TEST DRIVE REVIEW: Keeping Up With the Kias, Hybrid Edition

By Michele Spencer

2017 Kia Niro and 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid

In the past ten years, Kia’s product lineup has come a very long way.  Every time I mention that I’m test driving a Kia, the response is always the same:  they are sooo much better now than they used to be.  The brand was known for its inexpensive and boring-styled econo-boxes when they first hit the US market. While Kias are still a great bargain, it’s been said that the Kias being produced now have sophistication beyond their price tags.  Let’s take a look at two of their hybrids, the Niro and the Optima.

Kia Niro Hybrid2

2017 Kia Niro

Sure, Kia says it’s a Sport Utility Vehicle, but it’s really a pretty cool station wagon. There are those of us who think station wagons are overdue for a comeback in a big way, but the powers that be in the automotive world don’t agree, and so there aren’t too many mass-produced today.  In the meantime, Kia makes a perfect station wagon that’s being peddled to the masses as an SUV.  Whatever, Kia! If it’s 60 inches high, it’s a station wagon!  For reference, the widely-accepted-as-a-station wagon Volvo V60 and V90 models are both 61 inches high, and the Subaru Outback, also considered a station wagon, is 66 inches high.  Neener, neener, neenerI win this round, Kia.

Now that we have that out of the way, here’s the take-home message: Do you need to have that “sitting high” feeling?  If you do, look elsewhere, because a Niro is not going to work for you. And while we’re at it, if you need a luxury or refined interior, another station wagon or SUV is going to work a lot better for you. If you are looking for a no-frills people mover with high MPG, then the Kia Niro should be on your short list.

In my week of testing, the Niro got rock star gas mileage. I took two road trips from Orange County to San Diego.  On both trips, there was a blend of lousy stop and go traffic and free-flow highway driving. The Niro got 51-52 mpg on one trip and 53-54 mpg on the other.

A word on how the power system works:  It’s a gas/electric hybrid, but it doesn’t exhaust the battery first and then switch to gas, as you might think.  Rather, the Niro electronically decides which way to most efficiently send power to the wheels.  The driver can monitor in real time on the display exactly what is happening and where things stand with the range, the remaining battery power, and the amount of gas in the tank.  There’s absolutely no reason to worry about running out of battery.  (Range anxiety, what’s that?!?)

In general, the Niro chose to use gas power when traveling at higher and consistent rates of speed and electric power in stop and go and slow traffic conditions.

The Niro comes in five trim levels: Base, LX, EX, Touring Launch, and Touring.  The base version MSRP is $22,890.00. For that you get a no-frills interior (although the excellent UVO Infotainment and Connectivity system is included, so at least you’ll have that for the base price), 139 horses and 195 pound-feet of torque. This is not a car for speed demons and powerholics.  The available power works just fine for the everyday driver looking for a hybrid that is wallet-friendly, basic transportation.

The back seat passenger space is very roomy, at 97.1 SAE and 102 EPA.  The cargo area is a decent 19.4 cubic feet, and 54.5 cubic feet with the rear seats down.

The upper trim levels have all the extras, including a sunroof, Harman Kardon sound, heated steering, leather interior, and heated and ventilated seats, as well as technology extras like blind spot detection, lane departure warning, and a wireless smartphone charging pad.

Even without all the bells and whistles, it’s easy to understand why the Niro was chosen as one of the “Best Cars of 2017” by US News & World Report and was scored 4/5 by Car & Driver.

Kia Niro hybrid
Kia Niro is marketed as a small crossover sport utility vehicle.

