We’ll start off by saying that the standard Kia Niro hybrid, with its wannabe CUV shell, was one of our favorite new models back when we first compared it to the Hyundai Ioniq. It achieved Prius-like mileage without requiring the driver to pilot something that looked like a fish. But with the Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid EV, there are some additional expectations that come with a 20% price increase over the standard hybrid model.
On paper, this PHEV model should enable the Niro to travel up to 25 miles using only electricity. They claim this is enough daily range for the average American. Well, we took the wheel to see if the added electricity improves upon a good thing or if this plug-in model is all shock and no awe.
On the exterior, the only styling elements that give any indication of this charged-up Niro are the minimal blue accents, an “ECO plug-in” badge on the rear hatch, and a charging port on the driver-side fender. We appreciate that Kia didn’t go the way of so many automakers and add various obnoxious styling elements to draw attention to this plug-in model. The Niro styling remains rather handsome for this budget segment and the touch of bright blue color with this PHEV simply adds to that, especially on a white Niro.
Interior elements are just as subtle with the same blue trim and even a similar “ECO plug-in” badge on the dash. The gray interior and leather seats in our EX Premium model won’t raise your pulse, but they are comfortable and quality nonetheless. The “ECO” theme continues with the bright blue stitching that holds together both the seats, center console, shift boot, and door trim. The Kia interior styling is still rather simplistic and bland, but the materials have drastically improved over the past decade and it’s not a terrible place to be for an extended drive.
Charging the Kia Niro PHEV’s smaller battery took about 8-9 hours each night and range estimates on the car’s computer varied between 23 and 34 miles. As the title of this piece suggests, your mileage may vary, but we could stretch the Niro’s all-electric range just beyond 30 miles in heavy LA commuter traffic. Once we were at the office, a quick 2-hour charge from the public 240-volt outlet would have us topped off and ready for the drive home.
The driving experience between the Niro hybrid and Niro PHEV is as similar as you would expect. However, the Niro PHEV lets you enjoy smoother acceleration and avoids the sometimes rough transition between gasoline and electric that we saw in the hybrid. This improvement and extra efficiency are nice, but the limited range was typically only enough for a portion of our 85-mile round trip commute. We understand that this distance is atypical for the majority of the US, but there are a growing number of southern California residents driving well beyond 50 miles each day for work and errands.
Limited range around 25 miles may work for a large segment of the population, but those buyers aren’t as concerned about gas mileage as those with a longer commute. Thus, the standard Kia Niro hybrid may still be the best bet when considering the increased cost of this Plug-in Hybrid model. That said, the Niro is great in either package and a potential buyer should consider the amount of all-electric driving they would be able to do at 25-30 miles each day and budget accordingly between the two. We are excited to hear more details and possibly even drive the new 2019 Kia Niro EV next year, with an estimated 250-mile range, and will keep you updated on any updates.