them. In fact the manufacturer recommended way to change fluid if for some reason it needs it, doesn’t even involve draining the fluid. The transmission has a ‘snorkel’ and you can’t even check the fluid levels. The way you check fluid level is to add fluid until it runs out the plug hole. i.e. this transmission is not meant to be serviced unless something is wrong. The Ford Fusion I’m going to get rid of when I get the Niro is partly because our dealer is pulling the same stunts. Such as: 1. Keeps putting annoying 3000 mile oil change sticker in window and telling me that needs to be done even though the manual says 10,000 and the computer setting is 10,000 and tells you oil life. 2. Told me I needed new spark plugs because it was due for them at 60,000 miles. Nope. No such thing in the manual. Ford has advertised 100,000 mile plugs for at least 25 years. And not even they recommended any transmission service. Just shy of 100,000 miles now and the service guy at the Ford dealer hasn’t mentioned it. You… Read more »

Oh and I forgot fun to drive. COMPLETELY different than all these lame automatic transmissions that put a manual shift mode in and it feels like old jello and just ignores your inputs or shifts slow. DSG is the same exact transmission (almost) as their 6 speed manual. All the convenience of an auto with 80% of the fun of a manual when desired.

I did not get screwed. I bought the 6speed manual which has less scheduled maintenance to avoid dealing with those dealership service centers that screw others.

Your reply got me curious and I finally found the service schedule (initial search filled with hits about high cost). The 2009 VW service schedule does say it is 40k for the DSG. It does not say simply inspect. It says replace fluid and filter.

On forums there was a minority of owners that did there own thing but for easy resale it is nice to not have to explain why you did something different than the service schedule recommended bu VW.

What’s the level 2 charging rate? 3.3kwh or 6.6kwh?

2 1/2 hours for under 9 kwh seems to be 3.3 kw or thereabouts.

60kWh BEV coming later this year is on my wish list but I doubt they’ll make enough for the US market to give any significant discounts from MSRP . . .

I bought one of these in January and I’m really enjoying the car. Reading through all the comments I think it’s important to distinguish this is a PHEV not a BEV. I bring that up because of the comments on how the ICE is used for cabin heating. If you consider the cost of the vehicle, and that there are two full drive trains involved I’m not surprised that a designer would use the ICE engine for heat in cold weather. In practice, it works pretty well, maybe not the most efficient solution from an energy per btu generated. However I’m not sure there is a better way to do this and attempt to hold the 26 mile range of the 8.9kWh battery. The engine will start, heat up the coolant, and charge. Then it shuts down as the temperature of the coolant falls to a certain set point (not sure what that is exactly) it cycles again. The engine does not drive the car in this mode. This means I’ve been able to drive the car propelled just the traction motor (EV) to and from work daily throughout the winter months here in WI. My commute is approximately 24… Read more »

Your practical use case does not line up with the purists on this site. Plus you live in Wisconsin so nobody cares. They just want to hear that it lacks a heat pump because it hit 40F on morning last winter and a heat pump is necessary.

By eliminating the complications of a heat pump, electric resistance heating, etc Kia eliminates a bunch of cost as well as a bunch of complexity and offers a superior solution for anyone living north of the Ohio River.

Thanks for the info Jodie. For your 24 mile round trip, in cold weather, have you kept track of gas consumption? Does it have to use the engine for AC also?