2017 Kia Niro Details

  • Power: 1.5 liter 4 cylinder engine with 43 hop electric motor; 1.56 kwh lithium-ion polymer battery
  • Transmission: 6 speed dual clutch, automatic
  • Brakes: 4 wheel disc with ABS; and Regenerative braking system
  • Idle stop and go system
  • Wheels: 16 inch alloy (FE, basic trim); 18 inch (Touring Launch trim)
  • Warranty: 10 year/100K limited powertrain and limited battery; 5 year/60K limited basic; 5 year/60K mile free roadside assistance
  • Fuel economy, FE trim (best of all trim levels): 52 city MPG, 49 hwy, 50 combined. Touring Launch trim level: 46/40/43 MPG.
  • Price (as tested, FE trim): MRSP $22,890.  LX trim: $23,200.  EX trim: $25,700. Touring Launch trim: $28,000. Touring trim: $29,650. Add $895.00 for shipping from Korea.
  • Interior and Infotainment (FE trim): Cloth seats, UVO Infotainment and Connectivity platform, dual zone climate control, power windows, door locks, and outside windows, 7-inch touchscreen, back-up camera, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Sirius XM radio, Bluetooth, USB jack, 12 volt outlet, 60/40 folding rear seats.
  • Available on upper trim levels: leather seats, Harman Kardon sound with 8 speakers, sunroof, sunshade, leather seat trim, heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, 18 inch wheels, push button start/stop, blind spot detection, lane departure warning, wireless smartphone charging pad, driver seat position memory, power adjustable driver’s seat, smart key, parking assist.

kia.com/us/en/vehicle/niro/2017

Kia optima-hybrid_2017_snowy white pearl
Optima Hybrid in Snow White Pearl

 

2017 Kia Optima Hybrid

The Optima is a five-person, four door midsize sedan which is available in conventional gasoline engine and hybrid versions. The tester was a regular hybrid (as opposed to a Plug-In). The Optima Hybrid comes in two trim levels, Premium and EX. This week’s tester was the Premium (base) trim level, with the Hybrid Convenience Package of additional features (listed below) added in.

The Premium trim level got 44.9 mpg on average in a mix of both slow traffic and open highway driving, beating the EPA estimate of 42 combined.  (In comparison, the Accord Hybrid’s combined EPA rating is 49 MPG – but the MSRP starts at $29,605.)

The interior is nicely appointed, with knobs and push buttons for volume and air controls, in addition to a 7-inch touchscreen and a tilting/telescoping steering wheel.  Like the Niro, the base trim model features the excellent UVO Infotainment and Connectivity system (said to be better than most of its mid-size sedan competitors), but the Optima has even more standard features that kick up its competitiveness, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, standard leather-wrapped steering wheel, standard multi-adjustable driver’s seat, and standard dual zone climate controls.

The rear parking assist system (a Hybrid Convenience Package item on tester) alerts the driver with a chime if an object is detected within 47 inches of the rear of the car at under 3 miles per hour, which is exactly what is needed when backing up out of the driveway or a parking space.

Two drive modes are available, Eco and Sport.  While eco is the default, and allows the car to maximize fuel economy, the car really picks up power in Sport mode.

At 192 horse power, the Optima certainly gets the job done as far as keeping up with traffic on the freeway, but it’s not going to win you a trophy at the drag strip.  Like the Niro, this isn’t a car for those who need a powerful engine.  It’s for a different customer, a smart one.

As far as some objective analysis of the Optima Hybrid, US News & World Report gave it a score of 8.3/10; and Kelley Blue Book rated it at 9/10.

Smart people buy Kias. Really smart people buy Kia hybrids.

Kia Optima Hybrid side
Optima Hybrid in Gravity Blue
Kia Optima Hybrid side2
Optima Hybrid in Aluminum Silver

