2018 Kia Niro PHEV Review - A Spreadsheet Nerd's Dream

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2018 Kia Niro PHEV EX Premium

1.6-liter inline four with 60 hp electric motor (139 hp, 195 lb-ft combined)
Six-speed dual-clutch transmission, front-wheel drive
48 city / 44 highway / 46 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
105 (EPA rating, MPGe)
81.5 (observed mileage, MPG)
Base Price: $35,440 US
As Tested: $35,575 US
Prices include $940 destination charge in the United States.

Life gets in the way. No matter how much you plan, there will always be circumstances that, at the very least, interfere with that plan — if not throw it completely out the window.

For instance, when I test a car that specifically touts efficiency, I always plan a relatively rigorous regimen of fuel economy measurements, including filling and refilling the tank at the same pump, and maintaining a consistent driving style. But then a school bus is late and I have to rush to the office, keeping me from the fuel pump before the car goes away — and keeping my foot to the floor a bit more than ideal. Or a charging plug falls out of the wall socket you’ve been meaning to replace for a decade.

But this time, as I tested the 2018 Kia Niro PHEV, everything went right. I was able to drive and charge this plug-in hybrid like a normal person who has to keep it for more than a week. Full charges greeted me each morning. And, at the end of my test, some seriously impressive fuel economy blew my mind.

No, that’s not a typo in the fact box up top. I drove the Niro PHEV a total of 253.2 miles, and topped off the tank with 3.107 gallons of regular unleaded. 81.4934 miles to the gallon very nearly doubles the mileage I observed last year in the standard Niro. 26 miles of all-electric range makes a serious difference — there were many days where the gasoline engine never fired.

Yes, I know that I’m just offloading my energy use to my residential electric service (which is, around here at least, produced mostly by coal or natural gas). Let’s leave that discussion for somewhere else. The impact at the fuel pump is what matters here. Spending eight dollars or less every week to drive to and from the cube farm is incredibly appealing.

The number on this photo is a little misleading. 337 mpg! I think I shot it after having the car for about ten minutes, nearly all of it without using the petrol engine. Still, it’s a nice little tease for any friends riding along.

Driving the Niro PHEV is a better experience than the standard Niro — when I drove that hybrid, there were a few stumbles with the dual-clutch transmission when cold. It seems the larger, more powerful battery and motor combo smooth out the rough edges of this transmission. The greater electric torque makes getting off the line brisk, almost fun.

It’s neither a sports car nor a hot hatch — it’s just a tall hatchback masquerading as a crossover. It handles a bit better than most commuter appliances, due to the 258 pound battery mounted low in the chassis. Imagine strapping me, Keanu-under-the-bus-in-Speed style, to the undercarriage of a car. That would let the car hug the road a bit more (and seriously wound your favorite bearded auto writer, so let’s keep this hypothetical).

Remarkably, this big battery doesn’t affect the utility of this not-a-crossover. Interior dimensions, including the 100.9 cubic foot total passenger volume and 19.4 cubes of luggage capacity, matches that of the standard Niro. That picture of the cargo hold shows a small bag that carries the charging cable, but it’s removable and fastens anywhere on the floor with hook-and-loop fasteners.

Styling of the Niro is barely distinguishable from the standard car, save the door covering the charge port and subtle teal accents inside and out that indicate to the outside world that this is slightly more eco than everything else. And those eco signifiers tend to be either green or blue, so why not blend them into Nineties-Fantastic Teal?

I adore the Gravity Blue finish on this tester — it’s a welcome change from the sea of grey, silver, and white that fills every damned parking lot. More blue/green here again.

The rear seats are nearly as roomy as the fronts , which is an incredible achievement for such a compact car. Never did the kids knee my seatback.

[Get new and used Kia Niro PHEV prices here!]

Obviously, I enjoy having the Kia Niro around, either in plug-in or standard hybrid variants. It’s not a driver’s car by any means, but for a geek who likes plotting fuel spending in Excel, this would have me dancing in my spreadsheets. This Niro PHEV has me studying what it would take to wire a dedicated charging station in my garage in place of that worn 120v socket.

[Images: © 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in eBay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and he's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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2 of 21 comments
  • RRocket RRocket on Dec 05, 2018

    Ah yes, the typical "Let’s leave that discussion for somewhere else" when the downsides of EVs are pointed out... Like if you bury your head in the sand those truths might just go away...

  • Z9 Z9 on Dec 05, 2018

    My son replaced a C-Max with the regular hybrid version of a Niro recently. I would not use "reliable" and C-Max in the same sentence as it needed a new transmission at 77K miles (fortunately covered under a hybrid warranty), had a leaking engine (not covered under warranty), a Sync system that failed twice (covered under a special warranty extension that was about to expire), and numerous other problems mostly electrical in nature. We'll see about the long-term reliability of the Kia but fuel economy has been in the high 40s (versus 35 for the C-Max) and all-around the Niro just feels like a much nicer car for less money. Personally I will definitely take a look at the plug-in version when I am next looking for a new car and it would be in the color of the one reviewed here so I hope it doesn't get discontinued as Kia seems to like to do fairly often.

  • Lorenzo The unspoken killer is that batteries can't be repaired after a fender-bender and the cars are totaled by insurance companies. Very quickly, insurance premiums will be bigger than the the monthly payment, killing all sales. People will be snapping up all the clunkers Tim Healey can find.
  • Lorenzo Massachusetts - with the start/finish line at the tip of Cape Cod.
  • RHD Welcome to TTAH/K, also known as TTAUC (The truth about used cars). There is a hell of a lot of interesting auto news that does not make it to this website.
  • Jkross22 EV makers are hosed. How much bigger is the EV market right now than it already is? Tesla is holding all the cards... existing customer base, no dealers to contend with, largest EV fleet and the only one with a reliable (although more crowded) charging network when you're on the road. They're also the most agile with pricing. I have no idea what BMW, Audi, H/K and Merc are thinking and their sales reflect that. Tesla isn't for me, but I see the appeal. They are the EV for people who really just want a Tesla, which is most EV customers. Rivian and Polestar and Lucid are all in trouble. They'll likely have to be acquired to survive. They probably know it too.
  • Lorenzo The Renaissance Center was spearheaded by Henry Ford II to revitalize the Detroit waterfront. The round towers were a huge mistake, with inefficient floorplans. The space is largely unusable, and rental agents were having trouble renting it out.GM didn't know that, or do research, when they bought it. They just wanted to steal thunder from Ford by making it their new headquarters. Since they now own it, GM will need to tear down the "silver silos" as un-rentable, and take a financial bath.Somewhere, the ghost of Alfred P. Sloan is weeping.