The Niro is an all-new gasoline-electric crossover SUV from Kia that offers up to 52 city miles per gallon without sacrificing style, roominess or comfort. Yep, the Niro is a hybrid that doesn’t look or drive like a hybrid, and Kia is hoping all the cool kids will want one.
The Niro is wide and low with a 106.3-inch wheelbase and an athletic stance. It has an aggressive front end, strong shoulders and a sporty rear end with LED taillamps. It’s got a nice interior with plenty of room, premium harman kardon sound and a dynamite UVO3 connectivity system that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
And did I mention that 52 city mpg thing?
There’s a lot to like about the all-new Niro, which is available in FE, LX, EX and Touring trims. It has a surprisingly long amenity sheet for the price. The base FE starts at $22,890, the LX starts at $23,200, the EX starts at $25,700 and the most expensive Touring trim starts at less than $30-grand.
The Touring trim, which was our test vehicle, is loaded with 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, heated and cooled seats, keyless entry and pushbutton start, a moonroof, an 8-inch touchscreen, a wireless phone charger, dual-zone air, Bluetooth, a rearview camera and a wealth of safety features.
Kia invited auto journalists to the scenic Montana countryside recently to drive the new Niro, and we put this compact SUV through its paces along the lower Madison River. It’s the same area where 25 years ago Brad Pitt fished for trout in the movie “A River Runs Through It.”
Safety testing is not complete, but Kia is angling for top scores from the government and insurance industry with a wide range of safety and driver assistance features like an advanced high-strength steel structure, seven airbags, available Autonomous Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Change Assist, Lane Departure Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control.
Inside the cabin, the instrument panel is clean and uncluttered with crisp, clear graphics. The seats were comfortable on our daylong drive alongside beautiful rivers and through some incredible Montana scenery.
The hybrid system that powers the Niro is a new 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine combined with a 43-horsepower electric motor to give the vehicle a combined 139 horsepower and an impressive 195 lb.-ft. of torque. The Niro also has a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, an impressive feature in a car at this price point. Most other hybrids have CVT transmissions that boost fuel economy but deliver a less-than-exciting driving experience.
With its dual-clutch transmission the Niro is actually pretty fun to drive. On the road, it responds quickly with power when you give it throttle and it stays tight and flat in the corners.
The FE trim promises 52 mpg in the city and the LX and EX get 51 city mpg. Because the Touring trim is heavier, it gets “only” 46 city mpg. The city/highway/combined EPA box score for the FE is 52/49/50, and for the LX and EX it’s 51/46/49.
Braking can sometimes be tricky with hybrids, which regenerate and store energy when the vehicle is braking and coasting. Not so with the Niro. Kia engineers designed the Niro’s regenerative braking to blend smoothly with hydraulic braking for a more consistent braking feel.
Kia has other hybrids and electric vehicles in its garage (Optima hybrid and the Soul EV), but the Niro is the company’s first standalone hybrid model. Kia plans to focus far more energy and triple the number of vehicles in its new “EcoDynamics” lineup by 2020.
The Niro is available now in dealerships, and a plug-in hybrid Niro is in the works.
So, if you want to be more environmentally conscious and you want to get great fuel economy, but you don’t want to bore people when you drive by, you should take a good, long look at the all-new 2017 Kia Niro.
2017 Kia Niro Touring
1.6-liter 4-cylinder with 43 hp electric motor
6-speed dual-clutch automatic
$29,650 ($31,945 with options)
EPA mileage estimates:
46 mpg city/40 mpg highway/43 mpg combined
Estimated highway range:
Up to 600 miles