2017 Kia Optima Hybrid details:

  • Power: 2.0 liter 4 cylinder hybrid engine, 270 volt lithium polymer battery, 1.62 kwh
  • DOHC 16 valve engine, CVVT; Interior-Permanent Magnet Synchronous Electric motor
  • Transmission: 6 speed automatic
  • Brakes: 4 wheel disc with ABS – Anti-lock braking system
  • Trim Levels: Premium (base trim) and EX.
  • Safety: Dual front airbags, front seat side airbags, driver’s knee airbag, and side curtain airbags; 5 star government safety ratings (out of 5 stars)
  • Wheels: 16 inch alloy
  • Optional “Hybrid Convenience Package” on tester: Laminated front door windows, heated power outside mirrors, power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, driver’s seat memory, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, rear parking assist, and rear center console USB and 12 volt outlet. (Add $1,795 to MSRP.)
  • Trunk space: 4 cubic feet
  • Available options at higher trim level (EX): Panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, wireless smartphone charging pad, surround view monitoring camera
  • Warranty: 10 year/100K limited powertrain and limited battery; 5 year/60K limited basic; 5 year/60K mile free roadside assistance
  • Fuel economy, Premium trim: 39 city MPG, 46 highway, 42 combined.
  • Price (as tested, base trim): MSRP $25,995. EX trim: $30,990. Add $895.00 for shipping from Korea.
  • Interior and Infotainment: Dual-zone climate controls, 7-inch touchscreen, UVO Infotainment and Connectivity System, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Sirius XM radio, Bluetooth, front seat area USB port and 12 volt outlet, cloth seat trim, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, leather wrapped steering wheel, supervision meter cluster with LCD display.

kia.com/us/en/vehicle/optima-hybrid/2017

 

 

 

Electric, Hybrid and Hydrogen Vehicles

By Michele Spencer

EV market notes:  Studies show that potential buyers are still turned off to EVs and Hybrids.  Lack of options, high prices, limited range, and perceptions about limited charging station infrastructure are real issues for the industry to overcome in order to gain acceptance and market share.  Federal rebates ($7500) are still in play.  CA rebates ($2500) are in danger of going away if the Legislature does not act to save them, but for the moment, they remain available. Manufacturers are not penetrating the market: Less than 1% of car sales are electric vehicles nationwide. Foreign governments are doing a lot more to encourage electric, especially China,  which has a mandate that by 2020, 8 percent of all new vehicles sold must be electric and is currently prohibiting travel in certain cities unless the vehicle is an EV.  Norway is going all EV by 2025, France and the UK by 2040, and along with that, these countries will be prohibiting sales of new combustion engine vehicles. Japan’s government is embracing hydrogen as its power of choice for automobiles and already has extensive infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles. The movement towards zero emissions standards in China in particular is credited for motivating the manufacturers so they can capture that market and not get left behind.

This is my list of currently-available EVs, anticipated EVs to be sold, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, currently-available hybrids, and anticipated hybrids, for sale in the US, with notes from press releases and news sources.  Prices are MSRPs.

Pure Electric vehicles (EVs) Currently Available

  • Audi A3 e-tron (hatchback) from $38,900
  • BMW i3 (crossover) – from $44,450 – BMW plans to launch 25 electrified vehicles by 2025, including 12 that are fully electric.  CA electric companies are offering rebates, so check with yours.
  • BMW i8 (sportscar) – from $143,000
  • Chevy Bolt (hatchback) – from $37,495. 238 mile range, Motor Trend Car of the Year 2017
  • Fiat 500e (subcompact) – from $32,995
  • Ford Focus EV (hatchback) – from $29,120
  • Honda Clarity EV (sedan) – 89 mile range, Lease only.
  • Hyundai Ioniq (sedan) – Base trim model from $29,500; Limited trim from $32,500) – Fell short of consumer expectations on range, did not sell as well as expected. Now has 124 mile range. Available only to California residents.
  • Kia Soul EV (crossover) – from $32,250
  • Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive (sedan) – from $40,895
  • Mitsubishi IMIev (crossover) – from $22,995
  • Nissan Leaf (hatchback) – 2018 model revealed Sept. 2017; available January 2018. Nissan had to put out a new model to catch up to the others on range. The 2016 model had only 106 mile range. For 2018, the second generation Leaf has 150 mile range. From $30,875.  An “e plus” Leaf will be introduced in 2019, which will have 225 mile range.
  • Smart car ForTwo (subcompact) – from $14,650. Parent company Daimler AG announced closing of 2/3 of the US Smart car dealerships (Automotive News). 70-80 mile range. Only 27 dealers in the US will be selling these by 2018. Penske Automotive Group will continue to sell them in San Diego.  All will be EV. Gas models will be dropped from production in 2017, but may still be in stock at dealerships.
  • Tesla S (luxury sedan) – from $68,000. 210-305 mile range
  • Tesla 3 (sedan) – from $35,000), 220 to 310 mile range
  • Tesla X (luxury SUV) – from 79,500, 237-295 mile range
  • Volkswagen e-Golf (hatchback) – from $31,345

