Today’s Vehicle, With a Big Upside
The 2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) is a stylish and useful compact crossover. You can drive it much of the time on battery power and, when necessary, take a long trip using the gasoline engine.
Kia has sold an all-electric Soul for several years. It also offers hybrid and PHEV versions of its Optima midsize sedan, but the Niro is meant to be the brand’s green warrior. A hybrid Niro preceded the plug-in; when I tested one, I recorded 43.8 mpg. An all-electric version just debuted at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit and is due in a year or so, with a reported range of 238 miles. That just happens to be the same as the Chevrolet Bolt EV, which currently is the most affordable way to go 200+ miles between charges. There is no gasoline-only Niro.
The 2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid is blessed with appealing, nicely balanced lines and proportions, without any extreme styling excesses. It wears Kia’s now familiar “tiger mouth” grill with the pinch in the middle. It looks good from every angle.
Inside Class As Well
The interior design is complementary, with cleanly rendered panels that blend smoothly and surprisingly rich-looking textures wearing matte finishes. What might be taken for hard plastic on the door and dash panels is slightly padded, giving the car a more upscale feel. The switchgear feels durable and moves with precision. An asymmetrical center console sweeps down from the dash, implying some sportiness.
Both the inside and outside classiness owe their dignity to former Audi designer Peter Schreyer, who has led Kia and Hyundai design for a decade, transforming both brands’ design language and image.
As a hybrid, the Niro combines a 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with a 60-horsepower electric motor, which in PHEV form is fed by an 8.9-kWh battery. This energy source weighs 258 pounds versus the much smaller and lighter battery in the standard Niro Hybrid, which only gathers electrons by regenerative braking. The engine’s 104 horsepower and 109 pounds-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque mixes with the motor, with its robust 125 lb.-ft. of torque, giving a total of 139 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque combined.
A stop-and-go system turns the engine off when the car is stationary, further saving gasoline. The drivetrain flows through a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The car is no rocket, with an 8.8-second zero-to-sixty time. When you press the pedal down hard, you’ll hear the sound of downshifting and an engine working hard to contribute its part to moving the 3,450-pound crossover forward. I noticed this mainly on the uphill climb to my house, but it was otherwise not a big deal.
The Mileage Numbers
The 2018 Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid earns 110 MPGe city/99 highway/105 Combined on the EPA’s tests, and a still decent 48 mpg city/44 highway/46 combined on gasoline only. The official battery range is 26 miles, although my test car’s display always read 24 when it was full. That, luckily, was enough for me to commute all week on electricity alone, leading to an exemplary 81.3 mpg for the week. If you rarely go more than 24 miles on a trip, you may find your gas lasts for months. Kia claims an impressive gas + electric range of 560 miles.
EPA Green Scores are 7 for Smog and a perfect 10 for Greenhouse Gas.
The 2018 Kia Niro PHEV comes in three trims—LX, EX, and EX Premium. My Platinum Graphite tester was an
EX Premium with a soothing light gray interior. The price-leader FE model hybrid isn’t sold as a plug-in.
The LX offers a decent sound system, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, a smart key with pushbutton start, and more. The EX adds safety features, including blind spot detection, lane change assist and rear cross traffic alert. You also get “hybrid” cloth and leather seats, heated front seats and outside mirrors, 10-way driver seat adjustment with lumbar support and more. The EX Premium steps it up with leather seat trim, three-level heated and ventilated seats, a larger 8-inch touch screen on the dash and a voice-command navigation system.
With an 8.9-kWh battery, you can easily fill the battery at a Level 2 240-volt charger in a couple of hours from empty, or fill it overnight at home on 120-volt household current. When I charged at work after my 18-mile commute, I received a bill for less than a dollar! The charge door includes a small light—a thoughtful touch.
You can use the console button to set the car to EV or HEV mode. In the default EV mode, the Niro uses pure electricity until its big battery is depleted, and then runs as a hybrid. In HEV mode, you can select hybrid driving right away and retain the power for later. That’s great for cruising on the freeway in hybrid mode and preserving the electric power for local driving when you reach your destination. I did notice the engine kick in sometimes in the morning when I started up, even when I thought was EV mode.
The Long & the Short of It
At just 171.5 inches long on a 106.3-inch wheelbase, the car is tidy for nipping around town, but can carry 54.5 cubic feet of gear when you flip down the rear seats.
Pricing starts at $28,840 for the LX and moves up to $32,440 for the EX and $35,440 for the EX Premium. All prices include shipping. My car’s only option was $135 worth of carpeted floor mats.
As a crossover, the 2018 Kia Niro PHEV is sitting pretty, right in the middle of today’s most rapidly growing vehicle segment. I found it just right for family and musical instrument hauling.
The Niro PHEV just won Green Car Journal’s Green SUV of the Year Award, so I expect to see lots of them on the road soon. Plug-in hybrids provide local electric-only clean driving with zero range anxiety when you range farther afield. Until EV batteries are all high-range and quick charge, and the charging network is built out more, it’s the ideal choice for many people.
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