A Winning Formula
Story by John Faulkner. Photos by John Faulkner and Kia.
The 2021 Kia Niro PHEV is one of three electrified Niro models to choose from, alongside a hybrid and a pure battery electric version. Clean Fleet Report drove the Niro PHEV EX Premium, and came away with a good feeling about this compact crossover that can deliver a 560-mile driving range.
All three Niro PHEV trim levels, LXS, EX and EX Premium (the version Clean Fleet Report tested) have the same propulsion system–a 1.6 liter four-cylinder gasoline engine mated to an 8.9 kilowatt-hour (kWh) lithium-ion polymer battery and a 60 horsepower, 44.5 kW electric motor. This combination produces 139 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque driving the front wheels through a six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission that has paddle shifters.
There are driver-selectable drive modes of EV, Eco, Hybrid and Sport. Eco is the default setting where you want to be for the best fuel economy in the hybrid system, and the EV mode is good for up to 26 all-electric miles. Sport mode produces a quicker transmission response and the most spirited driving, which is good for 0-60 times around 10.4 seconds.
The Environmental Protection Agency rates the 2021 Kia Niro PHEV at 46 mpg combined city and highway when running in hybrid mode, but an impressive 105 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent—MPGe is a measurement of how far a car can travel, electrically, on the same amount of energy as is contained in one gallon of gasoline). Clean Fleet Report drove 177 miles through Southern California averaging a very satisfying 87.7 mpg. There is a dash screen that reports on your driving style. Mine = 82% economical; 17% normal; 1% aggressive. Not bad, unless I was driving the Kia Stinger, which welcomes some seriously aggressive driving.
The lithium-ion polymer battery pack is replenished through plug-in charging and regenerative braking, which converts kinetic energy into electric energy when applying the brakes or coasting, and stores it in the battery. This process can be viewed on the instrument cluster where you can watch the power flow into and out of the battery and motor.
The bottom line is, with a fully charged battery, driving in Eco mode, taking advantage of the idle stop and go system and regenerative braking, the Kia Niro PHEV can go a long way. Your range will completely depend on your driving style, where you live and if the battery is fully charged every day before venturing out. Fuel economy numbers reported by Clean Fleet Report are non-scientific and represent the reviewer’s driving experience using the dash gauge computer. Your numbers may differ.
The Niro PHEV uses a charging system connector with two plug-in charging options. The 3.3 kW on-board charger delivers these charge times for a full charge from an empty battery.
120V (Level 1) – Nine hours240V (Level 2) – 2.5 hours
Driving Experience: Hitting the Open Road
The Niro PHEV’s 3,443 pounds feels solid and confident on the road, with a smooth and stable ride. The low center of gravity, due to the under-seat placement of the 258-pound battery, results in planted driving dynamics with excellent balance and predictable cornering. The motor-driven power steering was well-tuned for road feel; maneuvering in town, especially parking, was easy due to a very compact 17.5 foot turning radius. Interior noise was low, in part, due to the 205/60 Michelin Energy Saver A/S all-season tires, mounted on 16-inch alloy wheels. This combination offered low rolling resistance (for better fuel economy) but also helped reduce noise being transmitted to the cabin.
The regenerative braking system has antilock brakes with four wheel discs, and brake assist. Stops were straight and consistent, but a little long due to the skinny tires.
You will notice a noise when driving less than 12 miles per hour. This sci-fi whirring sound consists of a speaker mounted behind the front bumper, generating a futuristic sound so pedestrians have an idea the Niro PHEV is close by. Without it, there is no sound at all coming from this electrified crossover when driving through a parking lot or pulling up to unsuspecting pedestrians at an intersection. When backing it adds a beeping sound; while a good safety feature, it may be too much for some people.
Smooth Design: Out and In
The Niro PHEV, which debuted in 2018, had a facelift in 2020 that carries-over to the 2021 model. The redesigned front has a new diamond-pattern grille and fascia that house chevron-shaped LED daytime running lights and fog lamps. The LED projector-type headlights, standard on the Premium model, have a sleek swept back design flowing onto the fenders.
