Automotive

Review: 2018 Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid is an efficient set of wheels

Review: 2018 Kia Niro Plug-In ...
As a plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle (PHEV), the 2018 Kia Niro Plug-in offers phenomenal efficiency for its size and capability
As a plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle (PHEV), the 2018 Kia Niro Plug-in offers phenomenal efficiency for its size and capability
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The SAE plug for the 2018 Kia Niro PHEV means that charging at most public stations is possible
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The SAE plug for the 2018 Kia Niro PHEV means that charging at most public stations is possible
The Kia Niro PHEV has an estimated 26 miles of all-electric driving range per charge
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The Kia Niro PHEV has an estimated 26 miles of all-electric driving range per charge
Charge time depends on power source, with a 240-volt charger filling the Niro's battery in about three hours and a 120V in about seven
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Charge time depends on power source, with a 240-volt charger filling the Niro's battery in about three hours and a 120V in about seven
Next to the fuel port release button are two buttons to control charge styles, one to automatically begin charging and the other to toggle the delayed charging option
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Next to the fuel port release button are two buttons to control charge styles, one to automatically begin charging and the other to toggle the delayed charging option
The Niro’s design is passenger-centric, with emphasis being on the interior space being maximized for carrying people around 
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The Niro’s design is passenger-centric, with emphasis being on the interior space being maximized for carrying people around 
The Niro PHEV will hurry if the throttle is pressed, but fuel efficiency gets tossed out the window entirely as a result
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The Niro PHEV will hurry if the throttle is pressed, but fuel efficiency gets tossed out the window entirely as a result
The rear seats fold flat in a 60/40 split as standard in the Niro, expanding cargo room from 19.4 cubic feet to 54.5 cubic feet
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The rear seats fold flat in a 60/40 split as standard in the Niro, expanding cargo room from 19.4 cubic feet to 54.5 cubic feet
Screens on the Niro PHEV's infotainment can show efficiency and power usage/gains in real time or over time
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Screens on the Niro PHEV's infotainment can show efficiency and power usage/gains in real time or over time
In the real world, we averaged about 21 miles per charge with mostly city driving and an overall MPG of 45.5 after a week of driving at high altitude
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In the real world, we averaged about 21 miles per charge with mostly city driving and an overall MPG of 45.5 after a week of driving at high altitude
As a plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle (PHEV), the 2018 Kia Niro Plug-in offers phenomenal efficiency for its size and capability
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As a plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle (PHEV), the 2018 Kia Niro Plug-in offers phenomenal efficiency for its size and capability
The Niro’s powerplant is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, an electric motor, and an 8.9-kWh battery pack
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The Niro’s powerplant is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, an electric motor, and an 8.9-kWh battery pack
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Kia put the Niro to market about a year ago, as the company's first vehicle designed specifically to be electrified. The 2017 Kia Niro was a hybrid by default and very well done at that. For 2018, Kia introduced the Niro Plug-in Hybrid model, which takes that one step further. With the PHEV, we can get hints as to what the upcoming battery electric model will be like, too.

There are a lot of things to like about the 2018 Kia Niro as a plug-in. Its design is passenger-centric, with emphasis being on the interior space being maximized for carrying people around (up to five). This makes the Niro one of the few compacts on the market that has a liveable back seat. Kia sacrificed cargo space to make that happen, though, but the rear seats fold down to gain some of that back.

As a plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle (PHEV), the Kia Niro Plug-in offers phenomenal efficiency for its size and capability. Its powerplant is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, an electric motor, and an 8.9-kWh battery pack. These attach to a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that powers the front wheels. There is no all-wheel drive option for the Niro. Total system output is 139 horsepower (104 kW) and 195 pound-feet (264 Nm) of torque.

Together, these offer an estimated 26 miles (42 km) of all-electric driving range per charge. Fuel economy ratings after that are 48 mpg in the city (4.9 l/100km) and 43 mpg on the highway (5.5 l/100km). That's slightly less than the standard Niro (50 mpg/4.7 l/100km), due to the heavier battery pack resulting in a heavier car.

The Kia Niro PHEV has an estimated 26 miles of all-electric driving range per charge
The Kia Niro PHEV has an estimated 26 miles of all-electric driving range per charge

Those numbers are on paper. In the real world, we averaged about 21 miles (34 km) per charge with mostly city driving and an overall MPG of 45.5 (5.2 l/100km) after a week of driving at high altitude (6,000 ft/1,829 m) as a daily vehicle. Our driving mix was about half highway, half around town. We noted several things about the drive quality of the 2018 Niro Plug-in Hybrid as well.

The first thing we noted is that "Eco" mode in the driving settings dampens the throttle considerably and makes the Niro PHEV a snail on wheels. Get-up is almost non-existent and there is no hurry to get places. Ever. Even with the throttle mashed. Turning off "Eco" mode changed that, but only slightly. The Niro PHEV will hurry if the throttle is pressed, but fuel efficiency gets tossed out the window entirely as a result. Much of the Niro's MPG returns are based on a steady right foot and lots of patience.

