2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

Style

The Kia Niro is a handsome compact hatchback wagon—although it’s sometimes described as a compact SUV or small crossover. With its relatively higher clearance (more than six inches off the ground) and spacious interior, it can serve families and taller riders better than typical compacts. The exterior style is pleasing enough—even confident—although its shape doesn’t especially stand out on roads filled with Asian and American commuter cars. Think of it as a practical commuter with a little flair and extra height.

The plug-in hybrid variant of the Niro is nearly identical to the conventional hybrid version—except for blue exterior accents, a modified front grille, a charge-port door on the left front fender, and ECO badges.

Performance

The combined total power output from the plug-in Niro’s electric and gas power sources is a decent 139 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. That beats the power supplied from the regular Niro hybrid, which also employs a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine. The pluggable Niro also handily beats the 121-hp Toyota Prius Prime—although it’s not quite as powerful as the Chevy Volt, which supplies 149 ponies.

Like many relatively small and affordable plug-in vehicles, the Niro Plug-in Hybrid is quite quick when pulling away from a red light—although it can struggle a bit when climbing steep hills.

The six-speed dual-clutch automatic-shifting gearbox provides a more engaging driving experience compared to the CVT transmissions found in most hybrids. The power and efficiency profile can be dialed up or down by the driver’s selection of four driving modes: EV, Hybrid, Eco, and Sport (for faster moving highway traffic).

The EX Premium trim comes with “smart cruise,” which is an effective execution of adaptive cruise control allowing drivers to follow traffic without needing to touch the pedals.

The Niro Plug-in Hybrid is not available as an all-wheel-drive vehicle.

2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

Efficiency/Range

The Niro Plug-in Hybrid is rated by the EPA for 26 miles of all-electric range. When the 8.9 kilowatt-hour battery pack still has juice and is providing energy, the hatchback is rated at the equivalent of 105 miles per gallon. That’s a relatively useless metric. What’s meaningful though is the Niro Plug-in’s 46-mpg rating after the battery is depleted. That breaks down to a remarkable 48 miles per gallon in the city and 44 on the highway.

The Niro Plug-in Hybrid’s chief competitor arguably is the Toyota Prius Prime, which grants slightly less all-electric range from a nearly identically sized battery pack. But the Prius’s slippery shape and more efficient engine allow the four-seat Toyota a rating of 54 miles per gallon after the first set of electric miles. The Chevrolet Volt is the king of plug-in hybrids for all-electric range at 53 miles—more than doubling the Niro Plug-in Hybrid’s range. All these models have extraordinary efficiency, so the deciding factor is probably brand and styling.

2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

Charging

The Niro Plug-in Hybrid’s 3.3-kilowatt onboard charger can restore the car’s 26 miles of range, from empty, in about 2.5 hours—when plugged into a Level 2 240-volt supply. That charging rate is sufficient and common among plug-in hybrids.

Some drivers will forego a home charger—which costs around $500—and use a regular 120-volt outlet to achieve overnight charging of about nine hours. However, if you’re able to charge for a couple hours from a Level-2 supply during the day, it could effectively double your daily all-electric range.

As with nearly every plug-in car, there are dashboard controls allowing you to schedule charging for best rates and maximum convenience.

The Niro Plug-in Hybrid offers an “auto unlock charger” allowing the plug to be pulled out by fellow EV drivers when the car is fully charged.

Passenger/Cargo Room

The Niro’s interior, among the nicest in the class, is stylish and modern. The Niro Plug-in Hybrid is offered in three trim levels—LX, EX, and EX Premium. All of them feature high-quality materials.

2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

Despite its larger battery back compared to the conventional hybrid variant, the Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid offers the same five-passenger capacity and cargo space. The practical hatchback offers plenty of leg-, head-, and shoulder-room thanks to its 106.3-inch wheelbase and its 97.1 cubic feet of total interior volume. The seats are comfortable, suggesting that Kia has made improvements to cushion comfort in recent years.

With the rear seats up, luggage capacity is 19.4 cubic feet—which grows to 54.5 cubes with the seats down.

Safety

The 2018 Kia Niro has not yet been put through crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Its safety features include a standard rearview camera. Available active safety features include blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, autonomous emergency braking, pedestrian detection, and forward collision warning.

There’s no spare tire in the Niro—just a so-called tire-mobility kit.

2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

Price

The 2018 Kia Niro PHEV starts at $27,900 for the base LX trim. The LX includes a woven cloth interior, 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, a 4.2-inch display in the gauge cluster, a power adjustable driver's seat, and dual-zone automatic climate control. The base infotainment package offers a 7-inch touchscreen with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. All trim levels come with charge-scheduling function, active lane control, adaptive cruise control, and automatic emergency braking.

With a step up to the $31,500 EX trim, you get heated side mirrors, cloth seats with leather inserts, heated front seats, and rear AC vents. It also brings blind spot monitoring, lane-change assist, and rear cross-traffic alert.

All versions are eligible for a $4,543 federal income-tax credit, in addition to state rebates.

A short list of add-on goodies includes carpeted floor mats ($135), wheel locks ($55), and cargo nets ($50).

Comparison with Similar Cars

The closest comparable plug-in hybrid to the Niro was the Ford C-Max Energi, which ceased production in late 2017. The two vehicles share the same tall-wagon profile, offered about the same amount of all-electric range, and were available at similar price levels. So, if you’re looking for a compact activity-oriented plug-in, the Niro is now your single option.

The Niro Plug-in Hybrid has more ground clearance than the Prius Prime, an overall larger vehicle. By most standards, the Niro is more attractive than the Prius—and provides a more spirited time on the road.

If you aim to maximize all-electric range—but want a plug-in hybrid rather than a pure EV—then the Chevy Volt is the clear winner. While the Volt carries a heftier price tag, most (if not all) of that premium is erased by its bigger $7,500 federal tax credit.

Purchase Process

The Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid is available at dealerships across the country starting January 2018.

Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid specifications

Availability: Now
Base MSRP: $27900
Est. tax credit: $4700
Technology: Plug-in Hybrid
Body type: Sedan
Seats: 5
EPA Range: 26 miles electric + gasoline
Battery size: 9 kWh
Charging rate: 3.3 kW

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