Road Test: 2018 Kia Niro PHEV

A sibling to the Hyundai Ioniq we recently drove, the 2018 Niro Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) brings an exciting new dimension to Kia’s alternative fuel lineup. Niro PHEV is Kia’s third plug-in model, following the Soul and Sonata, and offers the same crossover utility, fun-driving demeanor, and simple interior design of the Niro hybrid, but with 26-miles of electric-only range.

We were huge fans of the Niro hybrid and the PHEV is identical except for the larger, more advanced battery pack, some badges, and a charge port on the front left fender.

Niro rides and drives like a much more expensive car. Handling is sporty, direct, and secure. The ride is comfortable yet still feels connected to the pavement.

With a total driving range of up to 560 miles and the fantastic versatility of the cabin, this is truly a no-comprises PHEV. We appreciated the various driving modes, including EV mode, Hybrid mode, (default) Eco mode, or Sport mode for quicker transmission response that takes advantage of the powertrain’s combined output of 139 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque.

Under the hood, an all-aluminum 1.6-liter GDI 4-cylinder engine works in tandem with an 8.9 kWh lithium-polymer battery pack and a 60-HP electric motor. Like the Ioniq, power is routed through a 6-speed DCT instead of a CVT liken most PHEVs.

The EPA MPGe rating of 105 is impressive, but even more so are the standard hybrid ratings of 48 mpg city, 44 mpg highway and 46 mpg combined that are similar to Niro hybrid which weighs less and doesn’t offer the extra electric-only range. We averaged 49 mpg combined in a week of mixed driving.

Niro PHEV’s compact, high voltage battery is neatly tucked under the cargo floor and under the rear seat and maintains the same spacious cargo capacity as the Niro hybrid. A full charge can be achieved in approximately 2.5 hours via a 240V (Level 2) charger, and under 9 hours via a 120V (Level 1) charger.

Like its Ioniq sibling, the energy-conserving Driver-Only setting directs the ventilation toward the driver only and decreases the power consumption of the air conditioning system. Engineers also improved efficiency through weight reductions, using aluminum for the hood, tailgate and several suspension elements including the front lower control arms, front and rear knuckles, and in the brake calipers.

Niro is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ with the LED headlights standard on EX trim, and we agree that they offer exceptional brightness and distance. The automatic high beam feature is well-calibrated too.

The advanced driver assistance and convenience technologies on Niro PHEV is also impressive. Blind Spot Detection (BSD) with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), Lane Change Assist (LCA), and front and rear parking sensors make daily driving much safer. We also appreciate how well the Smart Cruise Control (SCC) system works, accelerating smoothly and bringing the Niro to a complete stop just as a driver would. Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), Forward Collision Warning (FCW) and Lane Keep Assist System (LKAS) are all standard and LKAS works incredibly well on the highway.

Niro PHEV also includes UVO eco which extends Kia’s connectivity service by offering convenience and safety features tailored to eco-minded drivers. With UVO eco, drivers can remotely monitor and charge their vehicle’s high-voltage battery, setup charging schedules to take advantage of off-peak utility rates, preset the vehicle’s cabin temperature, turn on window defrosters, and heat the steering wheel, lock or unlock doors, and find their vehicle from their smartphone or web enabled device.

Summary Scorecard (1-10)
Ride and Handling 8
Braking 8
Powertrain and Fuel Economy 10
Noise 7
Headlights 6
Interior Fit and Finish 8
Seating 8
Visibility 8
Gauges and Controls 9
Infotainment 9
Crash-Avoidance 5
Total Score 78


Make: Kia
Model: Niro
Trim Level: EX Premium
Engine: 1.6L 4-Cyl PHEV
Transmission: 6-Speed DCT
Options: Snow White Pearl Paint, Floormats

Base Price: $34,500
As-Tested Price: $35,970

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