The Niro comes only as a hybrid, and only as a front-wheel drive wagon-style crossover. The exterior doesn't shout to the world that it's electrified, but instead blends with the current Kia design language. What's more, the Niro's hybrid drivetrain is so very well done that it might be considered competitive with traditional European offerings from luxury makes like BMW or Audi in its smooth power delivery and nimble feel.
All-new for 2017, the Kia Niro was introduced as a concept in 2013 at the Frankfurt show, where a decidedly more rugged design with butterfly doors and a far less comfortable interior was shown. Eventually, the production model was introduced and we saw it in Chicago sporting four standard doors and a more conventional stance. At that point we were eager to get into one.
The 2017 Niro is the first of many planned electrified vehicles from Kia based on this eco-car platform. The goal being to offer hybrids that are about the same weight and size as their gasoline version would be.
Under the hood there's a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine running in the Atkinson-cycle with direct injection and, interestingly, cooled exhaust gas recirculation and exhaust heat recovery. The engine outputs 103 horsepower (77 kW) and couples to a second-generation six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that includes a 43 horsepower (32 kW) motor. A 1.5 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery is mounted beneath the rear seating, providing both propulsion power and 12-volt systems power. Total powertrain output is 146 hp (109 kW) and 195 pound-feet (264 Nm) of torque.
All of that stuff translates to an EPA-estimated 50 mpg combined (4.7 l/100km). During our week with the 2017 Niro Touring, we saw close to that at a 48 mpg (4.9 l/100km) average. That's very, very good for a car this size, especially here in the wilds of Wyoming driving at altitudes of up to 6,000 feet with mixed passenger loads and cargo.
The Niro is offered in five trim levels, starting with the base FE and running up to the Touring and limited edition Touring Launch.
The base model Niro comes pretty well-equipped with 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, dual-zone climate control, a 7-inch infotainment touchscreen, a rearview camera, and a USB port. Each trim level adds to those accoutrements until you hit the Touring, with its 18-inch wheels, front and rear parking sensors, leather seating, 8-inch touchscreen, Harmon Kardon sound, and so on.
During our week with the Niro, we noted several things. Some were good, some weren't. Firstly, the idea that this is a "crossover" is a bit stretched, as the Niro is more of a squared-off station wagon than it is a crossover-SUV. There is no AWD option, for one, but its overall drive dynamic is more car-like than an SUV and the ground clearance is not going to make this a ski resort runner either. That said, as an everyday vehicle, the Niro is very astute and convenient.
Acceleration is not stellar, but compared to many other hybrid options in this size category, the Niro is quick. Quick enough that it's on par with most vehicles its size, no matter the powertrain. The Niro also has a good drive dynamic, though its steering and handling are not sporty so much as they are "normal." Feedback from the road is good enough to give the driver the input needed and maneuverability is excellent in tight spaces. Braking, though, is a bit soft and the Niro feels like it takes longer to come to a stop than most vehicles this size. We do like that the transition from electric regeneration to standard braking is seamless, but the length of time it takes to actually come to a stop seems under par.
Where the Niro really shines is in its everyday qualities of exterior and interior appeal. The exterior of the Niro does nothing to shout out about its hybrid-ness amongst the compact crossover segment. Contemporary, but nicely done, is its exterior summary. We like the look of the little Niro and think Kia made a good choice in stepping well away from the "woo-hiddley" smash-and-grab dynamics of the concept and going towards a more conventional look.
Inside, the 2017 Kia Niro is one of the best compact crossovers we've been in recently. An ergonomic entry/egress with high doors and low sills that open to a near-90-degree angle starts that off, while the overall look is upscale with functional design at its core. The driver and front passenger are greeted by a flowing, nicely-designed dashboard that's been uplifted in the Euro style. Seat adjustments are plentiful, in every trim, and roominess is very good with plenty of headroom and shoulder room in the front.
The back seats are also good, with more legroom than might be expected and a good amount of headroom no matter the passenger's height. The flat floor (no AWD) means that the middle passenger in the back seat doesn't have the cramping often associated with compacts. Tall passengers in the rear will still feel like a shoehorn might be required, but that's true of all crossovers in this category. The Niro does accommodate child safety seats very well, though, with fairly easy access to the LATCH anchors. Top tether anchors are very easy to find and use.
Our only complaint with the Niro's interior lies with the use of hard, plain plastics below the center console and on the doors. This gives a cheap feel to the otherwise solid design. Cargo space is also skimpier than some of offerings in this class, but with 19.4 cubic feet with the seats up and 54.5 with them down (549.3 / 1,543.2 liters), the Niro offers plenty of room for most daily needs and some occasional weekend runs.
As with most vehicles in the newly-emerging subcompact crossover segment, the 2017 Kia Niro is heavy on technology. Buyers in this segment tend to be younger and more connected and are thus more interested in having infotainment as the norm. The base models include a 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as Bluetooth and a few other accommodations. The upgrade moves to a more advanced form of Kia's Uvo interface on an 8-inch touchscreen. Navigation and more app integration are also added with this upgrade. We like the Google search option, though, and the very well-done voice control the infotainment includes.
After a week with the 2017 Niro, we're convinced that this is a well-executed crossover that deserves some attention. It makes a hybrid "normal" in a way that makes it just another feature on its list of offerings – it's an everyday vehicle that just happens to be electrified.
The 2017 Kia Niro is priced starting at US$22,890 with our test model having a sticker of $29,650.
Product Page: 2017 Kia Niro