It’s strange that the Kia Stinger — an aggressively styled, rear-drive, twin-turbocharged sport sedan — would get so much limelight when there’s a new Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid to drool over. All right, that’s the one and only joke we’ll have at the well-regarded Niro’s expense. Obviously, there’ll be little cross-shopping between these two models, as both vehicles fulfill very different missions.
The Stinger’s all about letting your hair down and performing a smoke show in your old high school parking lot. The Niro Plug-in is for the rest of the week, when you’re shuttling your kids around and displaying your green bona fides to your upstanding suburban neighbors. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Recently unveiled at the L.A. Auto Show, the plug-in Niro takes a competent package (one we hesitate to call a “crossover”) and endows it with a healthy dose of all-electric driving range.
Unchanged except in powertrain, the 2018 Niro PHEV boasts a much larger battery than its conventional hybrid sibling. With a capacity of 8.9 kWh, the battery pack provides enough juice for the 60-horsepower electric motor to give the vehicle a gas-free driving range of 26 miles. That’s one mile more than a Toyota Prius Prime.
Besides the extra battery capacity, Kia left everything else pretty much the same. Once a driver depletes the battery, the Niro PHEV reverts to basic hybrid operation. A 1.6-liter direct-injection four-cylinder provides the hydrocarbon-based motivation, coupled with the electric motor and a battery now partly replenished by regenerative braking. Total system output is 139 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque.
While the vehicle’s electric efficiency rating stands at 105 MPGe, the Niro PHEV actually consumes more gasoline than the stock Niro when running in hybrid mode. Kia claims a rating of 48 mpg city, 44 mpg highway, and 46 mph combined. Compare that with the rating of 51 city/46 highway/49 combined for a 2017 Niro. The Niro PHEV stands to save the owners gas money only if it’s used heavily for local trips and commuting, which most buyers no doubt will.
Kia claims the Niro PHEV receives a full charge after 2.5 hours at a 240-volt (Level 2) connection, or 9.5 hours on a 120-volt outlet. The enlarged battery, located under the rear seat and cargo floor, does not impinge on cargo volume. There’s one useful, model-specific feature to mention: in order to prevent battery drain, the Niro PHEV comes with a driver-only air conditioning option, which reduces power consumption by keeping everyone but the driver roasting.
The 2018 Niro should roll onto dealer lots before the end of the month, appearing in LX, EX, and EX Premium trims. There’s no pricing listed as of yet, but expect to pay a premium over a standard Niro.
[Images: Kia Motors]
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