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles Currently Available

  • Honda Clarity (sedan) – Lease only, from $59K. Launched 2016
  • Hyundai Tuscon ix35 FCEV (SUV) – from $50,875. Launched 2013
  • Toyota Mirai (compact) – from $57,500.  Launched 2014
Tesla Model 3 LA Auto Show 2017.jpg
Tesla Model 3 at the Los Angeles Auto Show 2017

EVs Not Yet Available + Projected Production Year  + Notes

  • Audi e-tron (midsize luxury crossover) available 2019.  Will have 311 mile range. A sportback will be launched later in 2019 (fastback that will sit lower than an SUV but offers a more elevated seating position than a standard hatchback.)  Audi’s third EV will be a compact, based on VW Group’s new MEF platform for EVs.  It will debut in 2020, after VW debuts its ID compact hatchback.
  • Aston Martin  Rapid E – 2019. Will transition entire lineup to all EV and hybrid by 2030.
  • BMW “iVision Dynamics” (coupe style sedan) – Concept revealed at 2017 Frankfurt Auto Show.  Production version slated for launch in 2021.
  • Bollinger Motors B1 (all wheel drive 4×4) – Hopes to start production in 2019. 10,000 people are claimed to be on the waiting list.  Pricing to be announced.
  • Byton (Crossover SUV) – Concept revealed at Consumer Electronics Show in January 2018. Will initially be sold only in China. U.S. sales “to begin later.”  Reservations are being taken.  Pricing:  Starts at $45K. Entry trim level will have 250 mile range; upper trim level will have 325 mile range.
  • Detroit Electric Motors – To be announced
  • Dyson – 2019 target for launch of its first EV, from the vacuum company.
  • Faraday Future FF 91 (luxury SUV) Release date is unknown – Scrapped its plans to build North Las Vegas factory, instead is refurbishing a former Pirelli tire factory near Silicon Valley; many rumors of financial issues with its Chinese investor.
  • Fisker Inc. EMotion (sport sedan) – 2020 – 400 mile range, can charge in 9 minutes
  • Ford “Model E” (crossover) – 2019 – 300 mile range.
  • Genesis “premium long distance” sedan – 2021 – 310 mile range
  • Honda “Urban” EV (concept) Revealed at 2017 Frankfurt Auto Show – Production will be for Europe only. Looks like a 1st gen Civic meets Mini Cooper; tiny, with retro styling.
  •  Hybrid Kinetic Group H600 (luxury sedan) – Chinese startup, plans to launch H600 in US in 2019-2020.  Designed by Pininfarina.  804 HP.
  •  Hyundai Kona (small SUV) – second half 2018 – 242 mile range
  •  Jaguar I-Pace (5 seat crossover)  – Available summer 2018, this is Jaguar’s first fully electric/battery powered vehicle. Built on a unique aluminum-intensive platform by Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria. 220 mile range. 400 HP from twin electric motors. Jaguar/Land Rover says it will go all EV and hybrid by 2020.
  • Kia Niro EV –  Concept revealed at the 2018 Consumer Electrics Show in Las Vegas; will likely be the first of 16 advanced powertrain vehicles Kia aims to introduce by 2025. Plans include a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle also.
