2018 Kia Niro

Performance


$23,340 MSRP
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2018 Kia Niro Performance Review

Scorecard

Performance: 7.5

The 2018 Kia Niro isn't like other hybrids when it comes to performance. Kia employs a smooth-shifting dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission instead of a loud continuously variable automatic transmission, which is common in other hybrids. The Niro's regenerative braking system is also superior to other hybrids' systems. It has plenty of power for highway and day-to-day driving, and it provides a smooth and comfortable drive.

  • "Yes, you give up some fuel efficiency and ride comfort with the Kia, but that's a price I'm willing to pay to have a car that's actually a little fun to bounce around town in, and won't be a complete letdown when I find myself on curvy roads in the middle of Texas." -- CNET (2017)
  • Kia likes to talk about the new Niro being fun to drive – there's even a Sport driving mode – but keep your expectations in check. While the Niro's quick-shifting 6-speed dual-clutch transmission, independent rear suspension, and decent driving feel help compensate for the Niro's challenged power-to-weight ratio, the Niro remains first and foremost a practical mileage-maxer." -- Kelley Blue Book (2017)
  • "In case you missed any previous hints that this is not a rugged SUV, note that all-wheel drive is missing from the lineup, and there are no plans to add it." -- Car and Driver (2017)

Acceleration and Power

The Niro comes standard with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and an electric motor. They produce a combined 139 horsepower. The Niro doesn't have a continuously variable automatic transmission, which is common in many hybrids. Instead, a dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission is standard.

The engine delivers ample power for most driving situations, and there are different driving modes that tailor the Niro’s dynamics to suit your preferences. Sport mode even makes this little Kia feel pretty quick. The transition from electric to gasoline power is smooth, and the Niro comes with the Active Eco System to optimize fuel economy.

The Kia Niro's base FE model delivers an EPA-estimated 52 mpg in the city and 49 mpg on the highway. The top-of-the-line Touring trim gets 46/40 mpg city/highway. Those are outstanding ratings for any vehicle, and they’re far better than most class rivals’ ratings.

There's also a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) Niro. It features the same powertrain setup and has an all-electric range of 26 miles. According to the EPA, the plug-in hybrid returns 105 mpg-equivalent combined city/highway. Under gasoline power, ratings drop to 46 combined mpg city/highway.

The PHEV Niro charges in under nine hours with a standard 120V outlet, and it can charge in just two and a half hours with a 240V outlet. The vehicle has a charging mode that, under certain conditions, allows the battery to recharge while driving, extending the all-electric range. The UVO infotainment system also lets you program the PHEV Niro to charge outside of your peak power usage times at home, so you can saving money during charges.

  • The transmission works pretty well, and certainly feels more like what you find in the average automobile. It isn't lightning fast, but is still generally smooth and responds promptly enough in both automatic and manual mode. … The powertrain is acceptably peppy as well. It's not going to blow you away, but it sets off with solid pace, thanks in part to the electric motor's immediate torque. And in Sport mode, the throttle is responsive and the transmission holds gears longer. Unfortunately, the gas engine is not a refined piece of machinery, and you hear a lot from it in the Sport mode. It buzzes and moans at and near wide-open throttle. Because of all this, you'll probably just want to leave the shifter in Drive." -- Autoblog (2017)
  • "Unlike the Prius, the Niro doesn't immediately understeer when pushed, nor does it make an annoying drone under acceleration, as Kia opts to use a six-speed dual-clutch transmission instead of a continuously variable system. A welcome piece of hardware, the dual clutch gearbox delivers snappy shifts, with a responsive manual shift function. However, its lack of a tachometer made manual shifting most useless." -- CNET (2017)
  • "When the Niro is in its default Eco driving mode, however, it's hard to tell you're driving a hybrid. In Sport mode, it's all but impossible to tell. That's mostly because Kia ditched the CVT and put in a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission instead. That means the engine revs up and shifts like a normal car. Also, unlike some other hybrids, there's not a big change in the car's sound when the gas engine comes on. Overall, you just pull away from lights. It's a bit slow in Eco mode, where it feels like a slightly slow normal car. The only clue to its hybrid nature is that the Niro is very quiet when it gets going with only the electric motor working, as it can under some conditions." -- Cars.com (2017)

Handling and Braking

The Niro comes with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive isn’t available. The ride is cushioned over rough roads, and the Niro’s regenerative braking system is smoother than the ones found in many other hybrids. The Niro isn't especially athletic, but it has good control and provides fairly good steering feedback.

  • "Although the Niro drives more like a regular car than most hybrids, that doesn't mean it's all that enjoyable. It feels reluctant through corners, denying the driver a feeling of confidence and control, and it was unimpressive through our avoidance maneuver. The Niro's ride can get choppy on bumpy pavement, and braking performance was merely mediocre, with fairly long stops and a spongy feel through the brake pedal." -- Consumer Reports
  • "Finally, the brakes are very good for a hybrid. They're a bit mushy and vague, but there's none of the weird, grabby action you can get from other hybrids, like the Chevrolet Volt." -- Cars.com (2017)
  • "The Niro also exhibits good ride, handling, and NVH qualities. Although it doesn't feel overtly sporty, on the South Texas back roads where we drove the Niro, we found good body control and a lack of the queasy rebound moments that you find in some crossovers. The steering is nicely weighted and requires very few corrections to maintain a straight path on the highway." -- Car and Driver (2017)
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