Where the 2018 Kia Niro shines, in any package, is in its everyday usefulness. The Niro, as mentioned, is mostly a people-hauler, but it can do the regular duties of grocery-getting and occasional box store runs. The rear seats fold flat in a 60/40 split as standard in the Niro, expanding cargo room from 19.4 to 54.5 cubic feet (549 to 1,543 liters). That's not as much as some others in the field, but it's plenty for a compact. What's more, the cargo space is mostly useful, though the round rear opening of the Niro does mean that bulkier items might be a tough cram.

With passengers, the Niro does very well. The front seating is nicely done with plenty of comfort and adjustment options, even in the base model 2018 Niro. The back seat bench is surprisingly large for the class, seating two comfortably and three across when needed. The middle passenger, while cramped for shoulder room, will be happy with the flat floor and higher roof, giving plenty of leg- and headroom. Child safety is not a shining point in the Niro PHEV, with LATCH anchors being stuffed down into the cushions. But getting a rear-facing safety seat into place is easy otherwise, and leaves room for an average-sized adult to sit comfortably in front. That's a rare find in a compact.

Another high point for the Kia Niro PHEV is its technology. Standard features include a 7-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, two USB ports, and satellite radio. A rearview camera and forward collision warning and mitigation are also standard, as is lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control. That's a lot of equipment for a base offering.

The Niro’s design is passenger-centric, with emphasis being on the interior space being maximized for carrying people around 
The Niro’s design is passenger-centric, with emphasis being on the interior space being maximized for carrying people around 

Going up just adds more, with the EX trim bringing blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, air vents for the rear passengers, and more. The EX Premium adds LED headlamps, parking sensors front and rear, a larger 8-inch touchscreen, a more robust driver information display in the cluster, and a much better Harman Kardon stereo. Wireless phone charging and heated/vented front seating are also found in the Premium.

Pricing starts at US$28,200, with the EX Premium ringing in at $34,900 as driven. That's before any tax incentives, but pretty steep for the compact class. The standard Niro is about $5,000 cheaper at its base level and about $2,500 cheaper at its highest trim point. The fully-electric Niro EV has not yet been priced, but will likely scale up the Niro Plug-in Hybrid's price again.

Our overall assessment is that the 2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid is a well-done vehicle for the compact buyer who wants the efficiency of a plug-in without the range anxiety of an EV. The Niro PHEV is phenomenally efficient and sized exactly right for usefulness without bulkiness. It's not the most spirited drive on the road, but it is comfortable as a people hauler.

Product Page: Kia Niro PHEV

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6 comments
DaveWesely
The lack of performance is a real deal killer for this vehicle. A larger electric motor wouldn't have added any noticeable weight or affected it's energy economy. The idea that an economy car has to be slow is a relic of gas engines. Shame on Kia for trying to perpetuate that myth.
Don Duncan
In the '70s I drove a Fiat that got 46mpg. It was sleek, small, light, and a slug. I got used to the lack of power, surprisingly. I had a "muscle car" before, 8mpg. But now, with traffic so bad, I want a car with enough power to merge/change lanes safely. For 22 years I have driven a V6 Camry. It has just the power needed to pass and merge. But 25mph is not great, thanks to the weight. I want a PHEV or BEV I can "fuel" at home and drive 200 miles, with enough power to get out of its own way. Apparently, I have to pay $75K for that. I'll wait. (Die waiting?) Why can't the auto industry deliver? Gov regs keeping the "oil economy" monopoly in charge? That's my guess. I know that the law protects the industry, e.g., only dealerships are legally allowed to sell new cars, and that monopoly results in a 300% markup. Sweet for them, the public, not so much. Every dealership I have ever dealt with (going back 60 years) was dishonest at best and blatant crooks at worst.
Rustin Lee Haase
@DaveWesely - This unit's small battery forces the electric motor to be low power. It is unhealthy for the battery to discharge it too agressively. Bigger batteries can be pushed harder because they share the load. This product if made to be low-cost and efficient, to serve the needs of those who can only just barely be able to afford it. Add more power and battery, and you've got a better car unless the associated price increase makes it inaccessible at certain income levels.
Rustin Lee Haase
A nice little compact plug-in hybrid. *HORRIBLE NAME!!* The name Niro is way to much like Nero, the man famous for burning down Rome and burning Christians on the stake publicly. Yea, that's a name you want to run around with. They may as well call it the model 666 or the Kia SATIN. (intentional mispelling) No loss for me personally since I think pure EVs are better as local run-about units than way-more complex plugin hybrids.
Aaron Turpen
@Don Duncan You should look at the new Camry Hybrid and see if that fits. It's much more spirited without losing economy on the road. The Avalon Hybrid is also very well done. For your situation, those are probably a great upgrade from an older V6-powered Camry.
Aaron Turpen
@Don Duncan: https://newatlas.com/2018-toyota-camry-review/55460/