2018 Kia Niro PHEV EX Premium Plug-In is a Double-Entendre Crossover

Ignore the man reflected below the headlight of the 2018 Kia Niro PHEV EX Premium. All photos by Matt Coker

The 2018 Kia Niro is a solid crossover–not only because it represents that cross over from larger sports utility vehicles to smaller sedans.

That’s because crossover is a double entendre when it comes the plug-in hybrid, which crosses over from running solely on electric power around town to gasoline on longer trips, at high speeds or after missed sessions with an electric charger.

According to the U.S. government, my ’18 Niro PHEV EX Premium test ride can travel 26 miles as an all-electric vehicle before the gas engine kicks in.

That results in an amazing 105 miles to the gallon when splitting between gas and juice, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which also rates the Niro with an impressive 46 mpg while riding on petrol alone. For those fans of the E in EPA, the crossover also scores a perfect 10 on the government’s Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas ratings.

With annual fuel costs estimated at only $700 a year–keeping in mind that those making only short trips around town for the most part would pay even less–and $3,250 is estimated fuel savings over five years compared to the average new 2018 vehicle, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $27,900 for the base model Niro plug-in hybrid is a bargain.  

My Niro test ride was a looker. Love the wheels, roof rails and shark fin!

Of course, those of us who write about cars are loaned fully-loaded vehicles so we can sample as many available features as possible. Thus, my particular Niro had a total MSRP of $35,575, which is a bit higher than the cost of the similar model of the most popular hybrid in America, the Toyota Prius.

What you are paying extra for here are considered standard features, as the only extra on my Niro were the $135 carpeted floor mats.

Included in the Premium trim were things like roof rails, rear spoiler, satellite radio, front fog lights, rear-view camera, rear privacy glass, heated/ventilated front seats, Harmon Kardon audio system and navigation with an eight-inch touchscreen. 

Also standard are the power-folding, heated outdoor mirrors with turn signals and the heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel with mounted controls. Leather also envelopes the shifter knob.

Many cutting-edge safety features are also included, such as hill start assist, lane keep assist, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, forward collision warning, electronic stability control, vehicle stability management and autonomous emergency braking.

The Premium’s interior, which was light gray on my test ride, is comfort-inducing.

Government 5-Star Safety Ratings, which are based on the abuse of crash-test dummies, were not yet available on my Kia subject, but the Niro does come with an anti-lock braking system and dual-front, driver’s knees and full length side curtain airbags.

That should give you some comfort when it hits you that the Niro is sneaky fast, as happened to me. I was deep in thought while zipping up Brookhurst Street from the beach when I snapped out of it, looked down at the speedometer and noticed I was well over the speed limit.   

That likely had something to do with Premium plug-in’s electric motor generating 60 horsepower, compared to the stripped-down Niro hybrid’s 43hp. My test model also had an eight-speed, dual-clutch, automatic transmission that was as smooth as silk.

The difference between the two models would not be stark at freeway speeds, as both Niros rely on the same Atkinson-cycle, 1.6-liter, inline-four engine.

But the plug-in does boast a larger lithium battery pack than the conventional hybrid (8.9 kilowatt hours versus 1.6 kWh).

I don’t believe the charger left that spot the entire week I had the Niro.

Kia backs the Niro plug-in up with a 10-year/100,000-mile (whichever comes first) limited warranty on the battery and powertrain and five years/60,000 miles for a limited basic warranty and roadside assistance.

When I am finished banging out this review, I will be off to my local Toyota dealer to turn in the conventional Prius hybrid I had been leasing. I am weeks and weeks–if not months and months–away from deciding what I will be signing my life away to next.

However, the Niro plug-in is definitely a worthy candidate for my soon-to-be-empty garage.

To be honest, so is one of these from the same South Korean automaker.

(I told ya’ll the experience run down here would not sway me.)

Decisions, decisions …

Worthy candidate for an empty garage.

Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.

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