Kia is set to give Toyota’s Prius, Chevy’s Volt and Honda’s Clarity plug-in some viable competition with their two hybrid vehicles.
Offered as a hybrid and plug-in hybrid, Kia’s 2018 Niro provides the economy minded car buyer the best of each technology. We tested the latter, and as such can best be described as a 4-door hatchback in crossover clothing. And that’s because the plug-in is not offered in AWD, despite having a slightly higher undercarriage clearance that makes for easier ingress/egress and cargo loading height.
Niro plug-in is available in LX, EX and EX Premium trim levels and the one we were privileged to test. With the Premium comes leather upholstery, heated steering wheel, top-line audio, 8-inch touchscreen, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane keeping assist, smart cruise control, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a long list of other safety items.
Niro plug-in gets its punch from a 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder, 104-hp (plus 60 with the electric motor) and 109 lb/ft of torque. It send power to the front wheels through a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission giving the Niro EPA mileage estimates of 46 city combined. And this is with a 26 mile electric-only range that is slightly below that of the Prius and Volt, but still an appreciable range for local daily jaunts. Some owners are reporting they can go a full week of commuting to their nearby work places on a single charge.
In EV mode, acceleration is linear and the switch to the gasoline engine is seamless and goes without notice. The Sport Mode livens throttle response and steering tightens up.
Once inside the cabin, you’re treated to a sumptuous leather interior with perforated leather seats that in the test car were light grey with light blue piping along the seamed edges. The front seats have extended underthigh support making for a comfy ride be it over short or long hauls.
An 8-inch touchscreen serves the audio, rearview camera and apps systems that takes some familiarization to use. The latter has one app that conveniently shows all the local charging stations. Between the gauge set is a driver’s information display that includes a compass. On its left, a power gauge shows Charge, Eco and Power points that serve as an aid in promoting economical driving habits.
At the bottom of the vertical stack is a wireless smartphone charger pad for wireless charging of phones. Above it, HVAC controls are nicely placed and easy to use at first glance.
Back seat headroom is ample and leg room is ample provided the fronts aren’t racked too well rearward. Ingress/egress is easy thanks to wide opening doors as is a low 16.5-inch step-in.
The cargo area with the 60/40 rear seatbacks upright measures 31 inches deep, 43 wide and 27.5 high for 19.4 cubic feet of space. Flip the seatbacks and cargo length extends to 62 inches for 54.5 cubic feet. The vehicles’ starter battery is located here as well as it saves room for the plumbing needed in the engine bay. The AC charging cord resides here and is nicely packaged in a nylon case with a Velcro back so it doesn’t slide around the cargo floor.
Beneath the cargo floor is a tire inflator kit and the lithium battery pack that runs under the rear seats. This likely gives an almost 60/40 weight distribution to this FWD crossover.
Handling wise, the Niro PHEV feels more like a car than a true crossover. The short front overhang is almost minivan-like affording excellent frontal visibility. The car is easy to park and has a tight turning radius. In sharp turns, the car remains planted with nary any body lean.
Ride wise on Michelin 16-inch tires is smooth with only a tad of noticeable road noise.
Starting at a base of $34,500, and with an overwhelming number of standard creature comfort niceties and safety features, the only extra charges were for the brilliant Snow White Pearl paint ($395) and carpeted floor mats ($135) that took the bottom line to $35,970 with a delivery charge of $940.
Niro received IIHS’s top safety ratings in several categories and you can’t overlook Kia’s always generous warranties of 10 year/100K powertrain; 10/100K battery; 5/60K limited basic; and 5/60K roadside assistance coverage.
Kia is finally in the hybrid game and has a pair to compete with the best in its class.