A straightforward hybrid crossover with an honest personality and the perfect amount of space.
As gas prices rise once again at a predictable rate, families are looking for any and all ways they can find to save a few dollars. Saving on fuel is one of the simplest of these methods, and with more and more plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles hitting the market, it’s inevitable that electric propulsion is here to stay. Kia has offered the Optima Hybrid (reviewed here) for a few years now, but now in their North American lineup is a small crossover that was purpose-built as a hybrid, with no compromises. The 2017 Kia Niro is a handsome and spacious new crossover that remains frugal at the pumps.
Starting at just $24,995, the Niro is a viable option for small families looking to upsize from either their small sedan or hatchback. It’s also a great pick for empty-nester couples opting out of their premium fuel guzzlers to settle into a more conservative lifestyle. The styling is quite attractive, with a standard two-box design and Kia’s typical design cues throughout. Alloy wheel styles have been designed with aerodynamics, light weight, and overall aesthetics in mind for optimal fuel efficiency.
The Kia Niro gets its power from a 1.6L inline four-cylinder gasoline engine, coupled to a 1.56kWh tractive electric motor. Working alone, the gas engine is only good for 109 horsepower, which rises to 139 hp as the electric motor kicks in. This still isn’t a huge number, though with a torque rating of 195 lb-ft., the Niro doesn’t feel anemic when buzzing around town. This is a spectacular city car, with a responsive six-speed dual clutch instead of the traditional CVT seen in hybrid and PHEV applications. The added low-end torque of the electric motor helps significantly, and even at highway speeds the Niro remains quiet and composed.
Handling is nothing special, but the Niro’s electric power steering does a good job at keeping it planted and has decent on-center feel. One of the main issues that will challenge the Niro’s ability to sell in high volumes to Canadians is the lack of all-wheel-drive. Because this car was designed from the ground-up as a hybrid, Kia’s engineers decided to stick with a front-drive layout and maximize efficiency. Stability control and other safety features are on board, but a front-drive crossover in Canada just won’t cut it, as efficient as it may be.
Speaking of efficiency, Kia rates the Niro at 5.1L/100km in the city, 5.8L/100km on the highway and an overall rating of 5.4L/100km. Our test consisted of about 700km of combined driving with an even distribution between city and highway, and we were able to match the suggested rating of 5.4L/100km with no issues whatsoever. Being a frugal hybrid, the Niro gets away just fine on regular 87-octane fuel, and the tank has an capacity of 45L. This is quite good for a compact crossover, especially one with the amount of interior space that this car offers.
What we really liked about the Niro’s interior is the lack of goofiness associated with many dedicated hybrids. The latest Toyota Prius (reviewed here) is aerodynamic and extremely efficient, but at the expense of looking quite polarizing inside and out, with no use of traditional aesthetics anywhere. Save for a battery gauge within the instrument cluster, there is no real evidence of the Niro being far off from Kia’s own Sportage (reviewed here), with a fairly typical dashboard layout and good fit and finish.
Overall interior space is generous for the class, and despite the low roofline, headroom is generous, easily accommodating our taller editors without issue. Rear legroom is compromised slightly thanks to the placement of the hybrid battery pack below the rear bench seat, but said placement also means the Niro gets a flat cargo floor. The body and panels have all been reinforced and insulated to ensure quietness, which admittedly the Niro does very well.
Kia also offers all of the latest in safety technology and driver aids, most of which is standard on the top-trim SX, but available on the EX as well. This includes front and rear parking sensors, a reverse camera, lane departure warning system, autonomous emergency braking, blind spot detection, vehicle stability management, hill-assist, and rear cross traffic alert.
As previously mentioned, pricing for the Niro starts at $24,995 for the base L trim, which includes features such as heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a reverse camera. Stepping up to the EX adds a wireless charging pad, intelligent key, auto dimming mirror, and a few other toys for $27,495. The EX Premium adds a power sunroof, power driver’s seat, and most of the safety nannies for $29,095. Sitting atop the Niro line is the SX Touring, which adds leather seating, an 8” infotainment screen, Harman/Kardon audio and more for $32,995.
There isn’t a lot more to the Niro than meets the eye – it’s a fairly straightforward hybrid crossover with an honest personality and the perfect amount of space for an active lifestyle. Limitations we found included a significant amount of lag during transition from “reverse” to “drive” and vice versa. This is a common trait for vehicles with dual-clutch transitions, but it’s not something that was noticed on the Niro’s half-cousin, the Hyundai IONIQ (reviewed here). Aside from that and the front-drive setup, the Niro got top marks from our team.
The 2017 Kia Niro is a good, honest crossover that offers plenty to the target market. The cargo area will hold enough gear for a weekend getaway, the interior packs enough technology for millennials who favour electronic doodads over a purist driving experience, and frankly, it looks great inside and out. If it fits your lifestyle and you can get away with a front-drive crossover, the Niro has a lot to offer, and is worth the price it commands.