Four doors and a rear liftgate could categorize the compact Kia Niro as a wagon, but its boxy-ish (in a good way) exterior design says small SUV or, for purists, small crossover.
However you see it and whatever you choose to call it, Niro is an eco-oriented vehicle that was introduced last year. Initially offered only in hybrid form, a plug-in hybrid is available as well, new for 2018.
Features exclusive to the plug-in model include a slightly modified grille insert and surround, hybrid blue exterior accents, available LED headlamps, a charge port door on the left front fender, an available 7-inch color meter cluster with digital tachometer and “ECO/Plug-In” badging.
There are three trim levels of the 2018 Kia Niro plug-in hybrid (PHEV): LX, EX and EX Premium. Each one has a total driving range of 560 miles, can travel up to 26 miles in electric-only mode, and has an MPGe rating of 105 miles combined. The gasoline consumption rating is 48 mpg city, 44 mpg highway, and 46 mpg combined.
My Niro PHEV tester was the EX Premium model, whose base price of $35,440 (including destination charge) tosses in every upgrade feature you can get on a Niro. Shoppers seeking the environmental and economic benefits of a plug-in hybrid but who want the initial outlay to fall below 30K can shave off more than $6,500 by opting for the base LX model.
When it comes to comfort, convenience and technological special features, the base models of some cars are barely better than bicycles, but that’s not the case with the Kia Niro PHEV. The mechanicals are exactly the same on all three trims, and the overall standard features list doesn’t leave out much on the LX. You’d have to survive without heated front seats, heated steering wheel, 8-inch touchscreen navigation display, wireless phone charger, 6-way instead of 8-way power adjustment for the driver’s seat, and a few other odds and ends.
The 139 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque generated by Niro’s hybrid system is an acceptable level, and performance gets extra credit for doing so well on curvy roads. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard, and the front wheels run the show. All-wheel drive is not available.
Cabin roominess is impressive, providing generous space for passengers as well as a considerable amount of cargo.
The Niro EX standard infotainment system has navigation with an 8-inch touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration, SiriusXM satellite radio, and a celestial Harman Kardon premium audio system. In true Kia fashion, the system is wonderfully straightforward.
2018 KIA NIRO PLUG-IN HYBRID EX
Base price, including destination charge: $35,440
Price as driven: $35,575
Mary Lowry is an independent automotive writer who lives in Snohomish County. She is a member of the Motor Press Guild, and a member and past president of the Northwest Automotive Press Association. Vehicles are provided by the manufacturers as a one-week loan for review purposes only. In no way do the manufacturers control the content of the reviews.