The 2017 Kia Niro is the brand’s first attempt to offer a dedicated hybrid model much akin to the Toyota Prius in that it doesn’t come in a non-hybrid variant.
The Niro was developed together with partner company Hyundai which offers their mechanically identical Ioniq, but the Kia took a different direction in form and function as well as style. Riding on a 106.3-inch wheelbase, the two share a footprint with the Toyota Prius but the Niro is some 3-inches taller, taking on a more crossover SUV-like silhouette.
It’s styling is more traditional to an SUV, looking much like a scaled down Kia Sorento with its formal but avant garde roof line and its trademark tiger nose facial design. Down the sides are crossover like black plastic trim elements on the rocker and around the wheel openings and the rear cargo area has a higher lift over than most “cars”.
Our fully loaded Kia Niro Touring had 18-inch wheels and the Advanced Technology Package which gave it HID headlamps, not LED or Xenon like other contemporaries. Also included with that were a host of driver assistance aids like forward collision warning, lane departure warning and radar cruise control.
The interior is spacious as a result of its higher profile, feeling much like an SUV from the driver seat. Trims are of an elevated quality along with tactile switchgear. Our Touring with gray interior had handsome blue accents in the trim and stitching along the seating, steering wheel and shift boot.
Those seats were both heated and ventilated up front and powered for the driver with memory settings. Rear seating was comfortable and afforded good space, some 3-inches more leg room than in the Toyota Prius.
Storage abounds with a deep console bin and a well sized cubby ahead of the shifter for your devices complete with a Qi wireless phone charger. USB and auxiliary ports are there for connectivity along with Bluetooth capability with the 8-inch UVO touchscreen infotainment system.
Backing up the handsome user interface was Harman-Kardon audio which sounded phenomenal. The graphics are crisp and easy to read, the menus quick to navigate and learn. Best of all, the system has a myriad of hard buttons for most used functions.
The rear cargo area is spacious and near perfectly flat with the rear seats folded down, a feat given the relatively high seating position of the second row. If you pull up the rear deck however you won’t find a spare tire, rather an emergency inflator.
Lifting the hood reveals an all-new hybrid powertrain made up of a 1.6-liter Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder engine with 104 horsepower and a 43 horsepower electric motor. They deliver their combined 139 horsepower through a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Having this transmission is a boon for those who abhor the continuously variable transmission (CVT) found in the Toyota Prius. It behaves much like a traditional transmission with real gear shifts whether on electric or gasoline power or both. This makes the Niro drive and feel like a normal car.
Power is therefore felt much more immediately when you ask for it. The engine and electric motor both deliver smooth and refined behavior with the starting and stopping of the gasoline engine nearly imperceptible.
Fuel economy is rated by the EPA for our Touring at 46 mpg city, 40 mpg highway and 43 mpg combined. In our week with it we achieved 45 mpg. It is worth noting that the base model of the Niro is rated much higher in mpg because it has smaller and skinnier tires which are better for fuel economy.
Our fully loaded Kia Niro Touring was priced at $32,840 and felt every bit worth the money in terms of quality, refinement and value for the money. The Niro starts out much less at $22,890 and comes with a commendable level of standard equipment including a 7-inch touchscreen audio system with satellite radio among other things.
Thus we well the Niro makes for a good argument when comparing against peers like the Toyota Prius and the brand cousin Hyundai Ioniq. It does have slightly lower fuel economy but it offers more space and less space age a styling treatment. For some, this is a motivating choice factor.