Seldomly, I find myself scratching my head when I get a vehicle in that really doesn’t make sense but after spending several days with it, I eventually find out its purpose. This week, finding that purpose was a rather painful task as there’s not much that I enjoyed about the 2022 Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV), which remains unchanged from last year’s model except for having the new Kia logo badging. To quickly note, Kia has fully redesigned the Niro for the 2023 model year receiving additional power, better styling, and an overall ‘better’ package than the 2022 model year that you see here. We will be sure to bring you more information if we soon get our hands on the 2023 model year.
Performance and Driving Character
Kia has been a mover and shaker in getting us ready for a future of mainstream Electric Vehicles (EVs). However, until then, there’s a nice bridge to EVs that we find in hybrid and PHEVs. The Kia Niro is one of those overlooked vehicles that is well suited for the frugal minded where plugging in such a vehicle for a few hours yields you with up to 26 miles of all-electric range. That range is used in conjunction with the gas engine, a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder that produces 104 horsepower and 109 lb-ft of torque on its own. There’s also an electric motor that contributes an additional 60 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque where when it works together with the gas engine you have a total system output of 139 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque sent to the front wheels via a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
While the power numbers on paper aren’t necessarily disappointing, having the 2022 Kia Niro PHEV out on the road in the real-world things are almost dangerous as the Niro is downright slow. In fact, to hit 60 mph from a stop you need about 10 seconds in my top-trimmed Niro PHEV EX Premium test vehicle. You’ll find yourself planning your escape from a heavy traffic lane to pass other vehicles, so you don’t get honked at for holding up the fast lane.
Apart from the lackluster acceleration in the Niro PHEV, there’s a welcomed unique character about this subcompact Plug-In hybrid crossover when you leave it in the confines of inner cities and on town roads. The steering is decent and the overall ride quality, while a bit firm, is agreeable for a small crossover like this. Just don’t think you’re going to want to enjoy ‘driving’ as this vehicle is more suited for being an economical transportation device that you must charge up to get the full benefit of its Plug-In hybrid powertrain and efficiency. There are also small 16-inch wheels that don’t do much for performance or the cheeky look of the Niro PHEV but help with the ride quality with the large sidewalls of the all-season eco-tires.
There is a Sport drive mode that inspires better throttle response and will actually charge up the Plug-In hybrid battery pack as you drive for use at a later time in the default Eco drive mode. There is a toggle for using the battery and motor for propulsion only, but the gas engine will still kick over if you ever need full throttle. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself using full throttle often as the midrange of the gas pedal is often a dead spot that seems like the Niro PHEV is dead on arrival and only holding its speed instead of accelerating. Using the electric motor only acceleration is actually “okay” for cruising back roads and keeping a steady speed on highways. However, the gas engine is required often for overtaking.
Fuel Economy & EV Range
Charging up the Niro PHEV, taking a little over 9 hours on a 120-volt outlet or just over two hours if you use a 240V Level 2 charger. After a full charge, you can let the smart hybrid system manage power to obtain 109 MPGe, which is on par with other PHEVs in its class but falls a little short of something like the latest Toyota Prius Prime. You’ll find occasions where you get over 100 mpg using almost half of the small 11.4-gallon gas tank when you start off with a full charge of its smallish battery pack. The total range of a full charge and full tank of regular unleaded is about 560 miles, which is impressive for such a small vehicle. Using the Niro PHEV as a hybrid without charging the 8.9 kWh battery pack you’ll expect to get its EPA estimate of 46 mpg combined where I saw about 52 mpg cruising downtown streets for about 46 minutes.
Interior and Technology
The interior of the 2022 Kia Niro PHEV is an inviting space for this class of vehicle. There’s a surprising amount of space to use where Kia cleverly gives you plenty of usable seating area, especially up front for the heated and ventilated SynTex trimmed seats. There’s even a driver’s memory seat setting, heated steering wheel, smart cruise control, and the welcomed 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment unit – the same that you find on other higher trim-level Kia vehicles.
The gauge cluster is cleverly done using a 7-inch color screen in the center with fixed left and right-side lighted LCD elements for displaying the power meter and speedometer. There’s also a wireless phone charger, which doesn’t bode well with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration only available through a USB connection.
The rear seating area is also surprisingly accommodating for the overall size of the Kia Niro PHEV. The cargo area is decent at 19.4 cubic feet considering you have a Plug-In hybrid battery pack under the rear floor. You do have up to 54.5 cubic feet with the rear 60/40 split rear seatbacks folded down. There are climate vents in the rear, which are left to the front occupants to adjust the automatic dual-zone climate control system.
The Kia Niro PHEV comes with the expected group of active safety features, which include blind-spot monitors, forward collision avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic collision warning, lane keeping assist and lane following assist, leading vehicle departure alert, and smart cruise control with stop & go. One particular item that stood out for not helping in the safety area is having halogen projector headlights that seemed rather dim at night – something I think Kia needs to do away with in place of current LED headlights.
The Kia Niro PHEV is a decent bargain for the base trim starting at $29,590before any fees ($33,390 for the middle EX trim). Opting for the top EX Premium trim the pricing starting at $39,490 (38,025 as tested) gets a little debatable if you’re the target demographic for such a vehicle in being frugal.