Last year when I tested Kia's newest hybrid, the Niro, I applauded Kia for making a Prius-like vehicle that didn't look like the eco-friendly, tree-hugging, fuel-saving car that it is. With a price starting under $23,000 and able to achieve up to 49 mpg, how can such a fuel-efficient car get any better?
Well for 2018 it just has.
This year Kia is offering a plug-in version of the Niro, called the Niro PHEV (Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle). So if you play your cards right and keep your commutes in order, you can avoid gas stations altogether.
It will take a sharp eye to spot the Niro PHEV from the regular Niro Hybrid. On the exterior, the only clues are the charging port on the driver's side front fender and some badges on the rear hatch. To the world, this Niro is no different.
But it is in small way. With a larger battery pack, the Niro PHEV can travel 26 miles in full electric vehicle mode before transforming back into the Niro Hybrid, where is still can achieve about 46 mpg. Fully charged and with a full tank of gas, the Niro has a range of well over 500 miles.
Despite the larger battery pack, the Niro loses nothing when it comes to interior space. The cabin, which is quite stylish, offers plenty of room for both front and back passengers. The Niro PHEV EX Premium that I am in this week has some nice amenities like a dual-zone climate control, Harmon-Kardon Premium Sound System, heated steering wheel, heated and vented front seats and many safety features including blind-spot detection and a forward collision warning system. The MSRP on this loaded Niro is $35,575.
On the outside, the Niro has a unique shape - it's slightly shorter than a regular Prius but stands two inches taller and boasts an SUV-like profile. It's not an eye-catcher, that's for sure, but at the same time, most would never guess the fuel-efficiency it's capable of.
Powering the Niro is a 1.6 liter four-cylinder engine assisted by a 43-hp electric motor. It's a fairly simple system compared to Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive, but works well nonetheless. When you start the Niro, it goes automatically to EV (Electric Vehicle) mode - but you can switch it to hybrid mode by pushing a button next to the center-console shifter. Once the battery is depleted, the Niro automatically goes into hybrid mode.
Charging the Niro PHEV is a matter of plugging it in to a standard 120-volt household outlet. Nine hours later, it's fully charged. To prevent theft, the charger stays attached to the car when the car is locked and can only be disconnected when the car is unlocked.
As one would expect, with a vehicle like the Niro PHEV, you give up excitement for efficiency. With a total horsepower rating of just 139 this is no rocket ship, but I'm happy to say that the Niro never felt short on power. As a commuter car goes, much like the Prius, the Niro PHEV fits the role like a glove.