The EPA 46 MPG Is Only the Start
One of the challenges Clean Fleet Report takes seriously is to test the EPA fuel economy ratings for the cars, crossovers and trucks we review, knowing efficiency is a top priority when looking to purchase a new vehicle. Sometimes the EPA is spot-on, but commonly we exceed its numbers by a few miles per gallon. But with the 2022 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) we obliterated the “official” number in our real world driving.
The Niro PHEV is powered by a 1.6-liter gasoline engine and a AC synchronous permanent magnet motor producing a total system 139 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque, mated to a smooth shifting 6-speed dual clutch transmission (DCT).
While the hybrid system is impressively efficient, rated at 46 miles per gallon combined,the secret to getting the best fuel economy is by maximizing the 26 miles of pure electric driving the Niro PHEV gets by plugging it in. Adding together the gasoline and electricity, the EPA estimates 105 MPGe (Miles Per Gallon Equivalent). MPGe is a measurement of how far a car can travel electrically on the same amount of energy as is contained in one gallon of gasoline.
On a three-day mini-getaway, my wife and I ventured out from our home in Orange County, California, to the Central California seaside town of Shell Beach. Once out of the Los Angeles area, we took CA 123 through Fillmore and Santa Paula, then headed to Ojai on CA 150 through the Topatopa Mountains. Both routes are curvy, winding their way through citrus and avocado groves, with 150 cresting at 6,716 feet. We eventually met-up with Highway 101 in Carpenteria, just south of Santa Barbara. Our return trip from Shell Beach took us on CA 166 over the 7,492-foot San Emigdio Mountains, then through the agricultural area near Cuyama, and then back down to I5 and home. Take a few minutes, or longer, to check-out the Western-themed Buckhorn Restaurant & Bar and its farm-to-table menu consisting of food sourced from local farms and ranches.
These driving routes were chosen for their scenic variety, and the 80-percent highway/20-percent city driving mix that covered 630 miles resulting in an average of 58 mpg. Had we spent more time in the city and in stop-and-go traffic, we would easily have topped 60 mpg, as we did when we last reviewed the Kia Niro PHEV last year (and previously).
We accomplished this excellent efficiency by plugging in the Niro PHEV at every opportunity and by driving conservatively in hybrid and all-electric mode, utilizing the adaptive cruise control with a stop/go feature. Fuel economy numbers reported by Clean Fleet Report are non-scientific and represent the reviewer’s driving experience using the dash gauge computer. Your numbers may differ.
The hybrid system’s 8.9-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion polymer battery is replenished through plug-in charging, which is no different than what you do with your mobile phone every night. It takes three hours with a 240V Level 2 charger or overnight with a 120V regular household outlet. A fully charged battery will deliver 26 miles of all-electric driving.
When driving, the regenerative system converts kinetic energy into electric energy and stores it in the battery when applying the brakes or coasting. This process can be viewed on a dash gauge displaying the power flowing into and out of the battery. The pedal feel on hybrids can be grabby at times, requiring a learning period to get it right. Not so on the Niro where the regenerative braking, which is not braking in the traditional sense, but a combination of braking and the motor slowing the car, has three settings for how aggressive you want it to be.
I always set the regeneration to the highest level.
Driving Experience: On the Road
To get the maximum driving range, which Kia pegs at 560 miles on a full tank and fully charged battery, make sure to strategically use the driver-selectable drive modes of EV and Hybrid. There is an EV/HEV (Electric Vehicle/Hybrid Electric Vehicle) button next to the gear selector. HEV is where you will want to be when on the open road, letting the hybrid system do its thing. When in town and the battery has a charge, selecting EV means you are only using electricity for up to 26 miles. For most people this is more than they drive dally, which means they will rarely be stopping to buy gasoline.
The front-wheel drive (all-wheel drive is not offered) 2022 Niro PHEV weighs in at 3,391 pounds. The well-distributed weight is due to the under-seat battery placement, creating a low center of gravity, resulting in better-than-expected driving dynamics. The motor-driven power steering was a bit light, but tuned for good road feel. Maneuvering in town, including parking, was easy because of the very tight turning radius. The front MacPherson struts with stabilizer bar and gas shocks plus the rear multi-link suspension with twin tube shocks delivered a smooth, stable, composed and comfortable ride. Tire and wind noise were low, and the engine in hybrid mode was quiet. Of course when running on electricity only, there is no engine noise because no engine is running. Seems obvious, but it needed to be said.
The 16-inch alloy wheels and 205/60R Michelin Energy all-season tires delivered handling that was direct with little body roll, but are best when on long fuel-efficient runs on the open road. While there is nothing sporty about the Niro PHEV, it had a very respectable 0-60 time of nine seconds, which is plenty to merge into freeway traffic.
The previously mentioned regenerative braking system has four wheel disc brakes with ABS and brake assist, producing stops that were straight and true. The noticeable hybrid braking whine has a nice sound, and don’t be surprised by the gentle beeping when backing.
