With the 2021 Niro, Kia is creating a solid presence in the emerging market for electrified vehicles. A sub-compact SUV, the Niro comes in three flavors: hybrid, plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and fully electric (EV).
Importantly, the Niro versions were designed from the outset as dedicated electrified models, not converted from existing gasoline-powered vehicles, as are most rivals.
This difference can help in making the designs more space efficient, especially in terms of cargo capacity.
The 2021 Niro PHEV is more expensive than the 2021 Kia Niro hybrid, but cheaper than the battery powered Niro EV.
The Niro PHEV shares the same 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine as the Niro hybrid. Combined with an electric motor, the total output is 139 horsepower. But the Niro PHEV amplifies the appeal of the hybrid by substantially increasing the size of its battery, enabling the PHEV to travel on electric energy alone for up to 26 miles, according to Kia. And the plug-in feature allows owners to fully recharge the battery overnight at home.
Once the Niro PHEV battery is discharged, it will be replenished to a certain extent in normal driving conditions with the energy recaptured by the vehicle’s regenerative braking system.
As opposed to relying on conventional friction brakes, the regenerative system uses the electric motor to slow the vehicle, effectively turning the motor into a generator. Typically this system is most useful in city driving when frequent braking means more charging opportunities for the battery.
The Niro PHEV is something of a loner in its class, as the only other PHEV SUV that’s close in terms of size is the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek PHEV. Other potential PHEV contenders, such as the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime and 2021 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, are larger. However buyers will also want to consider the 2021 Toyota Prius Prime, which is a hatchback car design rather than a SUV, but impressive in its own right.
What’s New for 2021?
For 2021, the Kia Niro PHEV sees minor but useful changes.
The Niro adds a rear occupant alert sensor, which warns drivers of kids or pets left in the back seat.
Wireless smartphone mirroring on the 8.0-in. touchscreen is available for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phones.
The push button engine start system adds a remote start capability and an electric park brake is standard on the mid-level EX trim.
The top EX Premium Niro PHEV trim level comes with a clever new safety feature that uses the navigation and smart cruise control systems. With cruise control engaged, the vehicle will automatically slow down as it approaches corners, based on info in the navigation system, which itself will be updated for free for 10 years. Find a 2021 Kia Niro PHEV for sale
What We Like
- Appealing body design
- Battery only drive capability
- Long warranty
What We Don’t
- Modest performance
- Basic cabin decor
- Engine intervenes too easily in battery mode
Prices for the 2021 Kia Niro PHEV start at $29,590 for the LXS trim, jumps to $33,390 for the EX and tops out at $36,550 for the EX Premium.
Destination charge is $1,175.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assesses vehicles that can run on battery power alone with a formula called miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe).
The 2021 Kia Niro PHEV manages 105 MPGe city/highway combined on its battery and 46 mpg city/highway combined on its gasoline engine, according to the EPA.
The Kia’s numbers are better than the Subaru Crosstrek PHEV (90 MPGe and 35 mpg) and the Toyota RAV4 Prime (94 MPGe and 38 mpg). But the Toyota Prius Prime, with 133 MPGe and 54 mpg, is markedly superior to the Niro.
Standard Features & Options
There are three trim levels, LXS, EX and EX Premium, offered on the 2021 Kia Niro PHEV.
In LXS trim, the five-passenger sub-compact SUV design comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, projector beam headlights, roof rails, an illuminated charge port door, a roof spoiler, and LED daytime running lights.
In the cabin, standard features include cloth seats, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, 8.0-inch color touchscreen, cruise control, 6-speaker sound system, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 4.2-inch instrument color screen, dual zone climate control, and power windows.
The EX trim level brings an electric parking brake, heated and power folding door mirrors and LED rear lights. Inside there is a 10-way power adjustable driver seat, heated front seats, smart cruise control, 7.0-inch instrument display, steering wheel paddle shifters, and a wireless phone charger.
At the EX Premium level, the added features include LED projector headlights and a power/tilt sunroof. The cabin adds a 10.25-inch touchscreen, faux leather seat trim, heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, driver memory seat, and a Harmon Kardon premium sound system with 8 speakers.
The safety features provided as standard on the 2021 Kia Niro PHEV LXS trim include seven airbags, forward-collision alert, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic warning, lane-keep assist, and high-beam assist.
To this list, the EX trim adds cyclist detection to the forward collision-alert system and lane-following assist. The EX Premium brings rear parking sensor warning system and the navigation/adaptive cruise-control curve-recognition system.
Behind the Wheel
The 2021 Niro PHEV combines a 104 hp, 4-cylinder, 1.6-liter gasoline engine and an electric motor for a total output of 139 hp.
Performance is slightly more spirited than the hybrid model, due to a more powerful electric motor, but the PHEV will not set any speed records. The 0-60 mph time claimed by Kia of 10.8 seconds is on par for a hybrid/PHEV small car, but it’s painfully slow by the standards of most conventionally powered vehicles.
While the Niro PHEV will drive on its battery alone, you have to be quite gentle with the throttle pedal or the gasoline engine will kick in readily.
On a positive note, the Niro PHEV does feature a 6-speed dual clutch automatic transmission (DCT). We much prefer this type of transmission to the noisy continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) used by many hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius.
The Niro PHEV’s steering is responsive, although lacking in feedback. As such, the Niro is easy to maneuver in city traffic and its ride is quite composed over uneven roads.
Other Cars to Consider
2021 Toyota Prius Prime – We are not fans of the Prius design but it’s hard to argue with its outstanding fuel economy.
2021 Subaru Crosstrek PHEV – Not the most impressive PHEV on the market, the Subaru has disappointing fuel consumption numbers.
We feel the 2021 Kia Niro PHEV’s higher EX and EX Premium are on the pricey side, especially compared to the Toyota Prius Prime. The Niro PHEV base LXS trim offers most of the features you want and saves several thousand dollars over the EX and EX Premium grades. Find a 2021 Kia Niro PHEV for sale