Entry Price: $22,890
Price as Tested: $28,895
This week, we’re driving Kia’s all-new 2017 Niro Hybrid, built to take sales away from Toyota Prius and conceived from the very beginning to be a new compact crossover hybrid. This five-door design delivers crossover looks, ease of city driving and impressive road handling.
Similar to other hybrids on the road today, Niro utilizes an electric motor, battery and internal combustion engine for motivation, resulting in a combined 139-horsepower and impressive 195 lb. ft. of torque. The fuel mileage is very impressive as the mid-level EX model (our tester this week) delivers 51 city and 46 highway MPG thanks to a 104-horse 1.6-liter Atkinson four cylinder engine that works in tandem with a 43-horsepower electric motor and Lithium-polymer battery mounted under the rear seat.
Kia calls its hybrid combo a “Full Parallel Hybrid System” that combines the power of its hybrid-optimized engine with a highly efficient, lightweight electric motor and a powerful lithium-ion polymer battery. The result is a smooth, reliable performance that delivers outstanding hybrid efficiency. (Don’t add the horsepower of the engine and electric motor together as neither ever works in unison at 100 percent capacity. Thus the 139-horse total instead of 147 horses for my mathematical conscious readers).
A fine shifting six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission delivers the power to the 16-inch Michelin tires on alloy wheels. The front drive Niro handles extremely well, and all suspension components are of strong yet lightweight components that assist in delivering better fuel mileage. Notable is that the current Niro is not available in an all-wheel-drive (AWD) format, which is puzzling since every other crossover on the market today offers both two-wheel and four-wheel drive models.
The upper class Touring models receive 18-inch Michelin tires, and a host of other amenity features. The result is a Niro that is heavier and thus impacts the MPG numbers lower, with 46 city and 43 highway the EPA estimates.
Niro offers a driver switchable Economy and Sport mode option. The Sportmatic transmission mode offers a more aggressive (read that less MPG) approach as the engine will rev higher before shifting giving better acceleration and throttle response. Listed as a small station wagon by the EPA, Niro is a little longer in wheelbase (1.2-inches) compared to compact Kia Sportage, and just as good looking in its final pattern.
Our tester arrived in mid-level EX trim, ($25,700 entry) while the aforementioned upper class Touring models (start at $28,000), which ups the creature comfort quotient substantially. The entry Niro FE starts at just $22,890, followed by the LX at $23,200. Remember that regardless of choice, you receive the exact same drivetrain in every model.
Every Kia Niro comes with a pretty nice UVO infotainment stereo system that offers eServices technology and numerous functions via your smart phone. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard, as is SiriusXM radio. The FE, LX and EX touch-screens are of seven-inch design with six-speaker stereo, while the Touring versions receive eight-inch screens and enhanced Harmon Kardon stereos with navigation and eight-speakers.
Kia’s advertising pushes for Niro to be accepted as a crossover, as they call it a “new crossover” vehicle. However, until they offer a 4x4 or AWD system, Niro to me is a very nice front drive hybrid wagon that I doubt will deliver acceptable traction in a major snowstorm.
Our EX had one option, a recommended safety upgrade called Advanced Technology and Sunroof. Included in addition to the sunroof are smart cruise control, automatic emergency braking, forward collision control and a lane-departure warning system. This option costs $2,300 but is well worth it from a security aspect.
Another consumer wellbeing feature is a no extra cost blind-spot detection system with lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert that is standard on the EX and Touring models. Add all expected modern day vehicle safety items, from four wheel discs ABS brakes to all the airbags, and Kia Niro is one safe vehicle.
I was impressed with the pep of the Niro under full throttle, especially from a dead start. The excellent torque available should erase any concerns of Niro being a “turtle” when it comes to acceleration or merging on a crowded, higher-speed freeway. And, unlike other hybrids that utilize CVT automatic transmissions (continuous variable), the better acclimated six-speed dual clutch makes Niro feel like a “real car” when it comes to shifting.
A very composed highway cruiser in Eco mode, we gave Niro a pretty good country road run in Sport mode with good results. The 16-inch Michelin tires grab in the tighter corners yet still deliver excellent easy roll resistance that equates to better MPG numbers. With a full fuel tank, Niro has a 500-mile cruising range.
Important numbers include a wheelbase of 106.3 inches, 3,161 lb. curb weight, 11.9 gal. fuel tank, 17.5 ft. turn circle, 6.3-inch ground clearance, and from 19.4 to 54.5 cu. ft. of cargo space.
Niro’s good exterior looks and comfortable EX model leather cabin surroundings are noted. In summary, Kia Niro indeed looks like a crossover and drives as good if not better than its number one competitor, Toyota Prius. It’s going to be interesting to see what Niro can do at the showroom sales office, where your Kia dealer is waiting to explain everything, including the 10-year, 100,000-mile limited powertrain and battery warranty Kia is noted for.
Likes: Looks, safety, hybrid powertrain, six-speed automatic.
Dislikes: high tech safety features not available on entry FE, no AWD makes no sense if it’s really a crossover.
— Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and other Gatehouse Media publications.