2017 Kia Niro
Personality: The new kid in high school walks in on day one and everyone is talking
Best Gizmo: The miles per gallon…duh
Most Annoying Feature: The sluggish steering, if I am being picky
MPG (as tested): 46 in the city and 40 on the highway
Performance: More than adequate considering the fuel efficiency
Cars we smoked at stoplights: A GMC Envoy and a Toyota Camry
0-60: 7.9 seconds as tested.
How Fast Is That? About on par for a small SUV
How Much? Starts at $23,790 but you can easily reach the mid $30’s with options and trim level improvements
What option should I splurge on? Advanced Technology Package which includes Autonomous Emergency Braking, Forward Collision Warning System, Lane Departure Warning, Smart Cruise Control, and more.
Serious Contenders? Toyota Prius, Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Nissan Leaf
The Kia Niro — a brand new offering built from the ground up as a model of efficiency, entertainment, and in the words of the manufacturer, “un-hybrid.” Pairing a world record setting gas and electric powertrain with compact SUV functionality, the Niro competes directly with the most prestigious of gas sipping vehicles, the Toyota Prius. With tall seating, modern styling, and space for the family, the Niro is sure to grab the attention of small SUV customers, Japanese engineers and Detroit executives alike. Could this finally be the “Prius killer” so many have been waiting for?
Developed jointly between Kia and Hyundai, the Niro exterior borrows from its older sibling, the Kia Sportage. With almost no exterior indication of the hybrid powertrain, the Niro is all typical crossover design. A tall profile, rounded hood, and wide wheel base speak more to utility and comfort than Guinness World Record setting hybrid efficiency.
From the inside, the layout and controls are refreshingly simple. The only real indication of the hybrid engine is a “Charge-Economy” scale for braking and acceleration in place of the tachometer on the dash. A functional center stack layout and infotainment assist in keeping the driver’s eyes where they should be — on the road.
Under the hood, where the petrol sipping magic is made, the Niro shows its well-engineered hybrid roots. The four cylinder engine is paired to an AC electric motor/generator and power is transferred to a six speed automatic transaxle. The 1.6 liter engine comes with an exhaust-heat recovery and dual cooling circuits. What in the world does that mean? Just that it is crazy efficient and quickly warms up in order to minimize wear and tear, which translates to fewer trips to the pump and a longer lasting engine…no problem there! The combined system output is 139 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. Is it enough? Sure. Does it feel adequately powered at highway speeds? Not so much. It was right on par with expectations for a vehicle of this weight and powertrain.
The model lineup for the Niro is refreshingly simple. The FE base model is equipped with everything one would expect including standard safety equipment and a 7 inch infotainment system. Step up from the LX to the EX and you enhance your interior comfort with upgraded trim, heated front seats, and more. The real leap is the Touring model. The 8 speaker Harman/Kardon system, power seats, leather, and optional adaptive cruise control and emergency braking round out a technology packed five door to meet all the family needs.
With one foot in the hybrid camp and the other in the compact SUV, the Niro bridges the gap of efficiency and practicality and makes its home among an elite group of four door vehicles.
Locally, the best place to test drive this “un-hybrid” and see for yourself is at Earnhardt Liberty KIA in Prescott Valley.
© 2017 John Kehlenbeck and John Dickerson, Horsepower Auto Reviews