Entry Price: $27,900
Price as Tested: $35,970

We’re driving the 2018 Kia Niro this week, delivered in Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) dress and carrying a more expensive entry price versus the non-plug version we tested earlier this year. Niro’s plug-in charge capability allows it to join the ever expanding group of vehicles worldwide that are expanding into this type of motoring technology. Niro Plug-In offers both gas engine and electric motor capabilities as a push of a button delivers Niro’s all-electric motivation with a range of up to 26 miles.

Niro PHEV models start at $27,900 for the entry FE. Pricing moves up to the EX at $31,500 and then our tester’s EX Premium price of $34,500. The Premium comes fully loaded as there were only two options, specifically nice pearl paint for $395 and carpeted floor mats for $135. These items pushed the final retail to $35,970 with $940 delivery included.

Every Niro hybrid, be it plug-in or not, operates via an electric motor, Lithium Ion Polymer battery and an internal combustion engine for motivation, similar to the many hybrids on the market today.

The power combination starts with a 104-horse 1.6-liter Atkinson four-cylinder that works in tandem with a more powerful PHEV 60-horsepower electric motor than the non plug-in Niro, which uses a 43-horse motor. This Kia combination delivers a net horsepower of 139 with an impressive 195 lb. ft. of torque. A modern design six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission delivers the power to low resistance Michelin “X-Green” 16-inch tires mounted on nice alloy wheels.

Kia calls its hybrid system “Full Parallel” and the combo delivers smooth, reliable performance and excellent hybrid efficiency. The bigger electric motor adds some weight to the Niro Plug-In by about 175 pounds but it also adds more low-end torque as we could screech the tires under full throttle from a standing start until the traction control kicked in. Yes, it’s way quicker off the line than the non-plug in Niro.

The result is a Niro that is heavier and thus impacts the gas only MPG numbers lower, with 48 city and 44 highway the EPA estimates versus the 51 city and 46 highway on the non plug-in EX style Niro. As for the electric and gas combo, how about 105 MPG for starters with a 240V charge time of 2.3-hours. All this adds up to only $700 annual estimated fuel cost based on 15,000 miles of driving.

Going electric is simple thanks to the nicely packed plug-in equipment and the consumer’s choice of either Level 1 (120V) or Level 2 (240V) charging abilities. Whether you’re at home or on the road, you’ll find a power source somewhere and with Kia’s UVO eco App, you can schedule charge times at home or find public charging stations. Currently, more than 36,000 Level 2 stations exist nationwide and this number grows daily. Remember, if charging is unavailable, you always have Kia’s 1.6-liter gas engine to get you where you’re going.

Which brings us to the big question: Is it worth the extra $3,500 to $4,000 for the plug-in Niro versus the non plug-in hybrid Niro?

Granted, you’ll receive some expanded all-electric miles, but during our week-long test we noticed that any extra power request (like turning on the heater or air conditioning) immediately engages the internal combustion engine for assistance. This decision must be made at the decision desk, although we opt that both are great hybrids and worthy of consideration. Still, at an entry of $23,340, the non plug-in Niro is a great value based solely on resale value and depreciation concerns.

Front drive Niro handles well although currently no all-wheel-drive option is available. The ride is a bit bumpy on uneven secondary roads, but overall it’s a comfortable highway cruiser and fine little performer. We put over 250 miles on our tester during the week, and were well pleased with its handling and fun to drive personality.

All Niro models feature pleasant seating and a UVO infotainment stereo system that highlights eServices technology and numerous functions via your smartphone. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility is standard, as is SiriusXM radio. The FE and EX offer seven-inch touchscreens with six-speaker stereo systems, while the EX Premium comes with an eight-inch screen and enhanced Harmon Kardon eight-speaker stereos with navigation.

Niro EX Premium features the advanced safety and technology packages as standard fare. Included are smart cruise control, automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, 10-way power seats and more. I highly recommend the FE Premium model if you can afford it as these features are not available on the entry plug-in model.

Another safety notable is a blind-spot detection system with lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert that is standard on the EX and EX Premium. All expected modern day safety items are included on every Niro built, from four-wheel ABS disc brakes, traction controls and all the airbags.

The Premium model comes with countless other standard amenities, from heated and ventilated front seats to LED headlamps and a heated leather steering wheel. Your Kia dealer will explain everything when you visit.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 106.3 inches, 3,450 lb. curb weight, 11.3 gal. fuel tank, 17.5 ft. turn circle, 6.3-inch ground clearance, and from 19.4 to 54.5 cu. ft. of cargo space.
Kia’s PHEV hybrid Niro and sibling non-plug in hybrid are both attractive and economical choices in the small station wagon class. Add in a 10-year, 100,000-mile limited powertrain/battery warranty and current year-end leftover incentives and you can save thousands over the identical 2019 Kia Niro hybrid models.

Likes: Hybrid economy, safety, looks, plug-in capability.
Dislikes: Extra cost for plug-in, high EX Premium PHEV pricing.
— Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and GateHouse Media. Contact him at greg@gregzyla.com or at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, PA 18840.