  • Lucid Air (luxury sedan) – Release date unknown – Production starting in the 2020s. 200 mph, luxury interior.  Its plan to build a $7 million factory in Casa Grande, AZ has been on hold pending financing.
  • Mazda – Recently announced a platform partnership with Toyota to produce its first EV.  It will come out with a “pure EV in 2019” but did not say what model or type of vehicle.  Will come out with a plug in hybrid after that.
  • Mercedes Benz – Parent company Daimler says it will bring 10 new EVs to market by 2022; it is expected that some or all will be under the subbrand named “EQ.” The first vehicle released will be the EQC (compact crossover) in 2019, with 300 miles of range claimed.
  • Mini E – Due in late  2019 – No details released
  • Morgan EV3  (3 wheel roadster) – EV version of the Morgan 3.  120 mile range. 56 HP. Production to begin late 2018.
  • NIO ES8 (luxury SUV) – Chinese startup revealed concept in 2017; first deliveries expected in US in 2020.  “Tesla-type vehicle for China” that seats 7.  Sold only in China for now. “Our goal is to built a robot that looks like a car.”  Will have swappable batteries to help combat charging station anxiety.
  • Pagani – EV coming. details TBA.
  • Porsche “Mission E” (sporty 4 door coupe) – Looks like cross of a Panamera and 911.  Available in late 2019 – early 2020. 310 mile range is goal.  Price is $85K. No final specs. Goal to charge 80% in 15 minutes; 60 mph in less than 3.5 seconds; top speed 155+.  Three AWD models to be produced with HP of 402, 536, and 670. No hybrid 911 coming – Porsche killed the project because of battery size issues; may be resurrected if they can engineer a lighter battery.  Porsche says it will add PHEVs and electric variants to its lineup.
  • Renault Zoe EV – Available late 2018 – early 2019.
  • SF Motors – To be announced
  • Tesla Long Haul Semi Truck – Prototype unveiled November 26.  “In a couple years” is the production goal.  Will have 200-300 mile range. Will be testing in Nevada, which allows robo-truck prototype testing.  $15k deposit.
  • Tesla Model Y (small crossover) – Production to begin in 2019 at factory yet to be built in China.
  • Tesla “Roadster” (four place convertible) – Production slated for 2020.  Will cost $200k.  $50k deposit.
  • Tesla Pickup Truck – Production will begin after the Model Y at factory in China.
  • Volkswagen – ID Buzz (microbus) – Range of 270 expected. 2022 is target.
  • Volkswagen –  ID Crozz (crossover) – 2022 – 302 HP, 311 mile range.
  • Volvo – All models will be EVs or hybrids by 2019.  It has plans to introduce three EVs between 2019 and 2021.  Its Polestar subbrand will release two EVs between 2019 and 2021.  The Polestar vehicles are expected to be similar to BMW’s M and Mercedes-Benz’s AMG badges.

Alliance 2022 – Collaboration between Renault, Nissan & Mitsubishi plans to roll out 12 EVs. “With the emissions rules coming in, it’s the end of gas” per Carlos Ghosn, CEO of the Alliance. EVs are the future not because of consumer demand, but due to regulations on emissions.  By 2040 we will be done with diesel and gasoline car sales.  Common platforms (4) will be used; no details on any concepts.

