Updated: Mar 31, 2022
No, Jackson Browne wasn't singing about plug-in hybrid vehicles back in 1973, but it sorta sums it up. Apart from the Tesla Model 3, pure electric vehicles (EVs) have elicited a giant "maybe someday" from American drivers. The Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) was supposed to be the answer.
On paper, it's the best of both worlds---a limited pure electric range within the daily commute of most people plus a gasoline engine so that when you need to go beyond that range, you're neither stranded nor burning time at a charging station. The reality, though, is that PHEVs aren't being embraced in huge numbers.
That's really a shame, because there are some excellent PHEVs---the 2020 Kia Niro PHEV EX Premium among them. The Niro can be had as a regular gasoline-powered model, a pure EV (which I reviewed on the old TireKicker site in January), and, in the case of this test car, a PHEV.
The hybrid powerplant makes a total of 139 horsepower, 60 of that coming from an electric motor. It's powered by an 8.9 kWh Lithium Ion polymer battery. The transmission is a six-speed quick-shift DCT automatic with Sport mode. Figure on using that to achieve higher shift points on winding roads. This is not a straight-line hot rod by any means, with 0-60 taking 8.6 seconds. There's no shame in that number. It's in the ballpark for this type of vehicle. Let's just say there is no Ludicrous Mode.
Assuming a full charge and favorable conditions, you can get 26 miles of pure electric driving before the car switches seamlessly over to the gasoline/electric hybrid. There are paddle shifters to control the level of regenerative braking. Again, with favorable conditions, it's possible to put some range back in while you're in EV mode and do better than 26 miles.
The EPA's MPGe rating, combining a full charge and a full tank of gas in hybrid mode, is 105. The hybrid fuel economy estimate, not counting that 26-mile headstart, is 46 miles per gallon.
Because the battery supplies nearly half of the hybrid power, charging times are a bit on the long side. Using the 120V household charger that came with the car, we'd be looking at ten hours for a full charge. Even using DC fast charging, an 80 percent charge is estimated to take 75 minutes. There are a lot of EVs and PHEVs that make that happen in under an hour.
The 2020 Kia Niro PHEV EX Premium starts at $36,390. The window sticker is at the end of this review so you can see the full list, but among the highlights on the standard equipment list is a 10.25-inch touchscreen Harman Kardon premium audio system with Clari-Fi, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, keyless entry and pushbutton start, a wireless phone charger, 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps and a power sunroof.
There were only three extra-cost items on our tester, a cargo mat ($95), a cargo net ($50) and carpeted floor mats ($135). So, with $1,120 inland freight and handling, the as- tested price comes to $37,790.
If you just said "woah", yeah, that's a hefty price tag---but that's also for the top-of-the-line 2020 Kia Niro PHEV EX Premium. Niro PHEVs begin at $29,420, so if you can dial back your want list, this becomes a fairly reasonably-priced small crossover. And the EPA says you'll save $3,750 in fuel costs over five years of ownership compared to the average new vehicle. In fact, if you rarely drive more than 26 miles in a day, you could go months without ever using a drop of gas, but still have the ability to drive a long distance on the spur of the moment with no more preparation or inconvenience than with a pure gasoline vehicle. If you're looking to dip a toe into EVs, check out PHEVs. And by all means, test-drive the 2020 Kia Niro PHEV.