The side profile draws a nice line from the nose to the A pillars, leading to a gently sloping roof with rack rails, a shark fin antenna, power tilt and sliding sunroof and an integrated spoiler over the rear hatch window. In the rear the horizontal LED taillights have a bold design, with a faux skid plate and more chevron-shaped back-up lights. A very demure blue “Eco Plug-in” badge sits on the lower right corner of the hatch. My tester’s Deep Cerulean color elicited complements.
Climbing inside, the cabin will strike you as functional, clean and well thought-out. The combination of hard and soft plastic materials, piano black surfaces, and the tasteful blue top stitching looked nice against the light gray synthetic leather seats, heated black leather-wrapped steering wheel, and armrests. We would have liked it if the passenger side sun visor extended.
The low profile, no-nonsense dash houses the optional 10.25-inch color touchscreen with navigation, the rear view camera and Kia’s UVO eServices. The eight-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, with a subwoofer, plays AM/FM and Sirius/XM, and includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The steering wheel has controls for audio, smartphone integration with Bluetooth, and the smart cruise control. Big thanks to Kia designers for the knobs to control the radio, which was one of the easiest we have used.
The heated (with three-levels) and ventilated front seats were comfortable for short jaunts, but could use additional bottom padding for longer road trips. The driver gets 10-way power adjustments with lumbar, while the passenger gets six-way manual adjustments. The height adjustable shoulder belts were a nice feature. The padded center console is deep for storage, while the wireless phone charging and push button start/stop were convenient features, as was the dual zone automatic temperature system.
The Niro’s 6.3 inches of ground clearance is not as high as a SUV, but it still provided a lifted outlook on the road, besting a sedan. Even with the power sunroof, there is ample rear seat headroom for two six-footers. The rear passengers get a center armrest with cup holders, and HVAC vents, but no USB charge ports. If there are no passengers out back, drop the 60/40 split rear seat and the storage area not only increases, but is ready to load cargo through the large hatch opening.
Safety and Warranties
The 2021 Kia Niro PHEV comes standard with Drive Wise, which includes an extensive list of advanced driver safety assistance system (ADAS) features. They include dual front, dual seat-mounted side, driver’s knee, and full-length side curtain airbags, forward emergency braking, forward collision warning and collision avoidance, stability control, blind spot monitoring, rear parking distance warning, vehicle stability management, traction control, hill start assist, tire pressure monitoring system, engine immobilizer, lane departure warning and rear cross traffic detection.
The 2021 Niro PHEV comes with these warranties:
Powertrain – 10 years/100,000 milesBattery – 10 years/100,000 milesBasic – Five years/60,000 milesRoadside Assistance – Five years/60,000 miles Anti-perforation – Five years/100,000 miles
The 2021 Kia Niro PHEV comes in three trim levels with these base prices, including the $1,175 destination charge. Clean Fleet Report’s 2021 Kia Niro PHEV EX Premium, with $280 in options and the $1,175 destination charge, had a final MSRP of $38,005.
EX Premium $37,725
The Niro PHEV qualifies for federal tax credits and state rebates, and in some states, is eligible for a HOV sticker.
Observations: 2021 Kia Niro PHEV EX Premium
Clean Fleet Report has been following Kia as they take the lead in offering electrified vehicles across their line-up. We have reviewed, and have been impressed with, all their hybrid, plug-in hybrid and full-electric vehicles. The 2021 Niro PHEV provides impressive range and fuel economy. We found it to be practical and efficient, comfortable and affordable.
The Kia Niro PHEV offers versatility, a solid ride, comfortable seats, standard safety equipment and a great warranty. It isn’t offered with all-wheel drive, but that is a minor concern for most drivers.
This well-built crossover will get you around town silently on electricity, and then take you cross-country with its efficient hybrid engine. If this strikes a positive note, then the 2021 Kia Niro PHEV may be the car for you.
Make sure to opt-in to the Clean Fleet Report newsletter (top right of page) to be notified of all new stories and vehicle reviews.
Related Stories You Might Enjoy—
The Other Kia Niro Options:
Road Test: 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid FE
Road Test: 2020 Kia Niro EV
Other Plug-in Hybrid Options
Road Test: 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid PHEV
Road Test: 2021 Volvo SC90 Recharge PHEV
Road Test: 2021 BMW 330e Plug-in Hybrid
Road Test: 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime PHEV
Road Test: 2020 Hyundai Ioniq PHEV
Road Test: 2020 BME xDrive30e PHEV
Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at email@example.com.