All-new last year, the 2018 Kia Niro hybrid – with a plug-in variant added this year – strikes a balance between a compact hatchback and crossover with an elegant, intuitive interior, and 40 miles per gallon or better highway fuel economy. But acceleration is sluggish at highway speeds, an all-wheel-drive version isn't offered, while the plug-in model's electric range is now only average.

Best Value

Pricing for the Kia Niro starts at $24,280 for an entry-level hybrid FE, and runs up to $35,835 for an EX Premium plug-in hybrid finished in optional Snow White Pearl or Aurora Black Pearl. Like all Kias, the Niro comes well equipped. The usual power features are present as well as dual-zone automatic climate control (with a driver-only function), automatic headlights, satellite radio, Bluetooth, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, a seven-inch touchscreen, and a rearview camera.

Although the plug-in is priced well, we'd pick the more affordable hybrid, skip the FE and LX trims and head for the EX with additional features that include power-folding heated outside mirrors, leather-trimmed cloth seats (heated in front), keyless push-button start, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. Blind-spot monitoring is also standard as is rear cross-traffic alert, lane change assist, and access to a number of other advanced safety features.

Here's how we'd build it:

  • Model: 2018 Kia Niro EX Hybrid
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder
  • Output: 104 hp / 109 lb-ft
  • Electric Motor: 240V
  • Output: 43 hp / 125 lb-ft
  • System: 139 hp / 195 lb-ft
  • Transmission:Six-speed dual clutch automatic
  • Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
  • MPG: 51 City / 46 Hwy
  • Options:Advanced Technology Package ($1,950, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, and 10-way power driver's seat with power lumbar).
  • Base Price:$27,090 (including a $940 destination fee)
  • Best Value Price:$29,040

Performance

Kia Niro

The Niro delivers decent off-the-line performance in Sport mode, along with a smooth, mostly quiet, very un-hybrid-like ride with little body lean during cornering. The direct-shift gearbox adds to the Niro's "normal" feel, while the plug-in model can accelerate to highway speeds even in electric mode.

Unsurprisingly, acceleration in standard Eco mode feels sluggish, while engine braking in Sport mode – which falls short of a sporty driving experience – isn't apparent during downshifts. In addition, the plug-in's 26-mile electric range is now only average, the engine sounds coarse when pushed, all-wheel drive isn't offered, while the low-rolling-resistance tires generate a moaning noise on certain road surfaces.

Style

A handsome, sleek, crossover-inspired exterior is wrapped around a nicely-trimmed interior that's comfortable, spacious, and practical. Front seat occupants, seated two inches higher than a traditional compact, will find better visibility plus plenty of leg, hip, shoulder and headroom, while a wide rear hatch opening makes loading and unloading the 19.4 cubic feet of cargo space a breeze.

At the same time, ride height – more like that of a tall wagon – doesn't offer the expansive view of a crossover. Three adults will find the rear accommodations tight, while leg room in back is also compromised with the front seats pushed all the way back.

The Best and Worst Things

The Niro's practical, crossover look and stylish interior make it a compelling choice for buyers looking for practicality in a fuel-saving package.

Aside from an AWD drivetrain, we just wish it didn't run out of breath so quickly at highway speeds.

Right For? Wrong For?

Kia Niro

A smooth ride, crossover utility, a comprehensive list of standard features, and outstanding fuel economy make the Niro a compelling choice for eco-conscious buyers.

While its looks might suggest a rugged SUV, a combination of sluggish acceleration and lack of all-wheel drive will be a turn off for weekend warriors.

The Bottom Line

Despite lethargic acceleration and no AWD variant, the Niro's affordability, excellent fuel economy, smooth ride, and utilitarian versatility make it a serious competitor in the compact hybrid segment.