The Car Connection Kia Niro Overview
The Kia Niro is a hybrid crossover SUV that's new for the 2017 model year. The subcompact Niro is offered only with a hybrid powertrain; no gasoline-only version will be available, though Kia will add a plug-in hybrid variant by the end of 2017.
The Niro competes in a growing segment of small SUVs that includes subcompacts such as the Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, and Mazda CX-3, and compacts such as Kia's Sportage. It may also be compared to Kia's own Soul tall wagon, which has lower fuel economy, but a bit more interior space.
MORE: Read our 2017 Kia Niro review
The Niro shares its underpinnings with the Hyundai Ioniq hybrid hatchback. But while there are other hybrid five-door hatchbacks—the Toyota Prius and the plug-in Chevrolet Volt are two—the Niro is unique as the only dedicated-hybrid crossover sold in the U.S. The small roster of other hybrid crossovers adapted from conventional models includes the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and the luxury Lexus NX 300h.
The FE version of the Kia Niro achieves an EPA rating of 50 mpg combined, an aggressive figure for a vehicle with more crossover looks and capabilities than the average hatchback. Other trim levels are rated at 49 mpg and 43 mpg combined. The Niro's lines actually split the difference between what could be considered a conventional wagon and a genuine utility vehicle. But its crossover credentials are damaged by the lack of available all-wheel drive, usually a requirement in cold-weather states for anything considered a crossover or SUV.
The Kia Niro is powered by a 104-horsepower direct-injected 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine, running on the ultra-efficient Atkinson cycle, combined with the company's own 6-speed dual-clutch transmission. In between those two components, a 32-kilowatt (43-hp) electric motor contributes its own torque and can propel the car on its own under some driving conditions. Kia quotes combined power output at 139 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque.
The motor acts as a generator to recapture otherwise wasted energy from braking and engine overrun, using it to charge a 1.6-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery sited under the rear seat. Under power, the battery sends energy to the motor to power the Niro—whether by itself or in combination with the engine. Kia says a plug-in hybrid version of the Niro will come later.
Much of Kia's positioning for the Niro, which was launched in February 2016 at the Chicago Auto Show, centered around its driving pleasure and "normal" character. That contrasts to some of the stereotypical hybrid attributes that set them apart from other cars—both visually and behind the wheel. The Niro offers quick responses and low, sporty roadholding for the category, can hold four people comfortably and five for short stints, and has very good noise suppression on the road under most circumstances.
The Niro reached showrooms in January 2017 in four trim levels. The base FE model deletes several items from the next-higher LX trim level, to reduce its weight enough that it reaches that ideal 50-mpg combined EPA rating. The mid-level LX and EX are expected to be the volume versions, with the well-equipped Touring model at the top. For 2017, Niro prices ranged from about $24,000 including delivery to around $34,000 for a fully-optioned Touring version.