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Kia’s Niro PHEV Plug-in Hybrid – Making Cents

Car Reviews

Kia’s Niro PHEV Plug-in Hybrid – Making Cents

If, when looking at an automotive window sticker, does your brain explode? Whether attending the recent Truck Rodeo hosted by the Texas Auto Writers Association, or simply kicking tires at a new car showroom, the sheer preponderance of vehicles selling for the wrong side of $40K is, in this easily addled view, nothing short of crazy. Thankfully, there’s help – and this week that ‘help’ is supplied by the Kia Niro Plug-in hybrid. With an all-in window sticker of $35K, it remains on the friendly side of $40K. And with, at present, some $7K in federal and state tax credits and/or rebates, that mid-$30s window quickly becomes an under-$30K window sticker. In short, it’s a sticker you’re not stuck with…

If you’re reading this in Texas and, while familiar with Kia’s two-box Niro hybrid you’re less familiar with the plug-in variant, you only have Kia dealers to blame. A good friend, on the trail of the Niro Plug-in – or any info on the Plug-in – since it was announced last year, has been put off not only by the lack of info from North Texas showrooms but, most specifically, the lack of interest in any professional follow-up as that info becomes available.

I made a call to a Dallas-area dealer to clarify the available tax credits and state incentives on the Niro Plug-in, and was told he didn’t know because it wasn’t a vehicle his dealership inventoried. And why, Mr. Manager, don’t you inventory the Niro Plug-in? Well, in Dallas we don’t have that many charging stations. (But you do have electricity, don’t you, Mr. Manager?)

The Dallas-area manager graciously referred me to an Austin-area dealership, where – presumably – they have both electricity and charging stations; regrettably, systems aren’t yet in place for reliably returning a phone message. Some 48 hours after leaving that message he’s yet to return my call.

But none of the above should take away from the goodness of the vehicle itself. This is one carefully executed 4-door hatch, with a timeless design that is the antithesis of Honda’s overly indulgent Civic or, for that matter, Lexus’s NX or new UX. And while the hatch doesn’t hold a lot of what a family of four might take with them, it holds the family of four quite nicely. Our EX Premium featured perforated leather seats, and the front buckets were both heated and cooled. In back, the two-box profile ensures comfortable headroom, while the almost-vertical greenhouse provides both adequate shoulder room and expansive visibility. It is, in short, eminently livable, something a lot of cars designed around economy can’t claim.

And this Niro (and, for that matter, the regular Niro hybrid) is economical. Using just the gas powertrain (which is a 1.6 liter normally-aspirated four) on the road between DC and Philly, and driving between 70 and 80 miles per hour, we saw an indicated 45 miles per gallon. And at those highway speeds the Niro was relaxed. It wasn’t, to be sure S Class Mercedes relaxed, but nevertheless, the Niro is punching way above its weight (or price) class.

Of course, when hanging around town you’ll enjoy up to 26 miles of all-electric operation if, of course, you’ve put a charge in the all-electric component of the Niro’s drivetrain. It is this ‘plug-in’ aspect that makes the Niro so eco-friendly; for a lot of commutes and errand running, that 26 miles of all-electric operation means quite a few owners will never – or very rarely – buy gas. And yet, if you want to take off across Texas, the gas range – at that 45-or-so miles per gallon – will get you more than halfway east-to-west on just one tank.

With a host of hybrid and EV choices, you won’t lack for options in the coming months if considering alternative energies or strategies. For those wanting more EV-only range while still enjoying the range extending benefit of a regular powertrain, Chevy’s Volt offers almost double the Niro’s 26 miles. And if wanting a super-competitive range without spending your money with Elon Musk, Hyundai will be offering a Kona EV with something north of 250 miles of all-electric range. With the Kona you’d never buy gas if hanging around the home zip code.

We’re taken with the Niro in a way few cars available for under $30K take us. We like the plug-in feature, but we also like the lighter (according to Kia, the Plug-in is 200 pounds heavier than the standard Niro hybrid), nimble feel of the conventional hybrid. You pay your money (and you’ll pay a bit more money for the less expensive Niro hybrid, because it doesn’t qualify for as much in federal or state assists) and you take your choice. Fortunately, with either Kia it’s an attractive, intelligent choice.

David Boldt

Boldt, a long-time contributor to outlets such as AutoTrader.com, Kelley Blue Book and Autoblog, brings years of experience in automotive retail, journalism and public relations. He is a member of the Texas Auto Writers and L.A.'s Motor Press Guild, and serves as a board member for the Washington Automotive Press Association (WAPA). David is the Managing Editor at txGarage.

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