The Kia Niro is a modest crossover with a secret its sleepy styling doesn't make apparent: a plug-in hybrid model that delivers stellar efficiency without any range anxiety. At the moment, the Niro PHEV is the only Kia product to offer a plug-in hybrid powertrain but that will likely change in the coming year.
Changes are small but notable for 2021. Kia has made wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard, and they've done the same with rear occupant alert, which prevents the rear doors from opening if there's oncoming traffic. Remote start is more widely available, as is adaptive cruise control.
Choosing Your Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid
The Niro is Kia's experiment in alternative propulsion methods: it is offered as a basic gas-powered Niro hybrid model, an electric variant called the Niro EV, and as the plug-in hybrid that is the focus of this article. The other models are covered separately.
The front-drive only Niro PHEV is available in three trims: LXS, EX, and EX Premium. Prices begin at $30,765 after destination charges, but that doesn't factor in the applicable federal tax credit of $4,543; do the math and you can effectively pay about $25,000 for a new Niro PHEV LXS.
Every Niro PHEV gets the same powertrain, a hybrid 1.6-liter four-cylinder that is augmented by a single electric motor. That power is funneled to the front wheels by a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
An 8.9 kWh lithium-ion battery provides enough power for 26 miles of all-electric driving. After that, the hybrid gas engine automatically kicks in for a traditional driving and fueling experience.
Running only on electricity, the Niro returns 105 MPGe combined. Once you've exhausted the 26-mile range you can expect 48 mpg city, 44 highway, and 46 combined.
Charging the battery takes about six hours when using a household outlet and about 2.5 hours with a dedicated 240V wall charger.
Passenger and Cargo Capacity
The Niro seats five and holds 22 cubic feet of cargo in the rear hatch, a figure which includes the under-floor storage area. Folding down the rear seats expands cargo capacity to a full 63 cubic feet.
The Niro comes standard with the usual array of driver-assist features that are quickly proliferating across the market. these features are bundled under the DriveWise name and include automatic emergency braking, high-beam assist, blind-spot monitoring, and lane-keep assist.
If you want adaptive cruise control and lane-follow assist, you'll need to step up to the mid-trim EX. The top-shelf EX Premium is the only way to get navigation-based adaptive cruise control with highway driving assist, a one-two feature combo that helps reduce highway fatigue by automatically guiding the crossover around gentle corners. These aren't hands-free features, but they do make long trips that much easier.
The Niro won a Top Safety Pick Plus award from the IIHS and earned five stars by the government for crashworthiness.
The Niro PHEV comes standard with an 8.0-inch touchscreen featuring wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth, and a single USB port. EX Premium models swap in a larger, 10.25-inch screen that gets navigation but loses the wireless smartphone connectivity.
The base Niro isn't lavish, but it shouldn't leave anyone uncomfortable. Among its conveniences are dual-zone automatic climate control, push-button start with remote start, and a six-speaker audio system. The front seats feature manual four-way adjustment and are wrapped in cloth upholstery.
The exterior wears 16-inch wheels, body-color mirrors and door handles, and black trim elsewhere. Sliver roof rails help spruce things up.
No options are available.
Moving into the EX buys luxuries such as heated and power-folding exterior mirrors, heated and power-adjustable front seats, a wireless phone charger, and a 7.0-inch LCD display in the gauge cluster. There's also leather-and-cloth upholstery, ambient lighting, and fog lights.
At the top is the EX Premium, which boasts the bigger touchscreen, SynTex upholstery, a Harman-Kardon audio system, ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel. A sunroof and LED lights round out the impressive upgrades.
We'd want an EX, which strikes a nice middle ground between lavish and affordable. With the federal tax credit factored in, you can spend under $30,000 for a mid-level Niro PHEV - a mighty tempting deal when you consider the potential fuel savings and a long list of desirable equipment.