2021 Kia Niro PHEV: worthy but not royalty

James Raia

The 2021 Kia Niro is available with several unusual exterior paint color choices.

Unveiled by the South Korean manufacturer five years ago, the Kia Niro debuted in the United States in 2018. The five-door subcompact joins the list of unheralded vehicles offered as gas-powered crossovers, hybrid plug-in electric vehicles (PHEV) and electric-only options. Many of the little SUVs seem much the same.

The 2021 Niro has the identical platform as close automotive relatives, the Kia Seltos and Hyundai Ioniq. (Hyundai owns about one-third of Kia.) The Niro revisits last year’s model with a few updates. The front grille has a new diamond shape. The headlamps are also new and the wheels have been redesigned.

The 2021 Kia Niro is available in and several hybrid options.
The 2021 Kia Niro is available in and several hybrid options.

What remains from previous models is the best of what PHEVs offer. For newbie buyers, range anxiety isn’t an issue, particularly for those who work, shop, socialize and play close to home. The all-electric range is 26 miles and the Niro has a combined fuel-economy rating of 46 mpg/105 MPGe.

When the car’s battery is depleted, the gas portion of the traditional hybrid system takes over. The engine charges the battery. Regenerative braking sends energy back into the battery when the accelerator pedal is lifted and or the brake pedal is pressed. Plug the Niro in overnight and it will be fully charged by the next morning.

Unlike conventional hybrids, the PHEVs and EVs qualify for federal tax credits as well as state and local incentives and tax rebates in some locations. The Niro PHEV and EV also qualify for Clean Air Stickers used for driving in carpool lanes.

Most Kia Niro trims are equipped with 1.6-liter four-cylinder engines with a 43-horsepower traction motor located between the engine and transmission. The combined system produces 139 horsepower and is matched with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The PHEV option has a larger battery pack and separate electric motor. All-wheel drive isn’t available in PHEV trim.

The 2021 Kia Niro is available with several unusual exterior paint color choices.
The 2021 Kia Niro is available with several unusual exterior paint color choices.

Although Kia doesn’t provide details, the name Niro means “strong and powerful” like the infamous Roman emperor, the tyrant Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. It’s an odd name, and it’s not accurate when applied to the PHEV.

Kia Niro: Sluggish Acceleration

Acceleration from zero to 60 miles per hour in 9.5 seconds. When a quick burst is warranted for a lane change or another situation, it won’t happen. The hybrid engine hesitates and it also produces a steady whine. The ride overall is quiet and smooth, with little windrush or additional annoyances. Head are leg rooms are strong for the segment.

Kia and Hyundai have nearly exponentially improved their ratings among industry watchdogs and analysts. The Niro has impressive fuel economy, impressive cargo and passenger spaces, strong comfort and an intuitive infotainment system with an eight-inch screen or optional 10.3-inch screen.

Technology in Kia is up-to-date. The Niro features anAM/FM/HD/SiriusXM Audio System and a stockpile of additional items: An 8″ display audio 2.0 V w/embedded modem with Android Auto & Apple CarPlay smartphone integration. A six-speaker audio system w/auxiliary USB input, Bluetooth wireless connectivity w/voice recognition, steering wheel mounted audio controls, 7″ supervision meter cluster, TFT color LCD w/rheostat, 1 front 12V power outlet, 1 front USB charger and wireless phone charger are all also standard.

As a subcompact, the Niro plays big. There’s plenty of interior space for passengers and cargo and the second-row folding bench seat has a standard 60-40 split.

The starting price for the 2021 Kia Niro is just under $30,000 about $10,000 less than the average price of a new vehicle in the United States. The subcompact SUV is a satisfactory choice. It’s not quick. It’s not compelling. But it gets the job done as the antithesis of its namesake.


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James Raia, the editor and publisher of TheWeeklyDriver.com since 2004, reports on Kia and many other manufacturers’ new cars for Bay Area News Group in San Jose, California, and Gulfshore Business Magazine in Naples, Florida. Contact him via email: [email protected].



Article Last Updated: March 26, 2021.

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