For a plug-in hybrid, it's a solid contender. However, its EV range is no match for the likes of the RAV4 Prime.
The Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV) is the middle sibling in a trio of compact SUVs that deliver value, quality, and dependability. The Niro is available as a mild-hybrid, a Plug-In Hybrid that delivers good electric-only performance, and a full electric version that has excellent long-range performance. This strategy gives Niro customers the option to pick the version that makes the most sense for their needs. A mild-hybrid that gives good mileage at an affordable price; a Plug-In-Hybrid for those that want the convenience of all-electric driving for urban commuting, but the range of an ICE for long-distance travel in areas where the EV infrastructure is sparse; and a full long-range EV for driving in urban and rural areas where the EV infrastructure is well built out.
What is the Niro PHEV?
The Niro PHEV is a CUV (Compact Utility Vehicle) offers a competitive price that starts at $29490 and still qualifies for federal tax credits as well as state, local, utility and other rebates. These credits and rebates can lower the cost of the Niro to below $25,000, depending on where you live. The Niro PHEV offers an EPA rated combined MPG of 46 mpg and 26 Miles of electric only range or more under real-world driving. During our time with the Niro, it easily beat the EPA ratings with an average of 59.3 MPG a total electric/gas range of almost 600 miles. The Niro PHEV has industry-standard J1772 charging for use at home or on the road and has class-leading safety and convenience features that are on par with conventional luxury CUVs.
The Niro EV is part of a family of CUVs that was designed with conventional, hybrid, and electric powertrains in mind. This strategy allows Kia to leverage the costs of manufacturing the Niro over a much broader base than just one vehicle and gives Kia the flexibility to match supply with demand.
Overall, the Niro is about the same size as the Lexus UX, Toyota RAV4, Chevy Bolt and its cousin the Hyundai Kona. It is shorter than the Nissan Leaf and has less cargo space, but its passenger space feels quite roomy despite it being a small crossover. It’s actually a five-door hatchback reimagined for the 21st-century compact crossover buyer.
Gallery: 2020 Kia Niro PHEV Test Drive
What’s under the hood?
The Niro PHEV is powered by a 1.6L direct-injection inline 4-cylinder DOHC with four valves/cylinder engine rated at 104 hp and 109 lb.-ft. of torque. The gas engine is paired with an AC synchronous permanent magnet motor rated at 60 hp. and 125 lb.-ft. of torque for a total combined power of 139 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. The gas engine is fed by a 11.4-gallon gas tank, and the electric motor gets its juice from a trunk mounted 8.9 kWh Lithium-Ion Polymer battery. Charging the battery with the Niro’s 3.3 kW on-board charger can take up to nine hours with 110v Level 1 charging, but will drop to about two hours using a 240v Level 2 charging station.
The Niro PHEV’s transmission is a 6-speed dual clutch transmission driving the front wheels. There are two driving modes, EV-only and Hybrid-Electric mode and Eco and Sport transmission shifting profiles. We found that during our time with the Niro PHEV, we left it in HEV mode and Eco, and let the car figure out the best combination of gas and electric power. That gives the Niro PHEV adequate power that gets it from 0-60 in 8.6 seconds. In electric only mode, the acceleration is firm with the EV torque, but not overwhelming. When the gas engine kicks in under acceleration, the powertrain is buzzy and sounds like it is really working hard. But under most situations the gas motor and electric motor work together to provide a really seamless driving experience. The Niro PHEV EX and EX Premium also have three levels of adjustable regeneration using steering wheel paddle shifters. Using regeneration, it is possible for the Niro PHEV to regain much of its battery charge with just regular driving.
Exterior/interior and cargo space
The Niro PHEV is well-equipped with creature comforts and technology features. There are three trim levels available – the LXS base model, the EX that expands features, and the EX Premium, which was the trim version evaluated. The Premium has all of the features of the EX, but adds a power sunroof, LED headlights, a 10.25-inch Touch Screen Infotainment screen and a Harman Kardon sound system with a subwoofer. A wireless phone charger, mood lighting, and leather upholstery round out the upgrades.
