2018 Kia Niro PHEV Hybrid 2018

Price: $260,000

Features Overview Video
  • 1600cc Hybrid Engine
  • 2WD
  • ABS (4-wheel)
  • Alloy Wheels
  • AM/FM/CD Stereo
  • Audio Steering Controls
  • backup Camera
  • Climate Control Air Condition
  • Dual Air Bags
  • DVD Video System
  • Full Leather Interior
  • Head Curtain Air Bags
  • HID Lighting system
  • Keyless Entry
  • Keyless Start
  • Navigation System
  • Performance Package
  • Power Door Locks
  • Power Mirrors
  • Power Steering
  • Power Windows
  • Push To Start
  • Rear Air Conditioning
  • Rear Spoiler
  • rear window wiper
  • Side Air Bags
  • TV

    Given that “Prius” has become about as synonymous with “hybrid” as “Kleenex” is with “tissue,” Kia’s recent decision to launch its Niro hybrid as a direct shot at Toyota was bold. But even though the Koreans are still new to the game, they seem to be having more success breaking into this market than others who have tried. After going on sale early in the year, the Niro racked up an impressive 27,237 U.S. sales in 2017—that’s far from the regular Prius hybrid’s 65,631 sales over the same time period, but it is a better number than the Honda Insight ever managed in the United States. (The Hyundai Ioniq, which is mechanically similar to the Niro, clocked 11,197 sales.)

    Now the Niro is entering chapter two with a plug-in-hybrid version that stacks up nicely against the plug-in Prius Prime, which racked up a not insignificant 20,936 sales last year. Like the Prime, the plug-in Niro’s changes compared with the conventional hybrid version include a larger battery pack (8.9 kWh versus 1.6 kWh) and a more powerful electric motor (60 horsepower versus 43), which enable it to run solely on electric power more frequently. The EPA says it can go 26 miles on a full charge before firing up the Atkinson-cycle 1.6-liter inline-four, the same engine that is found in the standard Niro.

    The extra hardware adds 177 pounds versus a conventional Niro hybrid Touring that we tested last year, but even though the two hybrids have the same combined power and torque ratings of 139 horsepower and 195 lb-ft, the plug-in Niro EX Premium beat its lighter sibling by 0.6 second from zero to 60 mph. We figure this is because of the extra off-the-line surge provided by the more powerful electric motor; the difference isn’t all that noticeable in everyday driving.
    The extra poundage did surprise us in the way it improved the Niro’s dynamic character. While the standard hybrid—especially in its lighter base trim levels—can sometimes feel a bit waifish, the plug-in manages to retain the standard model’s good ride quality while also feeling more stable and planted on rough roads. The low level of grip from the eco-focused Michelin Energy Saver A/S tires (0.80 g on the skidpad) reveals itself only during spirited attacks on highway on-ramps and the like, although the vague brake-pedal feel is a common—and still discouraging—issue for most hybrids. Notably, different levels of selectable regenerative braking aren’t offered as they are in many rivals.
    The Niro PHEV also suffers from some of the same drivetrain-integration issues that bedevil the conventional hybrid. When the car is running in Hybrid mode and the battery enters its charge-sustaining mode, we noticed some surging and hiccups as the vehicle attempts to blend power from the gas engine and the electric motor. The Niro’s six-speed dual-clutch automatic at least does its job well, and it avoids the high-rpm droning often present in hybrids that use continuously variable automatic transmissions.
    EV Rider
    Running in EV mode with the battery topped off eliminates these refinement issues, but it comes with a big caveat: It’s hard to keep the engine off. Requests for anything beyond mild acceleration will cause the engine to fire up. More annoying is the fact that, because the Kia lacks a resistive heating system like that in the Chevrolet Volt or a heat-pump system like the Toyota Prius Prime’s, if the Niro’s climate control is on, the engine is often running. That might not be an issue in temperate California climes, but during our winter stint with the Niro, emissions-free driving was an untenably cold proposition.
    As a result, we averaged just 39 MPGe, well below the EPA’s 46-mpg combined estimate for hybrid driving. Even so, it beat our average of 35 mpg for the Niro hybrid Touring, and the plug-in also achieved 40 mpg in our 75-mph real-world highway test, 1 mpg better than the hybrid. But a Prius Prime Premium achieved 50 MPGe overall in our care and 49 mpg on our highway test.

    Price Is the Main Sacrifice
    The Niro plug-in asks few other compromises when lined up against its hybrid sibling. Cargo space is unchanged at 19 cubic feet thanks to clever packaging of the larger battery under the cargo floor and rear seat. The interior features the same clean, ergonomic dashboard with easy-to-use infotainment controls and logically arranged buttons and knobs. Price is the main sacrifice you’ll make for the plug-in’s increased electric capabilities, as it adds between $2500 and $5350 to the bottom line when compared with equivalent hybrid trim levels (federal and state tax credits can help erase some of that discrepancy, if you qualify).
    Our top-of-the-line Niro EX Premium test car, while well equipped with equipment such as LED headlights, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with navigation, heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, and adaptive cruise control, cost a steep $35,575, which is a few thousand more than a fully loaded Toyota Prius Prime commands. While the Niro plug-in hybrid offers a nice overall package, it lags the Prius Prime in fuel economy, and that pricing makes us wonder if Kia is getting a bit overconfident in its quest to dethrone the current hybrid king.

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