The Niro, which falls someplace between a hatchback and a small crossover, has a clean and simple design. Exterior color choices are Steel Gray, Runway Red, Aurora Black Pearl, Snow White Pearl, Deep Cerulean, and like ours, Horizon Blue. The signature Kia tiger nose grille runs edge-to-edge, leading to the swept back projector beam headlights. LED daytime running lights and fog lights, located in the bottom fascia, complete the front end design. The side profile draws a nice line to the A-pillars, leading to a gently sloping roof with rack rails, a shark fin antenna and an integrated black spoiler over the rear hatch window. The narrow horizontal LED taillights and smooth surfaced hatch finish off the attractive rear. Small badges identify the Niro PHEV as a plug-in hybrid.
Finding hard plastic interior surfaces was not a surprise, but are perfectly fine for a small car with a low base price. Otherwise, the interior is clean and uncluttered, with excellent sight lines and easy to use gauges and controls.
Clean Fleet Report was driving the Niro EV EX Premium model with comfortable and supportive heated and ventilated front seats. All seats were covered with SynTex, a synthetic leather seat material that is soft to the touch and resists spills and is easy to clean. The driver gets 10-way power adjustable with lumbar, while the passenger gets 6-way manual adjustments.
Outward visibility is excellent as the 6.3-inch ground clearance results in an outlook on the road a bit higher than a sedan, but not as high as a SUV. The rear seat has a center armrest with cup holders and is best suited for two adults. The flat floor provides for extra cabin space and legroom. Rear storage features a large flat carpeted surface, made even larger when the rear 60/40 split-folding seat is folded flat. There is a concealed storage compartment beneath the cargo floor to store the charge cord.
The center dash in our Niro PHEV EX Premium came with a 10.25-inch touchscreen housing the navigation and the 8-speaker+subwoofer Harman Kardon sound system. Entertainment is through AM/FM and SiriusXM, with USB ports, and smartphone integration via Bluetooth and Kia Connect, which included wired Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The Bluetooth worked very well for voice recognition, and mobile phone pairing was quick and easy. Big thanks to Kia designers for the knobs and wheels to control the radio and dual-zone automatic climate control.
Comfort and convenience features include a power tilt and sliding sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control with rear passenger vents, leather-wrapped heated steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, rear view camera, smart key with push button start/stop, electronic parking brake with Auto Hold, power-folding heated outside mirrors, cargo cover, carpeted floor mats, LED interior lights, driver and passenger power windows with automatic up/down, power door locks, and a cargo cover.
The Niro PHEV is offered with an extensive list of standard and optional safety features as part of Kia Drivewise. Since some of the features are available on higher trim levels and through packages, we advise getting your car with as many advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) as possible.
Safety features available on the Niro PHEV include dual front, driver’s knee, front-seat side, and front and rear side-curtain airbags, forward emergency braking and collision warning, lane departure warning with lane keep and lane following assist, stability control, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic warning, park assist with front and rear sensors, vehicle stability management, traction control, hill launch assist, tire pressure monitoring system, and an engine immobilizer.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the 2022 Niro PHEV with an overall Good rating for crashworthiness. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not rated the Niro PHEV.
The 2022 Niro PHEV comes in three trim levels. Here’s their MSRP without options, but including the mandatory $1,255 destination charge. The Niro PHEV qualifies for federal and state credits, and in some states, is eligible for a HOV sticker.
- LXS $29,155
- EX $34,645
- EX Premium $37,745
The 2022 Niro PHEV comes with these warranties:
- Powertrain – 10 years/100,000 miles
- Battery – 10 years/100,000 miles
- Basic – Five years/60,000 miles
- Roadside Assistance – Five years/60,000 miles
- Corrosion – 10 years/Unlimited miles
Observations: 2022 Kia Niro PHEV
There will come a time when more new cars are powered purely by electricity than gasoline. The bridge to that point is the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, a technology Kia has mastered with models such as the Sorento, Sportage (new in 2023) and Niro PHEVs.
The fuel economy is stellar, the design doesn’t scream for attention with its clean classic look, and comes from a company offering the best warranty on the market. It is comfortable on long road trips and easy to handle and zip around in-town. On top of this, the Niro PHEV is competitively priced with small crossovers that don’t offer the same features, safety and warranty, but also get inferior fuel economy. Go to your local Kia dealer and see for yourself.
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Story by John Faulkner. Photos by John Faulkner and Kia.
The Kia Niro lineup through the years
Road Test: 2022 Kia Niro EV
Road Test: 2021 Kia Niro PHEV
Road Test: 2020 Kia Niro PHEV
Road Test: 2020 Kia Niro PHEV (2nd opinion)
Road Test: 2020 Kia Niro EV
Road Test: 2019 Kia Niro EV
Road Test: 2019 Kia Niro EV (2nd opinion)
Road Test: 2019 Kia Niro EV (3rd opinion)
Road Test: 2017 Kia Niro FE Hybrid
Road Test: 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid
Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at [email protected]