On all trims there is either a large 4.2 or 7.0-inch display for the driver and an 8.0 or 10.25 infotainment display that provide excellent, clear, easy-to-see access to controls and information. Niro audio systems offer Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Sirius XM, HD radio, Bluetooth and USB 3.0 inputs standard. The Niro’s audio systems have excellent sound and can be paired with just about any audio source. The front and rear seats are comfortable, with eight- or 10-way seats designed for Americans in either cloth, leather or a combination, depending on the trim. The rear seating for some may be a bit tight, but generally, it is on par with the Niro EV’s competitors. The Niro’s interior is comfortable, but the rear seat foot room is a bit tight because of the high-back seat cushion.
The EPA/SAE passenger volume is a spacious 100.9 cu. ft. Cargo capacity for the Niro PHEV is average for a CUV at 19.2 cu. ft. with the rear seats up and expands to 54.5 cu. ft. with the rear seats down, which is perfect for carrying just about everything from a couple of bags of groceries, to a week’s worth of camping gear.
There are three levels of trim for the Niro PHEV that range from spartan to fully equipped, depending on your needs and pocketbook. All trims come with a long list of standard features that regardless of the trim selected, offer real value. For example, all trims include a 6-way adjustable passenger seat with a height adjustor and leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a tilt and telescoping steering column. Cruise control power windows and locks with a smart key that includes push-button start are also standard. Ten airbags are included across all trim levels, as well as stability controls, hill-start assist, solar-control side-windows and privacy glass.
The Niro offers an extensive suite of active safety technology standard. This includes forward-collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, lane-departure and blind-spot assists, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance and automated high beams. Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capabilities is standard on the EX and EX Premium. With the adaptive cruise control, the Niro is a near Level 2 autonomous safety assist system like those from Tesla, Nissan, GM, Hyundai and others, and is very competent and on par with the current top-tier safety systems. The only nitpick about the safety systems is that they really get your attention with a loud non-adjustable beeping that can be annoying, especially the backup warning chime.
How does it drive
The Niro PHEV is not a performance car, but it isn’t a slug either because of the electric motor assist. The cabin is quiet with very little road or wind noise, and the ride quality is smooth, and handles pavement irregularities with aplomb. The safety and L2 autonomous features make it a competent freeway cruiser. The leather seating on our EX Premium included both heated and cooled seats, and a very upscale looking dash, unfortunately it was very glossy, and tended to reflect glare right into the passenger or drivers face depending on where the sun was. The EX Premium’s navigation system is EV aware and can predict EV only range depending on terrain, and could show where charging stations are in relation to the vehicle, but that was sometimes hit or miss.
Plug-In Hybrid Performance
The name of the game with hybrids is range, and all three trims levels of the Niro PHEV do not disappoint. By staying in the Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) mode, the Niro gets the best combination of mpg and EV range. While the EPA ratings of 26 EV only range and 48 city, 44 highway and 46 combined, Niro PHEV owners report routinely exceeding those numbers by a significant number. During our time with the Niro we traveled from sea level in the San Francisco Bay area to 7500+ ft. at Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada mountains and back. Our 510-mile round trip averaged 59.3 mpg, using 8.6 gallons of gas and still had 91 miles of range from the 11.4 gas tank. All the while the Niro’s battery kept itself charged from regeneration that we always had 10-15% of battery capacity available. Some Niro PHEV hypermiling experts report an average of 88-89 mpg and while recharging at home every night, only having to visit the gas station every couple of months!
The 2020 Niro PHEV warranty includes:
five-year/60,000-mile limited warranty
10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty
10-year/100,000-mile warranty for various hybrid and battery specific components
5-year/100,000-mile limited anti-perforation warranty
5-year/60,000-mile roadside assistance plan
2020 Kia Niro PHEV Pricing
EX Premium: $36,390
Destination Charge: $1,120
The Niro PHEV qualifies for a Federal Tax Credit of $4543, in addition to any state, county utility and credits that vary by location.
As with all PHEVs on the market today the Niro PHEV is a bit of a split personality. It’s not the fastest CUV on the market today, and it’s EV-only range is not spectacular, but when it comes to total range and economy it is one of the best.
It can go 600+ miles on a 11.4- gallon tank of gas without breaking a sweat, and has excellent pure EV manners for urban use. Its plug-in capabilities mean that it can be recharged at any of the thousands of L2 charging stations available nationally, or at home every night.
As with all PHEVs its ability to perform in an urban mode as a pure EV compliments its ability for travel long distances in HEV mode and then return to pure EV mode at the destination give it abilities that pure EVs can only dream about.
Combine these qualities with the level of quality and content that Kia provides at a competitive price makes the Kia Niro PHEV an SUV that should be high on your consideration list.