By John Davis May 4, 2017
Say “Hybrid”, and the first name that comes to most minds is Prius. In truth Toyota’s original 5-door Prius Hatchback has not had a competitor, likewise built on a chassis built specifically to be a hybrid, until now. That changes with the 2017 Kia Niro.
Niro is a small, dedicated hybrid that also plays to the current popularity of crossover utilities. Indeed, acording to Kia, it’s the first of its kind; an Urban Crossover Hybrid Vehicle.
They obviously hope that adding the term crossover will spur some additional sales. But to us, the Niro is more of a squarer rival to the Prius hatchback, as well as the Prius V, while also being reminiscent of the short-lived Kia Rondo wagon.
Whatever you call it, the Niro is actually a great looking vehicle that has plenty of substance as well. The hybrid powertrain is a 32kW electric motor sandwiched between a 1.6-liter I4 gasoline engine and a real 6-speed dual-clutch transmission. Total output is 139-horsepower and 195 lb-ft. of torque.
While a dedicated hybrid, the Niro does share its platform with the Hyundai Ioniq, and the fact that it is front-wheel-drive cast more doubt on the crossover title. But then, so does the very successful Kia Soul.
Out on the road, the Niro delivers good pickup with no harsh regen braking feel. The DCT operates smoothly, but engine noise can be pronounced at times.
Outside, the Niro looks most like a cute yet sporty station wagon; with virtually no indications of it being a hybrid. Compared to the Soul, it’s classier, and less aimed at the youngest buyers.
We think the interior also looks fantastic. Not in a flashy way, but with an understated, almost classy quality. Materials look upscale, and feel good to the touch. The seats are also more comfortable than Prius.
As to overall practicality, Niro’s seat up luggage space rates a very good 19.4 cubic feet, with 54.5 cubic when the seats are folded. Not bad for any vehicle this size.
Now lets turn to the all-important fuel economy numbers. Kia’s top drawer Niro Touring rates 46 MPG City, 40 MPG Highway, and 43 MPG Combined. Kia also offers a stripped down Niro FE rated at 50-Combined, just shy of the least expensive Prius hatch.
Braking from 60 averaged just 112-feet, which is quite good; as was overall stability while stopping. Pedal feel was a bit disconcerting though, as it goes right towards the floor with little resistance.
For our complete test of the 2017 Kia Niro, be sure to catch MotorWeek episode #3638 that begins airing on May 26, 2017. For a listing of the public television stations that boradcast MotorWeek, go to motorweek.org and click the “About The Show” tab at the top. MotorWeek is also seen Tuesday evenings on the Velocity cable network.
The 2017 Kia Niro is truly a product of its time. it is part sport utility, part hatchback, part marketing strategy; all with a strong emphasis on high fuel economy. Even with today’s cheap gas, it should do well, and is another all-around fine product from Kia.