2020 Kia Niro

Subcompact crossover SUV gets high marks

Roseville, CA- Subcompact crossover sport utility vehicles continue to grow in numbers. Why? Two big reasons are car buyers love their fuel efficiency and the sticker price meets their budget.

Introduced in 2017, the five-passenger Kia Niro has managed to wedge its way into a crowded field of subcompacts (note that some auto folks classify the Niro as a hatchback). And frankly, considering its great diversity, we’re a little surprised the Niro hasn’t generated even more sales. First-year sales were 27,237, increased to 28,232 one year later, and stayed fairly close with 24,467 sold in 2019.

Following a successful debut three years ago as a pure hybrid, the folks at Kia went a step further, adding a plug-in electric hybrid vehicle (PHEV) to the mix in 2018. Seeking even more reasons to purchase a Niro, Kia added an alluring all-electric version in 2019, making the SUV about as green as a vehicle can get.

For our purposes here, there will be no debate regarding which version of the Niro is the best. They all have strengths and some inherent weaknesses as well. The focus here will be the Niro PHEV.

From an economical standpoint, the 2020 Kia Niro PHEV is a relative bargain. It’s near the top of the list in lowest priced PHEVs, starting at approximately $29,600. Like any vehicle, that price can quickly rise, and the Niro is no exception. A top-of-the-line model goes for around $36,500.

Kia didn’t make an abundance of changes to the 2020 model, but it did alter both the exterior and interior design. All Niros come with a diamond-patterned grille, new headlights, LED running lights and wheel designs. The interior changes include a restyled 7-inch instrumental cluster and making the 8-inch touchscreen display standard.

Range and Performance

Kia Niro interior

What hasn’t changed is the Niro’s electric range. It remains at 26 miles. While that figure pales in comparison to the Niro EV’s 239 miles, the PHEV version will typically get someone to work and back if the commute is not too sizable. The real plus is the Niro PHEV has a mileage estimate of 105 mpge (44-48 mpg overall), and can go 560 miles before its 11.4-gallon tank needs a refill.

The Niro PHEV utilizes an 8.9-kilowatt-hour battery pack that takes about 2.5 hours to be recharged with a Level 2 charger.

Performance is one area where the front-wheel drive Niro PHEV gets criticized. It employs a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine that’s paired with an electric motor and combines to generate 139 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Overall, the Niro comes up short frequently in the power department. And when that takes place, the engine automatically comes on, hindering the Niro’s overall fuel efficiency. It reportedly goes 0-60 mph in 10 seconds.

At a Glance – 2020 Kia Niro Plug-in Electric Hybrid

  • Performance: electric motor, 1.6-liter, four-cylinder hybrid, 139 horsepower
  • Mileage estimate: 105 mpge (electric mode); 44-48 mpg (overall)
  • Price estimate: $29,600 to $36,500
  • Warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles; drivetrain: 10 years/100,000 miles; roadside assistance: 5 years/60,000; corrosion: 5 years/100,000

The Niro PHEV delivers accurate steering and gives the driver a confident feeling of control. It handles challenging turns very well, is fairly quiet, and the braking is responsive. Standard safety features include lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, driver attention assist, and forward collision avoidance. There is no all-wheel drive option with any version of the Niro.

Interior

The Niro interior receives high marks. For a subcompact, the head and leg room are solid for all five passengers. We love that the door handles and center armrest are made of soft material and add to the Niro’s overall comfort. The digital display is easy to master, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration are standard.

There is 19.4 cubic-feet of space behind the second row expands to 54.5 cubic feet when the 60-40 rear seat folds down flatly. Kia has smartly hidden the battery under the rear seat so it doesn’t impact the cargo space.

Kia has done a wonderful job with the Niro, providing three versions of this green machine. The plug-in electric hybrid delivers in many key areas like fuel efficiency and costs, making the Niro deserving of its high ranking among its primary competitors.