2018 Kia Niro PHEV gas mileage review: outrunning expectations
. . . Compared with the Prius, the Niro is taller and roomier. Likely to its benefit, it looks like a small crossover SUV, though with only front-wheel drive, it's no kind of SUV.
It does offer the crossover advantages of easier access, better forward vision on the highway, and a more natural, upright seating position. That's especially true in back, where the taller seat makes for easier access and more space.
Best of all, even with its tall, boxy shape, it gets terrific gas mileage. Over 46 miles driving only on gasoline (subtracting out all the electric miles we used), we used just 0.58 gallons of gas, for a gas-only mileage reading of 79.3 mpg. That blows away the Niro Plug-in Hybrid’s 46 mpg gas-only EPA rating, though it was admittedly over a short run that didn't involve a lot of heavy traffic or high speeds.
We drove mostly on rural byways almost ideal for maximizing fuel economy. Still. It’s not like we avoided accelerating onto freeways or never had to stop at stoplights and get going again. We drove about a quarter of that distance at 70 mph on the freeway.
Even more impressive, perhaps, is the electric range. The EPA estimates the Niro can make it 26 miles on its 8.9-kwh lithium-ion battery. On one charge with mainly around-town driving that’s exactly what we got. On a second charge, with a mix of freeway and back roads driving, much of it with five passengers in the car, the Niro went 36.1 miles before the battery ran out. We kept wondering how so many miles were still showing on the dashboard electric range indicator.
We weren’t able to verify an exact charge time, but the 2.5 hours that Kia claims on a Level 2 charger seems roughly accurate.
The Niro uses a 104-horsepower, 1.6-liter inline-4 paired with a 60-hp electric motor. The combination delivers 139 total hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. Unlike most other hybrids and plug-ins, though, Hyundai and Kia back both propulsion sources with a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission. It sometimes feels strange for the car to shift when driving electrically, but without the sound of the gas engine, it's less jarring than hearing shifts in a conventional car. . . .
With a charge in the battery, drivers can switch between Hybrid and Electric modes with a button next to the shifter. It’s effective for preserving electric range, though fairly meaningless in electric mode. Giving the go-pedal a swift, firm kick will start the gas engine, but it has to be a very firm kick. The car strongly favors using electricity. Through the first 70 percent of pedal travel, if there’s any charge in the battery, it won’t start the engine. Once it does, the engine only runs for a few seconds—just enough to get you up to speed—before it shuts down again, even if the engine is cold. Even in hybrid mode, the Niro runs a lot on electricity and won’t start the engine in the first 60 percent or more of accelerator-pedal travel if the battery has any reserve at all. It always did in our week with it.
Maybe best of all, the Niro didn’t ask for any sacrifices in practicality or driving enjoyment for such fuel economy. It rode beautifully full or empty, and its responsive handling borders on enthusiastic.
The 8.0-inch touchscreen in the top-of-the-line EX Premium we drove is one of the easiest in the business to use. Its home screen shows a map alongside audio information, such as what track you’re playing over Bluetooth or Spotify, or the radio frequency. That’s handy, because it keeps you from flipping through multiple screens to look at one or the other. Like almost all Kias and related Hyundais, the Niro has a full set of redundant hard buttons and knobs to use for audio and climate-control adjustments.
The EX Premium we drove comes loaded with heated and cooled front seats and a heated steering wheel. There are no factory options available for the EX Premium.
The Niro Plug-in Hybrid starts at $28,840, including destination. It is eligible for a $4,543 federal tax credit. The EX Premium we drove costs $35,440 with destination. . . .
If only it offered AW and at least electric resistive heat if not a heat pump (and a true 'hold' mode). I'm going to test drive one anyway, but I'll probably wait until they also have the BEV so I can try them head to head.
The car mags are less enthusiastic about handling and ability to keep the engine off, as as you'd expect, and C&D also said the car could use stronger regen for long steep descents such as I regularly encounter driving in the mountains: https://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/2018-kia-niro-plug-in-hybrid-first-drive-review
Still, C&D's summary is positive:
It’s the inherent practicality and value that sells us on the Niro. It’s no wonder the hybrid has outsold the closely related Hyundai Ioniq by nearly 2.5 to one in the U.S. to date and is gaining on the Prius. With crossover-like seating, space, style, and versatility, there’s no real downside to the plug-in Niro. Charge it a couple of times a week when you can, and you’ll have one of the most efficient vehicles on the market that also can take your family anywhere on the weekend.