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Kia Niro hybrid is unconventional crossover SUV

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While the 2018 Niro made its debut last year as a completely all-new vehicle in the Kia lineup, the first Kia crossover SUV offered only as a hybrid made two very notable statements: one, it did not want to look like a hybrid; two, it wanted to offer all the advantages in fuel economy without compromising anything in the experience.

The subcompact hybrid Niro manages to pull off both goals with relative ease. The look and feel for Niro is more like a non-hybrid, and it delivers an impressive 50 mpg for combined city/highway driving.

Exterior Style

Niro’s exterior styling is attractive. It does not feature hybrid-like styling or large “Hybrid” decals. In fact, the only exterior indication that Niro is a hybrid is found on a very small badge on the lower right side of its tailgate.

I liked the fact Niro’s doors open wide, making its cabin easily accessible for front and rear passengers. Too often, this is a real oversight by engineers and it makes Niro something different in a very crowded field. Getting into Niro is just as easy, there is actually a slight step down and the cabin offers plenty of room for four adults or a family of five.

Niro offers 19.4 cu. ft. of cargo space behind the rear seats, which increases to 54.5 cu. ft. with the rear seats folded flat. Another plus for this subcompact that is late to the game, but making the time it took worth waiting for.

Trim Levels

The 2018 Kia Niro is available in five trim levels: FE; LX; EX; Touring Launch Edition; Plug-in hybrid is new for 2018; and Touring.

The base FE is the lightest and most fuel efficient. The FE is nicely equipped, including full power accessories, dual-zone automatic climate control, 7-inch touchscreen color display, rear view camera, Kia’s UVO eServices infotainment with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and more.

The Limited edition Touring Launch offers distinct 18-inch wheels, black roof rails, charcoal cloth and leather upholstery, 10-way power driver’s seat, 8-inch touchscreen display, and Harman Kardon audio system.

My tester was the top-of-the-line Touring edition, which featured leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, and front and rear park assist.

Safety

Forward Collision Warning with Emergency Braking, Lane Departure Warning, and Adaptive Cruise Control are available depending on the trim level you opt for, which means you will have to take all the optional items menu into account if you want to create the safest variation for your family.

Combined fuel economy is 50 mpg, something you would expect from a crossover hybrid, though Niro does seem to deliver much more accommodation than many hybrids in this class.

Power

All Niro models feature the same hybrid powertrain that pairs a 104-horsepower 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine and 43-horsepower electric motor. These two units offer a combined 139 horsepower. While most other hybrids utilize a continuously variable transmission (CVT), Niro transfers its power to the front wheels through a smooth-shifting 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. This unit provides improved performance over a CVT.

Driving

Most of the time, Niro takes off in full electric mode with light acceleration. Pushing the pedal firmer, or when travelling at higher speeds, Niro’s gasoline engine aids in propelling the vehicle.

The engine on/off transitions are fairly smooth and Niro offers two distinct driving modes; Eco and Sport. In the more fuel-efficient Eco mode, Niro feels somewhat anemic.

Switching to Sport mode provides Niro with much improved acceleration, but fuel efficiency suffers. I wish there was a mode between Eco and Sport.

Niro’s cabin is a bit noisy, but overall I was impressed with its versatility, comfort level, performance and fuel economy. And a plug-in Niro is scheduled for later this year.