First Drive

2018 Kia Niro PHEV review – price, specs and release date

The Kia Niro PHEV is a plug-in version of the Korean brand's hybrid SUV that promises improved fuel economy, a longer range on electric power and company-car-tax-friendly CO2 emissions

Words By Doug Revolta

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Kia Niro PHEV front

Priced from Β£27,995 (after government plug-in grant of Β£2500) Release date On sale now

Using a cable to charge your phone might be considered a bit old-hat nowadays. In the car world, though, plugging in your car to charge it is a sign of some pretty cutting-edge tech.

In its standard form, the Kia Niro is a conventional petrol-electric hybrid with a battery that charges itself, but there's also a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) model in the range, which, as the name suggests, you can plug in to charge.

Differences? Well, the most obvious one is that the PHEV has a charging cable in the boot. Use it to plug the car in and it will go from empty to fully charged in two hours and 15 minutes. That's enough for up to 36 miles of pure electric driving, according to Kia.

As you'd expect, the battery is larger than the one in the standard Niro, while the 44.5kW electric motor is bigger, too. However, the engine is the same 1.6-litre petrol. So, is the Niro PHEV worth considering?

2018 Kia Niro PHEV on the road

There isn’t a great deal of difference between how this model drives compared with the standard Niro hybrid. Like its sibling, the PHEV goes about its business in town quietly (barring some road noise) and smoothly shuffles power between the battery and the petrol engine as required.

Put it in EV mode and it will run just off electric power until the system senses it requires assistance from the petrol engine – usually when you put your foot down and the gearbox feels the need to kickdown.

Unfortunately, when you do want to make brisk progress, the general calm evaporates, because the dual-clutch automatic gearbox hangs onto the lower gear for too long, leaving the engine screaming near the redline. This is only an issue when you’re accelerating hard, admittedly, but it does grate.

There’s not a great deal of enjoyment to be had from driving the Niro PHEV along country roads. You can blame heavy steering that offers little feedback and front tyres that quickly run out of grip when pushed for that. But the firm suspension does keep the car relatively well tied-down and ensures body roll is kept in check through corners.

More of a problem is the way the suspension set-up and heavier battery affect the ride. The PHEV is around 150kg heavier than the standard hybrid, so its ride feels fidgety and generally more crashy in town. It struggles to cope with large imperfections in particular, although things do improve a bit at higher speeds.

The PHEV's brake pedal is also quite grabby (typical of hybrids and something that the standard Niro suffers from too), which can become irritating in stop-start traffic, because it makes it difficult to drive smoothly.

It’s worth bearing in mind that, as with any PHEV, the headline-grabbing fuel economy figure is only achievable if you do lots of short journeys and recharge the car after each one. And while the official 36-mile electric range sounds impressive, it's more like 25 miles in the real world.

Even so, if you are able to plug the car in quite regularly, it should prove more efficient than the regular Niro hybrid, which returned 50mpg in our True MPG real-world testing.

2018 Kia Niro PHEV interior

The PHEV's bigger battery is housed under the rear seats and doesn't impinge upon the Niro's generous head and leg room. However, it does reduce boot capacity by about 60 litres, and the boots in conventional SUV rivals like the Ateca and Karoq have almost twice the amount of storage space.

The Kia's boot is shallow, and the rear wheel arches encroach on space. It will hold a modest amount of family belongings but struggle to take a full complement of cross-continental holiday paraphernalia.

In the front, there's decent space for two adults and the plastics used on the dashboard feel relatively good quality, but the overall fit and finish in the interior remains inferior to PHEV rivals such as the Mini Countryman S E All4.

The PHEV sits as its own trim within the Niro range, and it's loaded with equipment. Heated seats and automatic lights and wipers are included, while the 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring.

Next: 2018 Kia Niro PHEV verdict >

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