The 2018 Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid is a new addition to Kia's Niro lineup. It's just like the regular Niro Hybrid, but it comes with a bigger rechargeable battery pack that allows you to drive an estimated 26 miles on pure electric power before the vehicle switches over to normal hybrid operation. At that point you're looking at a still frugal 46 mpg. And it costs less than most rival plug-in hybrids.
Kia describes its Niro as a crossover SUV. But without an available all-wheel-drive system and only 1 more inch of ground clearance than Kia's own Optima sedan, it's better to think of the Niro as a four-door hatchback rather than a true SUV. Also, take note of how the Niro allocates interior space. Compared to its mechanical sibling, the Hyundai Ioniq, the Niro has a significantly smaller cargo area behind the rear seats. In return, though, the Niro has slightly more legroom and headroom in back, and much of that space can be converted to cargo room when the rear seatbacks are folded.
The 2018 Niro Plug-In Hybrid joins a growing selection of plug-in hybrids this year that includes the Chevrolet Volt, the Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid and the Toyota Prius Prime. If you want an easy-to-drive and efficient car with understated SUV-like styling, you'll find a lot to like in the Niro.
The 2018 Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid is a new addition to the Niro family.
The Niro PHEV comes in three trim levels. The LX is a particularly good deal because it comes with plenty of standard features. But consider stepping up to get the midgrade EX. Its heated seats and blind-spot and cross-traffic monitoring will be valuable to have over the course of ownership.
The 2018 Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid is available in three trims. It starts off with the LX, which comes with a nice set of features, including a 7-inch touchscreen display and many advanced driver safety aids. The EX provides more convenience-oriented and safety features, while the top EX Premium adds luxury items such as leather upholstery and premium audio. All three trims are powered by the same 1.6-liter four-cylinder hybrid electric powertrain (139 horsepower, 195 pound-feet combined output) that sends power to the front wheels through a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Note that the regular 2018 Niro Hybrid is reviewed separately.
The base LX comes standard with 16-inch wheels, dual-zone climate control, 60/40-split folding rear seats, keyless entry and push-button start, a 7-inch infotainment display, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, two USB ports, and a four-speaker sound system with satellite radio. Also standard are a rearview camera, front collision warning and mitigation with automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control.
Niro Plug-In Hybrids in the EX trim level add blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rear air vents, leather and cloth upholstery, a power-adjustable driver's seat and heated front seats. The EX Premium also has LED headlights, front and rear parking sensors, a bigger driver information display, an 8-inch touchscreen with navigation, a Harman Kardon eight-speaker surround sound system, a wireless phone charger and ventilated front seats.
While we have yet to fully test the Niro Plug-In Hybrid, the following evaluation is based on the functionally similar 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid (1.6L inline-4 plug-in hybrid | 6-speed dual-clutch automatic | FWD).
The Niro's biggest weakness is its everyday driving demeanor. It accelerates tepidly unless you floor it; the steering is vague yet well-weighted. Its emergency braking performance is subpar.
When driven in the default Eco mode, the Niro feels wholly unmotivated. Sport mode sharpens it up so that it feels more like a normal driving car. It's less efficient, though. We need an in-between mode.
The braking feels completely natural under normal conditions, and the switchover from electric regeneration to conventional braking is imperceivable. Under panic braking, however, the pedal goes to the floor and the test's best stopping distances are subpar.
The steering is direct and responsive with a good level of assist. And there's a clear difference in the degree of assist when you switch between Normal and Sport mode. But this car lacks a clear sense of on-center feel or feedback, which can be disconcerting because it demands constant attention.
The Niro handles more like a car than a crossover because it's essentially a hatchback. It stays planted through turns better than expected, and it carries its weight lower thanks to batteries mounted beneath the rear passenger seat.
Driving in the default Eco mode reveals some unpleasant characteristics. Its anemic takeoff power and lazy first-to-second shift are only remedied by driving in Sport mode.
At the very least, crossovers should have the option of all-wheel drive and decent ground clearance. The Niro unfortunately has neither, and people expecting otherwise will be disappointed.
The Niro Plug-In Hybrid may not feel luxurious, but there's a good level of comfort for the daily commute. The seats have sufficient support and powerful heaters, with ventilation available at the Touring level. The biggest strike against it is road noise, which could get tiresome on long drives.
