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 a 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 similar 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.

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 ultra-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 29 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 119 miles per gallon. It's nice to know that, when charged, you're getting better the equivalent of more than 100 miles per gallon. But what’s equally meaningful is the Niro Plug-in’s 52-mpg rating after the battery is depleted. In other words, after those first 29 miles, you're driving a gas-powered car that's not far off from the conventional Prius's 52 mpg.

The Niro Plug-in Hybrid’s chief competitor arguably is the Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid, which grants 25 all-electric miles from a nearly identically sized battery pack. But the Prius’s slippery shape and more efficient engine allow the four-seat (not five)Toyota a rating of 54 miles per gallon after the first set of electric miles. Both models and the larger Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid have extraordinary efficiency, so the deciding factor is 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 29 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 of hours from a Level-2 supply during the day, it could effectively double your daily all-electric range. The idea is to charge as often as you can, at least every 29 miles' worth of driving, so you run on electricity nearly all the time.

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 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Niro a Top Safety Pick+ designation and the highest rating of Good in all six IIHS crash tests. IIHS also gave it a Good rating for headlight visibility and the highest rating of Superior for front crash prevention.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded the Niro an overall rating of four out of five stars, with four stars in the frontal crash and rollover tests and five stars in the side crash test. The NHTSA said the Niro had an elevated likelihood of chest injury to the front passenger in the event of a front, passenger-side crash.

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 Kia Niro PHEV starts at $29,500 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 $33,100 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.

The top-of-the-line $36,200 Niro Plug-in Hybrid Ex Premium adds features like a heated steering wheel, LED headlights, and premium six-speaker audio.

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

A shortlist of add-on goodies includes a power sunroof ($700), carpeted floor mats ($135), wheel locks ($55), and cargo nets ($50).

Unlike the 12-state EV version of the vehicle, the Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid is available at dealerships across the country.

Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid specifications

Availability: Now
Base MSRP: $29500
Est. tax credit: $4500
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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