2018 Kia Niro PHEV EX Premium Review

All of the efficiency, none of the weirdness

Wade Thiel, Senior Staff Writer

Positives: Superb efficiency for a crossover, practical cargo area, spacious cabin, good driving dynamics, excellent infotainment system.
Negatives: EV range is too modest for most, not as efficient as some other plug-in hybrids, no all-wheel drive.
Bottom Line: The Niro PHEV offers a well-rounded package that's a needed alternative to the current top plug-in hybrid vehicles. The model brings crossover style and functionality to a whole new area of the market, and we love it for its ease of use and competent driving characteristics.
The Niro is a standalone hybrid offering that’s available in regular gasoline-electric hybrid form or a plug-in hybrid configuration. It’s unique in that Kia designed the Niro as a standalone alternative powertrain model, unlike so many other vehicles out there. We drove the regular hybrid version of the car last year and came away impressed with what the model offered. This year, we got behind the wheel of Kia’s plug-in hybrid version of the Niro to see what added benefits it provides. Read on for the full review.

Driving Experience



The Niro feels buttoned down and handles better than expected on the road. It has plenty of power, but we noticed the vehicle feels sluggish when there’s no more EV range and the vehicle’s not in sport mode. Overall, it’s a pleasurable vehicle to drive.

Ride Quality: Kia does a good job providing balance in the suspension system. The vehicle is smooth over road imperfections. It’s not too firm or too soft.

Acceleration: A 0-60 mph time of about nine seconds isn’t fast. It’s enough to keep the Niro up with traffic, but passing and merging onto the highway take a little planning. We love that the Niro comes with 6-speed dual clutch transmission instead of a CVT.

Braking: The brakes in the Niro PHEV felt very strong and progress. Kia does hybrid brakes well. We did notice they’re a little touchier than in some other models. You don’t need to press down too hard to get the vehicle to slow or stop.

Steering: The steering is well-calibrated. It’s not too heavy and the level of precision is exactly where we’d want it for a non-sporty car like this.

Handling: The Niro can lean a bit in the curves, but it holds the road well and instills more confidence than you expect.




If there’s one thing Kia does well, it’s infotainment systems. The system in the Niro PHEV is easy to use and feature packed. Other automakers could learn a few lessons from the Korean automaker.

Infotainment System: The system features an 8-inch touchscreen that displays a clear and easy to use interface. The system is bright and the graphics look modern. Kia does an excellent job of offering a long list of features, including Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Sirius XM Radio, and Navigation.

Controls: The touchscreen is smooth and responsive. Kia also provides clear and easy to use buttons and knobs on the dash for infotainment control. The steering-wheel controls also work well and are well-laid out.




Many automakers have finally figured out that not everyone wants a hybrid or plug-in hybrid that looks like it traveled from Mars. The Kia Niro is a perfect example. It simply looks like a crossover. As we noted when we drove the regular Niro, Peter Schreyer, former Audi designer, has done a wonderful job making an attractive vehicle that’s not polarizing.

Front: Up front the Niro PHEV sports Kia’s Tiger Nose Grille, LED headlights and LED daytime running lights. It’s a more handsome design than some of Kia’s other crossovers like the Sportage.

Rear: The rear is similarly well-put-together. It features a sloping roofline, small rear spoiler and LED taillights in an attractive configuration.

Profile: As we noted with the regular hybrid model, in profile the Niro looks very much like a wagon that’s trying to be a crossover. The plastic cladding around the wheel arches tries too hard to make it look more utilitarian, and we think it cheapens the overall look.

Cabin: The interior features a modern design that’s not too busy. Kia does a good job offering a few different material types and colors without going overboard. Some plastics look a little on the cheaper side, but otherwise, it’s a handsome cabin.




The compact crossover segment isn’t known for having spacious and comfortable cabins, but the Niro manages to pull it off. There’s more room than we expected, and that paired with the good seats make it a good family vehicle.

Front Seats: The heated and ventilated leather front seats offer good support and bolstering and there’s plenty of leg, hip, and headroom.

Rear Seats: The rear seats offer similar levels of support and bolstering, but are tighter on space. There’s still enough room for three passengers across the back seat.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The Niro feels solid and well-built. We noticed no errant noises of vibrations. Its engine can get a little loud when pushed.

Visibility: Seeing out of the Niro is easy thanks to well-placed pillars that aren’t too thick.

Climate: The dual-zone automatic climate control system works quickly to get the cabin to the selected temperature. The heated and ventilated seats are also powerful and offer three levels of adjustment.




The Niro was not tested by the NHTSA. The IIHS has tested both versions of the vehicle and has the regular hybrid version rated higher due to a better headlight rating.

IIHS Rating: The IIHS gave the Niro PHEV “Good” ratings in all crash tests and a “Superior” rating for crash avoidance and mitigation technology. Where the model came up short was in the headlights, which were rated “Poor” and the child seat anchor ease of use was only “Acceptable.”

NHTSA Rating: Not tested.

Standard Tech: The Niro PHEV comes with a lot of standard safety tech in EX Premium trim, including ABS, Hill-start Assist Control, ESC, VSm, Blind Spot Detection, Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Forward Collision Warning System, Lane Keep Assist System, and Smart Cruise Control.

Optional Tech: None.




The Kia Niro PHEV is a practical crossover. This means there’s a good amount of storage in the vehicle and a usable cargo area. While it’s beat by some other non-plug-in hybrid crossovers, if you want a PHEV and a practical crossover, the Niro is basically your only choice.

Storage Space: There are two adequately sized cup holders, a storage space under the armrest and a fairly large cubby in front of the gear lever that gives you plenty of room for your phone or other small items.

Cargo Room: The cargo space offers 19.4 cubic feet of space with all seats in place. Fold the rear seats and you get up to 54.5 cubic feet of space. This is better than some other crossovers like the Jeep Renegade but not as good as Honda’s HR-V.

Fuel Economy



The Kia Niro PHEV is a very effiecient crossover, and it makes most other crossovers look like gas hogs. That said, some other plug-in hybrids that aren't crossovers, like the Prius Prime, will sip even less fuel.

Observed: We traveled 20 miles on pure electric power. Then we averaged 44.5 mpg once the battery ran down.

Distance Driven: 362 miles.

Driving Factors: We drove primarily on the highway with a few shorter trips in urban environments.




The 8-speaker Harman/Kardon Surround Sound with Clari-Fi and Integrated Subwoofer is standard in the EX Premium trim level. It provides excellent quality sound to all areas of the cabin. Although we didn’t test the base 6-speaker system, we imagine this upgraded one is much better.

Final Thoughts

The Kia Niro is one of the best plug-in hybrid vehicles out there, and it even asserts itself well in the crowded crossover segment with non-hybrid vehicles. If you’re after the very best efficiency, there are some vehicles that can best it, but nothing at this price point offers plug-in hybrid capability with the same driving experience and this kind of practical package. The Niro is an excellent vehicle.
Shopping for a used
Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid?