2018 Kia Niro PHEV EX Premium by David Colman +VIDEO
A delightfully well equipped, good handling economy miser
By David Colman
Special Correspondent to The Auto Channel
From my perspective, the still fresh looking Niro, which first came to market in 2017, is a compact SUV. With its characteristically boxy SUV outline, comparatively tall 60 inch height, and excellent outward visibility, the Niro offers a very practical solution to your overall transportation needs. For example, thanks to the location of its lithium-ion battery under the rear seat, the back seats can be folded flat. In that configuration, the Niro presents a loading platform good for 26.5 cubic feet of goods. Compare that figure to the Kia's main plug-in hybrid competitor, Toyota's Prius. Niro stores 2.5 more cubic feet than the base Prius, 9.5 more than the Prius C, and 4.5 more than Prius Prime. Niro even out- stores its corporate sibling, the Hyundai Ioniq, by a whopping 7 cubic feet.
Whatever you call it, this Kia is surprisingly delightful to drive. You wouldn't think that a vehicle dependent on such a slight tire contact patch as the Niro would be so responsive or grippy. After all, the supplied Michelin Green X tires measure a scant 205/60R16 and boast an ultra durable treadwear rating of TW 480. Yet the Niro manages to cope with twisting back roads like its suspension was calibrated by BMW. Adding to the enjoyment of this experience is Kia's provision of a dual-clutch 6-speed automatic transmission that imparts way more fun to your daily drive than a CVT unit. Selecting the right gear is of paramount importance when managing the Niro's limited 139hp. The direct gas injected, 1580cc, inline 4 cylinder engine pairs with Niro's 60hp electric motor to provide 195lb.-ft. of torque.
Move the shift lever from the "Drive" gate into the "Manual" gate so you can downshift by pulling the lever backwards or upshift by moving the stick forwards. Given the engine's lack of snappy response in "Drive" you will find yourself relying on the shifter's Manual gate to urge more performance from the drivetrain. Although paddle shifts are sadly absent in the Niro, the fore/aft shift lever mechanism works quite well to elicit more acceleration from the Niro. Thanks to the gas/electric's ample torque output, the Niro can then be driven sportingly. Also note that when you select Manual shift mode, the Niro simultaneously discards "Eco" mode for "Sport" mode. As this transition takes place, the Niro literally jumps ahead. You can also select Electric only mode, which will take you about 26 miles on a full charge. According to the EPA/DOT, Niro, under electric power only, garners 105MPGe. In combined hybrid driving, the Niro records 46MPG.
The Niro is a delightfully well equipped, good handling economy miser that could perform short haul daily drives without ever needing to visit a gas station. It offers more storage space than any Prius, and also looks better as well.
2018 KIA NIRO PHEV EX PREMIUM
• ENGINE: 1.6 liter inline 4, gas direct injection with 60hp electric motor
• HORSEPOWER: 139hp
• TORQUE: 195lb.-ft.
• FUEL CONSUMPTION: 105MPGe/46MPG Gas Only
• PRICE AS TESTED: $35,575
HYPES: SUV space in a Station Wagon format
GRIPES: Forget About ECO Drive Mode
STAR RATING: 9 Stars out of 10