Last year Kia jumped into the hybrid crossover pool with the Niro. (Look under Kia for my review.) Now, for 2018, the Korean automaker has taken another plunge with a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version. This new model will run on electricity alone for up to 26 miles, and get up to 46 mpg when the gasoline engine kicks in.

Kia uses the same 1.6-liter gas engine, with 104 hp. as in the standard Niro hybrid, but installs a larger electric motor, as well as a substantially bigger battery pack in the plug-in. The total horsepower is the same as in the hybrid, 139 hp., yet, even though the plug-in weighs 177 lbs. more, it accelerates just as quickly as the hybrid (0-60 in about nine seconds), thanks to the more powerful electric motor.

Except for some minor cosmetic touches, like a honeycomb grille and blue accents on the chrome, the plug-in looks like its hybrid sibling. Overall, the bodywork is pleasing, if not excitingly styled. It sports features of a crossover SUV, like large wheel arches, cladding below the doors, and a rear skid plate, but it seems more like a wagon. Maybe “crossover wagon” expresses it best.

Complementing its outside appearance, the cabin features an uncluttered look. The dash is a model of simplicity. The instrument panel is straightforward—no gaudy graphics detailing the hybrid system. The center control is exceptionally clean, with an easy to reach touchscreen at the top, audio controls with dials below it, and well-placed climate adjusters at the bottom. Furthermore, high quality soft-touch materials are used throughout the cabin. Blue stitching on the seats, and blue trim on the air vents distinguish it from its hybrid stablemate.

Front passengers are treated to chair-like seating, which provides a commanding view of the road. The driver gets a power seat—the person riding shotgun makes due with a manual adjuster. Three six-footers can ride in back with sufficient head-and legroom, although foot space for the middle occupant is limited. The cargo area at the rear is a decent size at 19.4 cu-ft., which is the same amount as the hybrid, even though there’s a large battery pack beneath the floor.

The Niro assembles the PHEV in three levels of trim, LX, EX and EX Premium. The entry-level LX comes is fairly well equipped with a touchscreen infotainment system, six-speaker audio and steering-wheel controls. The EX adds technology with pre-collision warning, a blind-spot monitor and lane-change assist. The EX Premium increases the luxury quotient with leather upholstery, navigation and park assist.

On the road, the Niro’s handling is well balanced. The low-mounted battery pack gives the Niro a ground-hugging feel. The steering is precise—the car goes where its pointed—but it doesn’t transmit much feel of the road. The ride quality is quite satisfactory, slightly choppy on city streets, but smooth, and remarkably quiet on the freeway. The engine won’t overwhelm you with performance, but if you engage the Sport mode, and shift manually, it can be entertaining.  

Niro pricing starts at $28,840 for the LX. The EX is $32,440, and the EX Premium goes for $35,440. That can be up to $5,000 more than the comparable hybrid Niro. However, there is a federal tax credit of $4,543, according to Kia, which nearly evens out the cost, and some states, like California, provide a $1,500 tax credit as well, which make the plug-in a bargain.



Tasteful styling

Excellent Fuel Economy

Available Safety Assists

Net Price Reasonable

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