As this is written, I’ve just completed a brief look, totaling four days, at Kia’s Niro plug-in hybrid. This is one year removed from our review of the then-new Niro, at that time a hybrid absent the plug-in. In that first drive we perceived the Niro to be that great ‘one car’ if forced – or compelled – to have just one car.
For those living near public transportation, or doing few (if any) road trips, a compact hatch comfortably seating four could easily be that one car, and if it delivers 40+ miles per gallon (even in an era of cheap gas), so much the better. With the intro of a plug-in hybrid, supplying that same 40+ miles per gallon with the engine running and roughly 50 miles of all-electric capability with that engine off, the Niro’s win/win becomes a win that is – if we were inclined to channel Donald J. Trump, HUGE!
As I jumped headfirst to my own conclusions, I was also receiving feedback from a longtime friend we’ll call Anne, and a longtime sister-in-law we’ll call Bette. Anne owns a Mazda CX-7, while Bette is at the end of her lease period with Nissan’s all-electric Leaf. And their impressions are – I think – insightful.
Anne lives in Dallas, using the CX-7 for both around-town errand running and regular trips to a weekend home in East Texas. The CX-7 occupies about the same footprint as Mazda’s CX-5, so it’s both slightly higher and heavier than the Niro. And, of course, it doesn’t achieve the same efficiency as today’s hybrid. While Anne’s CX-7 was offered during Mazda’s march to its zoom-zoom paradigm, the compact crossover’s driving dynamic is better suited to chasing pizzas than Porsches.
From reading the online info and, more recently, seeing one at the Dallas Auto Show, Anne is intrigued by both the Niro’s footprint and its promise. She likes the idea of errand running in Dallas with little or no carbon footprint, while having the ability to drive to the Longview area without worrying about a full charge or – later – charging stations. And while unsure as to whether the Niro’s hatch will fully swallow her road bike, she’s reasonably confident it will swallow virtually anything else, including friends and pets.
The kicker, for Anne or anyone else contemplating the purchase of a Niro plug-in, is the wait for it to arrive in showrooms. Despite its announcement months ago, and its appearance at the aforementioned Dallas Auto Show in February, a manager at a North Texas Kia dealership had no idea – repeat, NO IDEA – when the Niro Plug-in will arrive at his store. And if he doesn’t know, Anne most certainly doesn’t know.
Bette, in replacing her Leaf, is impressed with the Leaf’s new redesign, less impressed by the lack of incentives to lease it. And with the lack of incentives, she’s casting around for alternatives. I suggested the Niro Plug-in as a viable way to enjoy the minimal carbon footprint of a true EV, while having – obviously – no range anxiety. In actually driving the Niro Bette came away liking its package while not loving its drivability.
Accustomed to the immediacy of her Leaf (admittedly, she didn’t drive the Niro in its EV mode, as at that point I didn’t have a convenient way of recharging it), she didn’t find that immediacy when the Niro was propelled by its 1.6 liter, gasoline powertrain.
Like most things in the evaluation process, becoming accustomed to a car’s attributes (or lack of same) takes more than the first 15 minutes of a demo drive. We like the Niro’s nimble footprint and feel, but also like the immediacy of instant torque available from most EVs.
Our test Niro Plug-in, delivered to us in EX Premium trim, came with as many bells and whistles as you’d expect for an under $40K price point. The leather-covered seating is perfectly packaged for four adults – even real adults – and its almost 20 cubic feet of luggage capacity with the rear seat up should meet most needs, whether running to Target or Telluride. And while its lack of available all-wheel drive may give pause to a Colorado customer, a good set of winter treads will prove effective in areas where all-wheel drive – without winter rubber – just spins.
Finally, of course, is the cost. At a window – with all of the ‘Premium’ goodness, carpeted mats and destination – of just under $36K, Kia’s Niro seems somewhat dear. But consider the Federal tax credit of $4,500 and you have a 45 mile-per-gallon plug-in for just over $30K. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a deal. Of course, while we know it’s a deal…we don’t know if Kia dealers know.