You can say a lot of things about Kia, but you can’t call them slow to react. It seems they’ve been making a habit of rolling out a particular car, either an established model, or in this case, a new one like the Niro, and pretty soon after, the higher-tech models follow. The Niro is a little urbo-box/crossover-like thing, and this new hybrid turns in some pretty impressive numbers. It can run 26 miles using just electric power and returns 46 combined mpg with an all up range of 560 miles. Not bad at all.
The Niro Plug-in Hybrid is part of Kia’s EcoDynamics subbrand. That smaller slice of the pie already includes cars like the Optima Hybrid, Optima PHEV, and Soul EV. No word yet if it will spin off into its own autonomous brand, or if it’s just a way to establish some green credibility, but Kia does seem serious about all this.
Kia says the new Niro Plug-in Hybrid offers the same stuff already found in the regular hybrid, but with a few new cool touches. The grille is slightly different and there are hybrid blue exterior accents. There are also available LED headlamps, a charge port door on left front fender (i.e. that’s where you plug it into the wall socket), an available 7-inch color instrument cluster with digital tach, and “ECO/PlugIn” badges so you can flaunt your own green credibility.
Performance & Charging
Drivetrain-wise the Niro combines a 1.6-liter gasoline direct injected four-banger with an 8.9 kWh (59 kW) lithium polymer battery pack, and a 60 horsepower (44.5 kW) electric motor. The setup is optimized for fuel efficiency and electric range rather than performance, but it’s not like anyone was going to confuse this with a Stinger anyway. All this MPG-orientation results in 48 city, 44 highway, and 46 combined.
If you’re really into saving energy, the Niro even offers “Driver Only Air Conditioning,” which sends the ventilation toward the driver and decreases the power consumption of the air conditioning system.
Kia has also squeezed more out of the high voltage battery, bumping it .34 kWh more than the Niro hybrid. The battery sits under the cargo floor and the rear seat so you get largely unaffected hauling capabilities. If you plug the thing into a 240V (Level 2) charger, you get full juice in around two and a half hours. Going with the regular household current of a 120V charger, it can be filled up in under nine hours. In other words, drive it around all day, park it in your garage, plug it in overnight, and you’ll be good to go for your morning commute. Kia’s UVO eco feature allows you to remotely monitor and charge the vehicle’s battery, and arrange charging schedules to take advantage of off peak utility rates.
The power is transferred to the ground via the same six speed dual-clutch automatic transmission as in the normal Niros. You can choose from four driving modes: EV, Hybrid, Eco, or Sport. They say Sport is there to take advantage of the combined output of 139 horsepower and 195 lb-ft. of torque. Sure, why not. Sounds fun.
The Kia Niro rides on its own dedicated platform, employing over 50 percent advanced high-strength steel. Further use of hot stamped steel components and industrial joint adhesives increase torsional rigidity and improve overall structural integrity. Naturally they’ve tried to drop the weight wherever they can. Kia rolled in an aluminum hood, tailgate, and several suspension bits, including the front lower control arms, front and rear knuckles, and even the brake calipers.
With all that, I could see a lot of younger, urban buyers lining up to buy these things.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He means well, even if he has a bias towards lighter, agile cars rather than big engine muscle cars or family sedans.