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2018 Kia Niro: New Car Review

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author photo by Autotrader December 2017

The 2018 Kia Niro may not have the name recognition of hybrids like the Toyota Prius and Ford C-Max, but that hasn't stopped Kia from moving full-speed ahead with its newest model. This year, a plug-in hybrid joins the lineup with an expected range of 26 miles solely on electric power. Unlike the Prius, the Niro's look is more conservative, but far from bland. Like all Kia products, the Niro's interior is handsomely styled and loaded with features, and its price falls squarely in line with non-hybrid SUVs like the Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue.

Believing it has landed on a formula to finally put to rest the idea that mostly environmentalists and old hippies drive hybrids, Kia dreamed up an unhybrid hybrid. Blending into the vehicle landscape, the Niro is absent of futuristic styling. It looks, well, normal -- both inside and out. Yet it still manages to reach 50 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving in its entry-level trim. That's the hybrid part of the equation. Everything else is the unhybrid part. Don't worry, though -- there's still plenty of room on the rear bumper for that "Save the Planet" bumper sticker.

What's New for 2018?

The 2018 Kia Niro gains a new plug-in hybrid model, while the Niro LX has lane-keep assist added to its Technology package. The EX trim gains access to most of the Touring's standard features, while the Touring gains HID headlights, autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist, forward-collision warning, adaptive cruise control, a 110-volt outlet and wireless phone charging. A new Touring Graphite Edition replaces last year's Launch trim.

What We Like

Crossover styling; honest-to-goodness 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission; a big array of driver-assistance technologies; available Harman Kardon audio system; terrific fuel economy

What We Don't

Performance is a bit sluggish in Eco (normal) driving mode; limited ground clearance; modest cargo bay; no all-wheel drive

How Much?

$24,180-$34,000

Fuel Economy

The hybrid system produces a total of 139 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. Despite all Niro grades using the same 104-hp 1.6-liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder engine mated to a 43-hp electric motor to provide forward thrust, government-estimated fuel economy depends on the trim level. Stepping up the trim-level ladder adds features, which add weight, and weight drags on mileage. Also scrubbing away a bit of mileage is the somewhat larger face the Niro presents to the wind. Kia made a conscious decision to sacrifice some wind cheating for beefier, more crossover-like styling.

Kia may well have been able to squeeze out another mile or two per gallon by moving engine output to the front wheels (AWD isn't available) via a CVT rather than the 6-speed dual-clutch automatic it chose. Again, this was by design. Kia product planners took every opportunity to create the illusion that the Niro isn't a hybrid. One way they chose to accomplish that is with a transmission that shifts gears. Boosting fuel economy are some aluminum elements, like the hood, tailgate, assorted suspension components and the brake rotors. Lumping all of this together results in some pretty impressive fuel economy.

The government rates the entry-level FE at 52 miles per gallon in the city and 49 mpg on the highway. The two midlevel grades (LX and EX) come in at 51 mpg city/46 mpg highway. At the top of the trim-level heap is the Touring at 46 mpg city/40 mpg highway.

Standard Features & Options

Niro offer fours grades and a limited-production version of its top trim level. No matter how you cut it, there's a load of value regardless of the grade.

Anchoring the Niro lineup, the FE ($24,180) comes with 16-inch tires with wheel covers, auto on/off headlights, power outboard mirrors and door locks, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, 7 airbags, an outside temperature display, a trip computer, 6-way adjustable front bucket seats, dual-zone auto climate control, a backup camera, Bluetooth connectivity, a UVO infotainment interface, a 7-in touchscreen and a 4-speaker audio system with a USB port. No factory options are available.

If you add roof rails and push-button start to the FE, you basically get the LX ($24,490). It also comes with a hidden storage tray in the cargo area and a rear center armrest. Factory options include fog lights, LED daytime running lights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a forward-collision warning system, lane-keep assist, automatic emergency braking and smart cruise control.

There's a little more air between the LX and EX ($26,990), with additional features on the EX that include the LX's available options (except for the driver-assist technologies) as well as power-folding/heated outboard mirrors with integrated turn signals, cloth-and-leather seat trim, 3-level heated front seats, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist. Optional on the LX and EX is an Advanced Technology package that adds autonomous emergency braking, smart cruise control, lane-keep assist and, on the EX trim, a 10-way power driver's seat with power lumbar. Much of the Touring standard equipment can be added to the EX via the EX Premium package.

The Touring ($32,840) is the top-level trim. It builds on the EX's content with 18-in alloy wheels, a power sunroof, leather seating, ventilated front seats, an 8-speaker Harman Kardon audio system with a subwoofer, an 8-in touchscreen, a heated steering wheel and a front/rear park-assist system. In addition to the driver-assist features offered as options on the LX and EX grades, the Touring also includes HID headlights, a 110V inverter and a wireless phone charger.

The Touring Graphite Edition ($29,390) is a special edition, limited-production trim. It's similar to the Touring, but only comes in graphite paint and features black roof racks, a unique grille insert, special interior colors and gray alloy wheels. It doesn't get the power sunroof, ventilated front seats or heated steering wheel, nor any driver assist features like autonomous braking, lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control. There are no factory options.

Safety

Neither the government nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has crash-tested the Niro.

The Niro comes standard with a driver's knee airbag in addition to the typical six airbags found in most cars. Every Niro also has hill-start assist and a rearview camera. The full battery of safety technologies isn't standard except for on the Touring grade, but blind spot monitoring, lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert are standard on the EX and Touring trims. Optional on the LX, EX and Touring grades are forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, smart cruise control and automatic emergency braking.

Behind the Wheel

In its quest to build an unhybrid hybrid, Kia not only attended to what we see, but to how the Niro feels to driver and passengers alike. With the two driving modes, you can choose to optimize fuel economy, causing the Niro to accelerate as one might expect a hybrid to accelerate -- engaging the throttle leads to a short pause, a gradual takeoff and long, leisurely shifts. Or opt for Sport mode and discover that here Kia pretty well hit its unhybrid mark. Upshifts are noticeably snappier and downshifts quicker. Goosing the accelerator is answered with acceleration that's about what you would expect from a traditional 4-cylinder crossover.

In terms of ride and handling, the Niro has a relatively low center of gravity and feels well-planted in the turns. Some of this is due to the electric motor's battery being stowed under the second-row seat. In any event, steering response is quick and there's very little sway when taking a turn.

Other Cars to Consider

2018 Nissan Rogue Hybrid -- Larger and more powerful than the Niro, the Rogue doesn't approach the Kia's fuel economy; but if cargo hauling is a bigger concern than mpg, it's a solid choice.

2018 Toyota Prius Prime -- It's tough to talk about hybrids without bringing a Prius into the discussion. Because it's the car at which Kia was aiming. Hands down, it's the best Prius yet.

2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid -- More SUV like than the Niro, the RAV4 Hybrid also offers more room, more ground clearance and all-wheel drive, plus every model comes standard with advanced driver assist features like

Used Lexus NX 300h -- A 2015-2016 Lexus NX 300h may cost a bit more than a loaded Touring, but not by much. It delivers excellent power, economy and luxury in a vehicle renowned for its excellent reliability and resale.

Autotrader's Advice

Each version of the Niro offers better-than-average value. The EX will probably be the biggest seller, and we believe it offers the best value. It provides the same standard driver-assist safety features and options as the Touring and can be outfitted with most of the Touring's standard features such as the Harman Kardon audio, heated and ventilated front seats, wireless phone charging, HID headlights and navigation.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2018 Kia Niro: New Car Review - Autotrader