The seats aren't anything fancy but have good padding and decent lateral and lumbar support. The EX model comes with very effective seat heaters with three levels of intensity. The max heat level is hotter than most, which is really nice in freezing climates.
Ride comfort for the most part is agreeable. While we didn't experience any harsh crashing over bumps, we wouldn't call the Niro Plug-In plush either. On the other hand, body movement felt well-controlled and carlike instead of floppy like a tall SUV or crossover.
Noise & vibration6.0
Around town, the Niro Plug-In is pretty quiet when in all-electric mode. There is a fair amount of road noise and the occasional sound of loose gravel pinging against the underbody at higher speeds. Wind noise is better isolated.
The dual climate controls are straightforward and easy to reach, with the usual assortment of buttons and knobs for fan speed, temperature, etc. The system performs well to maintain pleasant cabin temps.
The cabin of the Niro Plug-In Hybrid is easy to get in and out of and scores high marks for interior passenger space, driver accommodation and a simple user interface.
Ease of use9.0
The touchscreen infotainment menus take a little familiarization but are easy enough to figure out and have shortcut buttons. When using the stalks to change headlight or wiper settings, a prompt appears in the gauge cluster showing your selection and others that are available. It's a nice feature.
Getting in/getting out9.0
The doors open wide, almost to 90 degrees, with nice-size openings and comfortable seat heights. You still sit down into the seat rather than slide in because the bottom seat cushion height is around knee level. There's a small stepover, but it should be easy for most, including elderly passengers.
The tilt-and-telescoping steering column has a lot of adjustment, and the optional power driver's seat has two-way lumbar adjustment and height adjustment. It's pretty easy to find a comfortable driving position thanks to copious amounts of head- and legroom to suit a wide range of drivers.
There is good head- and legroom both front and rear, but the hard plastic front seatbacks don't leave much of a buffer if sitting behind an especially tall driver. The middle passenger will appreciate the relatively flat floor, but sitting three adults in back will be a little tight.
Even with the raked front roof pillars, forward visibility is pretty good. The thick rear pillars create a bit of a blind spot when you're looking over your shoulder, but the view directly back is decent and relatively unobstructed by the rear headrests. A rearview camera is standard on all trims.
A lot of hard plastic covers the lower half of the doors, dash and center console. In the light gray color scheme, it makes the interior look cheap. Even the soft-touch surfaces on the upper parts of the dash lack a quality feel. The armrest padding isn't bad but could be more ample on the doors.
Compared to a small sedan, the Niro offers an appealing amount of utility for its size. But when compared to other hybrid hatchbacks or crossover SUVs in the class, it doesn't offer quite as much cargo space or clever cabin storage for small items.
There's convenient storage for personal items forward of the gear shifter, where you would charge your phone wirelessly if so equipped. The door pockets will hold a 16-ounce water bottle and a couple of other small items, but they are on the narrow side. The center armrest bin is average size.
The 60/40-split rear seats fold perfectly flat, and the optional underfloor storage adds a bit more utility. Yet, at 19.4 cubic feet with all seats in place (54.5 cubic feet with them folded), the Niro doesn't have as much space as most of the other hybrid hatchbacks.
Child safety seat accommodation6.5
LATCH anchors are tucked away in between cushions where the rear seatbacks fold down, which makes access kind of difficult. Each outboard rear seat has a pair of anchors and an easy-access top tether on its back.
The Niro Plug-In is strong on the technology front, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto included as standard equipment and a host of available advanced safety systems that aren't even offered on some cars above its class. The Uvo navigation system could use a design update, but it functions well.
Audio & navigation6.0
The Uvo navigation system is the same as in other Kia models, easy to use but beginning to look dated compared to other systems on the market. The base stereo system won't impress the more musically savvy; the optional Harman Kardon system will.
With Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard in all models, you likely won't miss the upgraded system with navigation. The EX Premium trim also comes with wireless charging for smartphones.
The adaptive cruise control (called Smart Cruise Control) works pretty well to maintain a distance between the Niro and the car in front, but it only brings the Niro to a complete stop for a moment before relinquishing control.
Native voice controls are available for navigation, radio, phone and even Google search (if equipped). The prompts are straightforward, and voice recognition works pretty well. And with Apple CarPlay standard, you have the power of Siri through the car's voice control button.
Edmunds expert review process
This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
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