Road Trips, Competitions, and Surprises in the 2018 Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid
As a blogger, I get to experience many different kinds of awesome release celebrations, trips, and events. Sometimes it’s a swanky or interestingly-themed party, others it’s an amazing tour-trip where they pull out all the stops (rough stuff, I know). I don’t know that I would say that I have a favorite kind, they all have something completely unique and amazing to enjoy. However, there’s just something about a “choose your own adventure” situation that fills me with a very specific exciting feeling. Exactly what that feeling is, I’m not sure that I can precisely nail down. I think the closest I can get would be a generous mix of both curiosity and opportunity. Whatever it is, this past December, Sarah and I were given the chance to experience it again on a road trip with Kia and the 2018 Niro Plug-in Hybrid.
When we set out from home, the information was a little on the vague side. We knew that we would be beginning at Kia headquarters in Irvine, and regrouping a couple of days later in San Francisco. The words “create your own adventure” were used, but the exact rules weren’t shared. So, you know, all the better! Before everything kicked off, we all met at the gorgeous Avenue of the Arts hotel where we were all staying and walked over to AnQi Gourmet Bistro for dinner. Between the specially selected cocktails and the ridiculously delicious and wonderfully presented food, that evening could have been it and it still would have been an amazing experience. Lucky for us, it was not. The next morning, we got ourselves situated and walked out to find a row of the 2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrids waiting for us. We all picked out our favorite color (Aurora Black Pearl for us) and ventured over to headquarters for a presentation and briefing.
One side bit of information that I wanted to share really quickly. It was the holidays when we were there. The main showroom is completely surrounded by glass walls, and they had a HUGE tree right in the middle of the cars. It was basically like being in one of their holiday commercials.
We all sat down for a slideshow about what we would be doing for the next couple of days, and the car that we would be doing it in. Let me start by saying, if you’re not familiar with the Niro Plug-in Hybrid, you probably want to be. Speaking to fuel, it’s the best of both worlds. It charges up in only 2.5 hours, and has an all-electric range of 26 miles. So, during the work week, you can basically eliminate or significantly decrease your gas usage (also, say hello to that HOV lane and premium parking). As for those longer road trips, like the ones we were all about to embark on, it gets 105 MPGe, or 46 MPG. Not too shabby, especially for a crossover. Of course, it has tons of other attractive features as well. Beautiful digital display, optional leather interior, improved hybrid power control unit, and loads of safety features are just a few. For a full list of everything that makes this car so great, you can check out their site here.
Before we got to the specifics of the trip challenge itself, we were given a short briefing on ChargePoint—a handy little app that can tell drivers of electric vehicles where they can charge up—and then it was finally time! The competition would be a typical, point-based one, with points earned based on things like distance driven, times charged, number of landmarks visited and souvenirs picked up, and specific pictures taken. There was a bit of Americana theme thrown in as well, courtesy of our judge and king of kitsch Americana, Charles Phoenix. It was basically a scavenger hunt combined with “who can have the best road trip?” We were pretty pumped. So pumped, in fact, that we found and booked the perfect place to stay for the night before the presentation was even done (while still paying attention, I swear). As for the rest of our time, we decided that a Hitchcock tour—with a few other convenient sites peppered in for good measure—would be a blast. It would mark items off the list like visiting a location that had been featured in a film and taking pictures near a body of water, plus, we’d get to enjoy a scenic drive up the Pacific Coast Highway.
And we were off!
First stop: The oldest McDonald’s still in operation. It was right down the road from Kia’s headquarters, so we weren’t going to NOT see it.
After that, we made our way straight for the Madonna Inn. We had LA traffic standing between us, so we had to move fast (or at least as fast as the notorious bumper-to-bumper traffic would allow) to make it in time for dinner in their famously pink Gold Rush Steakhouse. Once we got there, it turned out that several other people in the competition had the same idea about where they would be laying their heads that night. Over dinner, we shared what we’d been doing so far. It quickly became clear that we were far from in the running. Some people had crammed so much into the few hours we’d been apart, it was honestly a little confusing. Still, it made for some great stories. That night, when Sarah and I got to the “Oak Leaves” room, one of the many amazingly themed rooms at the Madonna Inn, we made sure to regroup.
In the morning, we made a few pitstops before beginning our main journey. We popped over to the Sunset Drive-In Theater, one of the last still in operation, and the Motel Inn, the world’s first motel.
It wasn’t too long into our drive that we decided it would be a good idea to try and get some of those ChargePoint points. We thought it would be a while before we came across one, as we were in the middle of nowhere by then, but we were surprised to find there was one right on our route. So, we threw that destination in our GPS and set out. I have to say, we clearly weren’t properly paying attention to what the location itself was. When we arrived, we discovered that we had accidentally taken ourselves to Hearst Castle, the mansion Xanadu was based off of in Citizen Kane. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to take a proper tour, as we were running on a tight schedule. In hindsight, I really wish we would have taken the time anyway (you’ll soon know why), but so it goes.
And now it was time for Sarah and me to learn a lesson
We left Hearst Castle after a bit and quickly found ourselves back on the PCH. As you might imagine, the drive was absolutely incredible. It was a clear day, so you could see for miles out onto the ocean on your left. And on the right, the beautiful grassy, rocky California coastal hills. It was hard not to stop every 5 minutes to take a picture, though we did a few times anyway. It was just as we got to our first bit of winding mountain road that things came to a halt. Literally. I believe there had been a bit of rain the night before, and what comes with the territory of a mountain road when coupled with rain? Rockslides. Yup. About a third of the way into our drive, we were met with a closed mountain road, and no way to go but back. All the way back. Because the closest thing to an alternate route when any part of the Pacific Coast Highway closes is a different highway altogether. Now, I know I sound salty, but I have to admit that we only had ourselves to blame; we ignored several warnings. First, there was a sign. Yes, a literal road-sign telling us that the road was closed ahead. But, there were several cars that had been ahead of us that we hadn’t seen come back. “We’ll turn around when we see them again,” we said. Secondly, and this is the one I’m most ashamed of, our Kia said the road was closed too. “It just hasn’t updated yet,” we reasoned. “The map applications on our phones say it’s open.…It wasn’t.
On a good note, we learned that the GPS in the Kia Niro is more up to speed than the one in your pocket. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
So, we turned back around.
I won’t lie and tell you that we weren’t upset. We were very much looking forward to presenting our Hitchcock experience at dinner that night. But what didn’t bother us was how much more driving we had to do. We had the Niro and its awesome features like smart cruise control, lane keep assist, and autonomous braking to keep the ride smooth and easy.
In the end, we were a bit late making it to our meeting place at the incredible Hotel Zeppelin. This meant that we didn’t have time to prepare our presentation for the competition, which was fine because we’d only been able to make one more quick stop to see some elephant seals anyway. But we did make it back to hear about what everyone else had done. It was pretty impressive. Some people went really far, venturing all the way out to Vegas and even doing a little off-roading. Others decided to dedicate their time to doing good, like helping out local animal shelters. But no matter what people chose to do, it was obvious that everyone had a great time doing it—and that includes us.
Despite some setbacks, I know that the two of us will be looking back on the whole experience fondly. As I mentioned before, it’s about the journey, something especially true for this trip. You don’t ever know what’s going to happen, there are going to be curveballs. But if you set yourself up right (in this case, in an amazing car), you’re not going to mind them at all.