Executive Wheels: Want-Ability Rating – Astronomical
A review of the 2018 Kia Niro Phev Ex Premium
Much unlike the old days, like the 1980s and the 1990s (and especially the ‘70s), almost every car on the American market these days is a well-made, nice vehicle, able to handle the roads in relative style. This is not to say I like every car I have driven; there are some I just don’t enjoy. But my objections have nothing to do with quality and drivability, just taste. There are no “bad” cars on the roads anymore, just a few that I wouldn’t want for more than a week of test driving. In my now more than 35 years of car reviewing, I can remember a few that scared the bejeebers out of me, and one, the Yugo, I sent back as unsafe. That doesn’t happen anymore.
However, given the overall quality of today’s cars, it is rare to find one that is simply superior, that not only stands out from the crowd, but even sets new standards of what’s possible. A vehicle that raises the bar in comfort, performance, economy, value, drivability and what I like to call “want-ability.”
Such a car is the Kia Niro, and especially this Kia Niro plug-in hybrid. It is now on the top of my “want-ability” list – as in “I want one.”
It should be noted in almost every category of vehicle out there – compact, subcompact, hybrid, sedan, SUV, etc. – Kia has an entrant that is high on my list. Kia, the Korean-based car manufacturer is particularly superior. I like the Kia Sportage and Sorento in the SUV category, and the Rio, Forte, Optima, Cadenza and K900 is the various sizes of sedans. The Sedona minivan is up there, too.
But the Niro?
This vehicle, launched in the U.S. just last year – a 2017 model – takes the line to a whole new level.
The basic Niro is a 5-door (4-doors and a hatchback) subcompact SUV-ish kind of vehicle, that is a hybrid in all of its forms, with its gas/electric combination putting out some 139 hp and achieving mileage ratings of 52 mpg city/49 mpg highway/50 mpg combined. There are four trims (all with the same powerplant) starting at $23,340 MSRP in a handsome, if not particularly distinctive package. I like the size – not too big, not too small – and I like the way it drives. The electric part of the package has all the necessary torque to make the car zippy in city traffic and the gas engine proves worthy also in the city and even on the highway in performance. Plus, it is an extremely quiet car – especially for one in this size and cost level – and very comfortable. Just a nice solid ride.
The plug-in has all those attributes with the added advantage of electric capability. You can drive the car as a simple hybrid, or you can hit a button on the console and go all-electric for up to 26 miles on a charge – more than enough for most commutes these days. Obviously, when using all-electric, the miles-per-gallon rating is zero, except for the cost of the electricity. During my test drive, I plugged it in at night when the electric rates are at their lowest, and it was fully charged by morning. For running around a bit more, when the Niro is operating as an electric/gas hybrid, the mpg rating is 105 MPGe, so you can do a lot of running around for very low cost. And, if you exceed the electric capacity and go all gasoline, you’ll still get 48mpg city/44 mpg highway/46 mpg combined – still highly economical and highly competitive with any hybrid on the market. When fully charged and gassed up, this Niro has a total range of 560 miles – very impressive.
Everybody I know who is thinking of hybrid and electric vehicles has what is known as “range anxiety,” that is, the worry that they’ll run out of juice in an inconvenient spot. Being a hybrid and capable of operating as any gasoline vehicle, there is no worry here in the Niro, but just to make sure Kia has built a technology package into a smart-phone app, called UVO, that will, among many features, direct you to nearby charging stations wherever you are. The car comes with a 120V charging cord and for an additional fee you can get a 240v package for super-fast charging. And, just so you know, the Niro also has regenerative braking, so it also charges itself to extend battery life.
I have a friend who recently bought the new Chevrolet Bolt – an all-electric vehicle – which he uses for his commute in Detroit. He raves about it. Chevrolet and his local utility hooked him up for a very small cost with a 240v charging station in his garage, but what he was most excited about was the tax incentives. He received a $7,500 federal tax credit which essentially lowered his out-of-pocket expense by $7,500. That ain’t chicken feed.
So, I checked on the tax incentives for this Niro HPEV, and while not as good, still impressive. Under current law, the Niro HPEV qualifies for a federal tax credit of $4,534, and a whopping $5,000 Colorado state tax credit if purchased – $2,500 if leased. The Colorado credit goes down to $4,000 for the 2020 tax year, and $2,500 for 2021, after which the incentive is due to expire. Anyway, by my calculation, if you purchased this Niro HPEV this year you could claim $9,453 in tax credits on your 2018 tax returns next year. A nice incentive on a vehicle that could be had for a MSRP of $27,900. You could feed a lot of chickens for a long time on the savings.
I could go on and on about this vehicle as it is one of the best I’ve driven all year – for several years in fact. I drove the top-of-the-line EX Premium version of the Niro HPEV, which carries a base price of $34,500, and the difference between it and the $27,500 trim model, or the EX at $31,500, is extra stuff as standard – Things like all the safety bells and whistles – lane departure alert, rear cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, radar-based cruise control, emergency braking, pre-collision warning – and leather seating. Also, as part of the aforementioned UVO smart phone app, you can have “Alexa” remotely start the car and air conditioning, among other whiz-bang things.
I, however, look for the basic things. All the equipment here – the radio, climate control, Bluetooth for phone calls and phone apps – is easy to use, and the sound – a Harmon Kardon premium audio – is superb. In addition there is a very convenient cubby at the front of the console, with all of the power/accessory/USB connections – and a wireless charging pad. Also, more outlets and storage in the armrest cubby. There’s great room in the second seat, and a relatively large storage area in the way-back.
Bottom line: This car is fun to drive, performed beautifully, had plenty of room, was super quiet, very comfortable, and quite nice looking (looks much like a Mercedes GLC).
As top-of-the-line all they added on was carpeted floor mats, for $135 and a destination charge of $940, for a total sticker price of $35,575. That’s not inexpensive, but as I said, with the tax incentives the costs go down to just about $26,000, and that is highly competitive. Not to mention the economy of the hybrid and all-electric operations.
Loved this car. Want-ability rating: astronomical.
RATING: 4 WHEELS PLUS THE SPARE AND ANOTHER SPARE (OUT OF 4).