Hybrids Currently Available

  • Audi A3 Sportback e-tron (hatchback) – Plug-in hybrid. From $40,475
  • Chevy Volt (hatchback) – Plug-in hybrid. From $33,220
  • BMW i3 (hatchback) – From $44,550
  • BMW 530e (luxury sedan) – Plug-in hybrid. From $52,400
  • Chrysler Pacifica (van) – Hybrid and Plug-In hybrid versions. From $39,995.  84 mpge and 566 total range.
  • Fiat 500e (subcompact) – From $32,995
  • Ford C-Max Energi (hatchback) – Hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions.  From $32,950
  •  Ford Fusion Energi (sedan) – Plug-in hybrid.  From $33,305
  • Honda Accord Hybrid (midsize sedan) – from $29,605
  • Honda Clarity Plug-in hybrid (midsize sedan) – from $34,290
  • Honda Civic hybrid (compact sedan) – from about $27,000
  • Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid (sedan) – Should be available 2nd half of 2017. Blue (base trim) from $23,035; SEL trim from $24,785.
  • Hyundai Sonata (midsize sedan) – Plug-in hybrid. From $34,600.
  • Karma Revero hybrid (four door sports sedan) – 51 mpge, 300 total range, 403 HP, 21 kwh battery capacity. From $130,000.
  • Kia Niro hybrid (compact crossover) – from $23,240.
  • Kia Niro (compact crossover) – Plug-in hybrid. Available late 2017 to early 2018. From $22,890
  • Kia Optima Hybrid (midsize sedan) – from $25,995
  • Mercedes-Benz C350e (small luxury sedan) – Plug-in hybrid. From $46,400
  • Mercedes-Benz S550e (full size luxury sedan) – Plug-in hybrid. From $96,600
  • Mini Cooper SE Countryman All4 Plug-In hybrid (hatchback) – from $37,650 – Only 12 miles of electric range.
  • Mitsubishi Outlander (SUV) – Plug-in hybrid.
  • Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid (SUV) – Plug-In hybrid.  From $79,900.
  • Porsche 918 Spyder (sports car) – Plug-in hybrid. From $847,000.
  • Porsche Panamera 4-E Hybrid (sports sedan) – Plug-in hybrid. From $99,600
  • Toyota Prius Two Eco (sedan) – Base model from $26,050 and Prius Prime – Base model from $27,100.
  • Toyota RAV-4 Hybrid (crossover) – 194 HP.  3 trim levels.  Base model from $27,235.
  • Volvo XC90 (large luxury SUV) – Plug-in hybrid. From $64,950.

Hybrids Not Yet Available

  • Bentley Bentayga Plug-In Hybrid (ultraluxury crossover) – Second half of 2018. Bentley plans to introduce plug-in hybrid versions of all models.
  • Bentley Continental GT Plug-In Hybrid – After debut of Bentayga.
  • Bentley Flying Spur and Mulsanne (sedans) – Unknown debut date, after GT.
  • BMW i-8 Spyder hybrid (roadster) – On sale in 2018 for the 2019 model year.  BMW not releasing any details. Expected to come out with a fully electric version in 2022.
  • Ford Expedition – Late 2019
  • Ford F-150 – 2020
  • Ford Mustang – 2020
  • Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid – 2019
  • Honda CR-V Hybrid (crossover) –  prototype at 2017 Shanghai Auto Show.
  • Honda Insight (compact to mid-size sedan) – 2019
  • Infiniti Emerg-E – concept revealed in 2012, no announcement on final design, production date, or range/mpge.
  • Jaguar F-Type (sport sedan) – The F Type will have “an electrified powertrain,” no details announced.  Available approximately 2020.
  • Lamborghini Urus (sports car) Plug-In Hybrid – Available 2019.
  • Lexus 500h Hybrid – 2018
  • Lincoln MKC Plug-in Hybrid (SUV) – 2019.
  • Mazda Plug-in Hybrid – After 2019.
  • Mercedes CLS Hybrid (four door coupe) – Debuted at 2017 LA Auto Show. Expected to be available in 2018.
  • Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid – From $185,450.  Available early 2018.
  • Volvo XC60 T8 Plug-in Hybrid (midsize luxury SUV) – Late 2017 or early 2018. Debut at OC International Auto Show (9/2017) 400 HP.  From $52,900.
  • Volvo S 90 Plug-in Hybrid (sedan) – Available 2018.

Chevy Volts and Bolts Century City Boltaversary

Updated 3/4/2018   

[For additional information on the low emission vehicles listed, we recommend https://www.greencarreports.com/ ]

 

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