2018 Kia Niro: Award-winning sporty hybrid SUV adds safety and tech packages

By Mike Blake Carlisle Events
Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Last year, Kia introduced the Niro to its line-up – a hybrid SUV that didn’t look like a hybrid and more resembled a sporty hatchback than a crossover. With a real feel for “green,” Niro was marketed as an HUV, or Hybrid Utility Vehicle, that was EPA rated at 51mpg. Backing that up, Niro officially received a Guinness World Records title for the lowest fuel consumption by a hybrid vehicle, as it traveled from Los Angeles to New York City with a fuel consumption record of 76.6 mpg – hypermiling to achieve the record that average drivers on average streets and highways won’t approach.

Following up in year two, Niro continues its green ways and has been recognized as such by being selected Green Car Journal’s 2018 Green SUV of the Year™. Additionally, Niro has gained honors from other sources including earning a J.D. Power Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) award and J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study accolade in the Small SUV category. And the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has awarded its best rating possible, Top Safety Pick Plus (TSP+), to the 2018 Kia Niro when equipped with available Forward Collision Warning System and Autonomous Emergency Braking System as well high-intensity discharge headlights.

Building on 2017’s launch, Kia has upgraded Niro for 2018 with a new plug-in model, a Graphite Edition with an exclusive paint color, gloss-black exterior trim and a full suite of safety and tech enhancements. The 2018 Niro also sees a number of trim-specific additions in standard safety, tech and infotainment features.

Looking atypical of hybrids, Niro was conceived at Kia’s design centers in Irvine, California, and Namyang, Korea. Niro’s demeanor is curvy, slim, strong and confident with subtly sculpted surfaces offset by robust styling cues. Niro sports wide and low proportions, measuring 171.5 inches long, 71.1 inches wide and 60.4 inches high, on a 106.3-inch wheelbase. The overhang is 34.3 inches in front and 30.9 inches in the rear and Niro has a ground clearance of 6.3 inches. Curbweight for the upper trims is 3161 lbs.

The Niro cabin is also sporty and intuitive, filled with hip and high-tech interior accouterments. Glossy white or black accents underline the HUV’s straightforward theme, and the instrument panel is uncluttered and clean, with colorful and informative gauges in easy sight, and driver-friendly primary and secondary controls positioned intuitively. Interior roominess measures 40.1 inches of front headroom with 39.1 inches in the rear; legroom is 41.7 inches up front and 37.4 inches in row two, and shoulder room comes in at 56.0 and 55.2. Seats with increased pad density in the cushions ensure a comfortable ride, and Niro boasts an elevated seating position much like the Kia Soul, providing drivers with a more commanding view of the road as well as easy ingress and egress.

The powertrain begins with the Kappa 1.6-liter GDI four-cylinder engine, engineered specifically for hybrid applications. The two-tiered system includes an aluminum block and head engine that delivers 104hp and 109 lbs.-ft. of torque, and a 240-volt Lithium-ion polymer battery-powered electric motor that provides 43 hp. The combined system is rated at 139hp and 195 lbs.-ft of torque, for a driving range of 583 miles.

EPA rated at 51mpg on the highway, 46mpg/city and 49mpg overall, my week of interstate and in-town driving yielded a much-lower average in town – 34mpg – but 53 mpg on the highway and an average 44.2mpg.

More than simply economical, Niro’s power system also displays a spirited performance on the road. Acceleration is smooth and swift for the niche, and moving more quickly than expected from a hybrid, my test Niro sprinted a zero-to-60mpg dash in 8.9 seconds (hand-timed) during a 16.9-second (hand-timed) quarter-mile.

Corners were taken effectively for the segment with little body roll and comparatively small top wobble. Road noise was surprisingly present in the cabin, but for the most part, Niro handled more like a sedan than a Crossover. Acceleration was respectable enough for everyday driving, braking was confident, steering was supple and responsive and the independent front suspension with MacPherson struts, stabilizer and gas shocks, worked well with the independent multi-link rear with twin tube shocks to smooth out most road irregularities.

The 2018 Kia Niro starts at $23,340 for the base FE trim, and moves up through the LX at $23,650; the EX at $26,150; and the Touring at $32,000. My test Niro LX upgraded from lower trims with LED Daytime running lights and fog lights; cloth/leather seat trim with heated front seats; Black high-gloss interior accents and auto-dimming rearview mirror; Blind-Spot Detection; Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert. Crimson Red exterior paint added $295, paired with a Gray cloth and leather interior. The EX Advance Technology Package added $1950 for Autonomous Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Forward Collision Warning System, Lane Keep Assist System; Smart Cruise Control and 10-Way Driver's Seat Adjustment, with 2-way Power Lumbar Support. A trunk cargo net added $50 and a Cargo Mat added $95; mud guards were $95; carpeted floor mats were $135; and destination fees of $940 brought the sticker-as-tested to $29,710 – under $30K for a sporty hybrid SUV.

> Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.

Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.

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