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2020 Kia Niro PHEV review: A mixed bag

The Kia Niro is a popular small crossover — really just a hatchback — that comes with a variety of powertrains, including a plug-in hybrid. Rated at 26 miles of all-electric range, it could be the ideal small runabout that can also take a journey if you needed to.

Of course, that’s assuming it’s any good. Which it’s not bad, but there are a few areas that definitely need addressed before the upcoming refresh.

2020 Kia Niro PHEV exterior

Photo credit: Chad Kirchner / EV Pulse

The exterior of the Niro is an attractive looking thing. Pointed daytime running lights sit comfortably below a sit of LED headlights. The hood bulges slightly, giving it a slightly aggressive front stance.

The rear of the Niro has angled taillights that resemble the front lights. There’s a small spoiler on top of the hatch. To promote the SUV credentials, there are luggage bars on top.

The wheels, while eco-friendly in design, look attractive on our red painted model.

Overall it’s an attractive little hatchback.

2020 Kia Niro PHEV interior

Photo credit: Chad Kirchner / EV Pulse

If you’ve been in any modern Kia, the interior of the Niro will make sense to you. Two analog gauges in the instrument cluster flank a small digital screen providing you all of your necessary readouts.

An infotainment screen in the center supports Android Auto and Apple Car Play. Satellite radio is rewindable. An onboard modem connects to the cloud so that owners can perform functions like remote start from their phones anywhere on the planet.

Our test model had heated front seats and automatic climate control. All of the buttons and switchgear were fine to the touch, but plastics on the door trim could’ve been nicer with more soft-touch materials.

The interior isn’t a Kia Telluride in quality, but is on par with the commuter buyer that is likely looking at something like this.

2020 Kia Niro PHEV charging

Photo credit: Chad Kirchner / EV Pulse

There is a single SAE J1772 port on the Kia Niro for up to Level 2 charging. The charger that comes with the car trickle charges. On a Level 2 charger, it takes some 6 hours to add the 26 miles of range back on the battery.

Why so slow? The onboard AC charger tops out around 3 kW, where most Level 2 chargers these days can support 7 kW or more. For example, the Chrysler Pacific PHEV recharges in 2 hours for 30 miles of range because the onboard charger charges up to 7.2 kW.

That’s really where the charging letdown lies. A total of 25 miles of electric range is fine for many people, especially if they have the ability to charge at work — when people actually return to work. But if you had several errands to run, and wanted to top off quick, it doesn’t happen.

A faster onboard charger would solve many of the gripes that I ultimately have with the Niro PHEV.

2020 Kia Niro PHEV driving

The Niro drives like any other small, front-wheel drive hatchback. It’ll get you where you’re going, but it’s not the most inspiring drive.

The Niro uses a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, instead of a CVT, to shift gears. While this does give the impression that you’re driving a normal car, the DCT does have some interesting behavior.

Shifts aren’t particularly fast when driving only on electricity, and the sensation of a slow shift on just electricity is something most gasoline drivers aren’t going to be used to. I could see some folks even going into a dealership to ask about it, because it felt so weird.

In our instrumented testing, the Kia Niro PHEV made the run from 0 to 60 mph in 9.9 seconds. For those outside the United States, the run to 100 kph was 10.65 seconds. It took 5.87 seconds to accelerate from 50 to 70 mph, which we determine as overtaking performance.

Finally, to stop from 70 mph the Niro PHEV took 180 feet.

READ MORE: Our performance testing methodology

For what it is, the performance in on par with what we’d expect.

2020 Kia Niro PHEV pricing and economy

Our Kia Niro PHEV with the EX Premium package and additional options cost $38,085. That includes the $1,120 delivery charge.

That’s a lot of money for a small hatchback, even if that small hatchback does get 105 MPGe. In hybrid-only mode, the Niro is rated for 46 mpg.

Final verdict

Photo credit: Chad Kirchner / EV Pulse

The 2020 Kia Niro PHEV is a competent little car that’ll reliably get you where you need to go. It is hatchback design adds a bit more space than something you’d get from a small sedan, and the MPGe is solid.

The slow recharge time, adequate hybrid-only mpg, and entry-level interior components give me pause. While you can’t plug a Toyota Corolla hybrid in, the real-world mpg far exceeds what the Niro would get on hybrid-only driving.

If you’re interested, definitely go give it a drive. But it’s also worth shopping around here, especially at a traditional hybrid.

At a glance

  • Year: 2020
  • Make: Kia
  • Model: Niro PHEV
  • Type: 4-door subcompact crossover
  • Combined horsepower: 139
  • Combined torque: 195 lb-ft
  • EV range: 26 miles
  • MPGe: 105
  • Pros: Good looks, strong infotainment tech
  • Cons: Slow recharging, commuter car interior
  • Base: $30,610
  • Price as tested: $38,085
Written by Chad Kirchner
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