The 2018 Niro Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV), the next iteration of Kia’s EcoDynamics alternative fuel vehicle initiative has arrived – and it is pretty darn good. Following the fuel-efficient Niro Hybrid compact crossover that arrived in 2017 – Niro now offers an efficient zero emissions choice for consumers wanting to drive using electric power only when practical.
The Niro PHEV delivers all of the same crossover utility driving dynamics and features of the Niro hybrid, but now able to plug-in and charge a higher energy battery that enables an estimated 26-miles of all-electric (EV) driving range for commuter or local area driving. For longer trips the Niro PHEV also delivers a 560-mile combined range with hybrid 44-mpg fuel economy.
The Niro PHEV looks very much the same – inside and out – as its hybrid Niro sibling, but has a few tell-tale touches that mark it as the PHEV. Features like a subtly-modified front grille insert and surround, Hybrid Blue exterior and interior accents, LED headlamps, the charge port door, 7-inch color meter cluster with digital tachometer and “ECO/Plug-In” badges.
The heart of the Niro PHEV is the 1.6-liter GDI (gasoline direct injection) four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine paired to a 60 horsepower AC motor that deliver a combined power rating of 139 horsepower with 195 lb.-ft. of torque – same as its hybrid Niro sibling.
The PHEV uses an improved hybrid power control unit and larger 8.9 kWh lithium-polymer battery pack coupled to the same six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission as the hybrid Niro. The enhanced powertrain enables the PHEV to deliver an engaging car-like drive experience with usable zero emission EV-only range.
Multiple drive modes optimize performance and enhance the drive experience of the Niro PHEV. The default mode is ECO which the vehicle defaults to at start-up. EV mode forces the vehicle to operate in EV mode only until available battery power is depleted – then it switches to HYBRID for operation balanced between gasoline and available electric power. A button on the console allows the driver to choose HYBRID at start up or anytime they choose. For those wanting a touch more ‘pop’ in the acceleration, the driver can select SPORT mode which changes the shift points in the transmission for quicker response.
The Niro PHEV has an MPGe rating of 105, and with its Idle Stop and Go system, the standard EPA-estimated fuel economy is 48/44 mpg city/highway and 44 mpg combined (similar to the hybrid Niro).
Battery and Charging
The Niro PHEV’s compact, higher-energy battery is able to be tucked under the cargo floor and rear seat and give the same cargo capacity as the Niro hybrid. The charging port is located in the driver’s side front fender. A full charge can be achieved in approximately 2.5 hours via a 240V (Level 2), and under 9 hours via a 120V (Level 1) charger.
A unique energy-conserving feature of Niro PHEV is the Driver-Only Air Conditioning, which directs the ventilation toward the driver only – drawing only the power needed to cool one person.
Managing the EV system is made easy for the driver using the 7-inch driver information display that shows available EV range and Hybrid range in miles at all times. Additionally, when in EV mode, a radius map on the navigation screen will visually display how far you can go with the remaining battery power. If needed, the screen will display available public charging stations nearby if you need to ‘charge up” while out and about.
Charging at home can be accomplished two ways – via a separately installed 240V power source or with the 120V connecting cord provided with the Niro PHEV, to plug into a house circuit. It is easy to use with multiple safety and condition features built-in including a clever ‘lock out’ feature that prevents the charging handle from being disconnected without certain conditions being met.
Best part? Kia has diagrammed and thoroughly explained all you need to know about the PHEV system in the very front pages of the driver’s manual.
As Tested – Niro PHEV EX Premium Trim
Kia sent us the Niro PHEV EX Premium (top trim) for a week-long drive test. It came in a rich Gravity Blue exterior with a light gray (and black) interior.
As we had discovered in our first drive of the Niro Hybrid, we found the Niro PHEV to be well equipped, comfortable and roomy for up to five with plenty of cargo space – very easy to drive both around town and on the highway. Of note for us bigger folks were the wide opening doors enabling easy access both front and rear.
Exterior treatments included an acoustic windshield, solar side glass, black wheel arches and side sills, matte black outside front grille with gloss black insert and silver surround, a ‘Hybrid Blue’ bumper garnish, LED headlights and daytime running lights, fog lights, LED Rear Combination Lighting, Power Folding Heated Outside Mirrors, Roof Rails, Rear Spoiler, Rear Privacy Glass and 16-inch alloy wheels
There is no spare, but rather provide what they call a Tire Mobility Kit – nicely packaged under the cargo deck – complete with easy instructions on how to use.
Inside, we would call the styling execution ‘Spartan Smart’. Kia has done a nice job of blending textures from basic hard materials with selected soft materials and highlighting them with Hybrid Blue accent stitching to give the cabin a nicely smart appearance.
Features include push-button start, leather wrapped steering wheel with vehicle controls, leather trimmed 8-way power adjustable driver and 6-way manual passenger front seating – heated and ventilated, deluxe door arm rests with accent stitching, center arm rests with cupholders front and rear, 60/40 split-folding rear seating, hidden storage under the cargo floor and rear cargo cover.
Comfort is maintained by dual-zone automatic A/C with temperature control, auto defog, rear seat A/C and heating vents and – for the PHEV – a Climate and Charging Scheduling system.
Infotainment and technology included an 8-inch touch screen with navigation and integrated rear camera with dynamic guidance, a Harman Kardon 8-speaker and sub-woofer Premium Audio system with Clari-Fi technology, UVO eco featuring remote vehicle monitoring, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration plus Bluetooth, front fascia power outlets, auxiliary and USB input jacks and rear USB charger.
Our Niro PHEV came with a suite of advanced driver assistance and convenience technologies, including Blind Spot Detection with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Change Assist, and front and rear parking sensors plus Smart Cruise Control; Autonomous Emergency Braking; Forward Collision Warning and Lane Keep Assist System.
Adding a set of carpeted floor mats and destination fees, our test 2018 Kia Niro PHEV priced at $35,575.
The three trim levels for the Niro PHEV are the base LX (MSRP $27,900), mid-level EX (MSRP $31,500) and the EX Premium (MSRP $34,500). There are no packages offered. Two special colors – Aurora Black Pearl and Snow White Pearl – are priced at $395. A handful of port installed accessories are available for nominal pricing and the destination charge is $940.
As you would expect, there is a price premium for the PHEV over the Hybrid. As of this writing, for the EX Premium trim level we tested compared to the top trim hybrid Niro Touring – we estimate it to be about $3,000. But that is likely to be more than offset by, what we estimate to be, a $4,500 federal EV tax credit.
The 2018 Kia Niro PHEV is arriving in dealer show rooms now.
Get more information on the 2018 Kia Niro here: https://www.kia.com/us/en/vehicle/niro/2018
Read more about the federal plug-in EV tax credit by clicking on this link: http://www.inwheeltime.com/ev-federal-irs-tax-credit-survival-good-news-consumers/