The Car Connection Kia Niro Overview
The Kia Niro is a hybrid crossover with a wagon shape. It's only available with electrified powertrains: initially offered as a conventional hybrid, a plug-in hybrid was added for 2018, and a Niro EV with a 239-mile range arrived for the 2019 model year.
With the Niro, Kia has a small crossover (or wagon, depending on who you ask) that competes against such vehicles as the Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Chevy Trax, and Mazda CX-3, although the Niro is slightly larger and has excellent cargo room. The Kia Soul is close in size with even more interior room, but lower fuel economy.
MORE: Read our 2020 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. Kia calls it a crossover even though all-wheel drive is not available on any version. The small roster of other hybrid crossovers adapted from conventional models includes the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, Honda CR-V Hybrid, Ford Escape Hybrid, and the luxury Lexus NX 300h, all larger and less fuel-efficient than the Niro.
The FE base model version of the Kia Niro Hybrid 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 Hybrid is powered by a 104-horsepower direct-injected 1.6-liter inline-4, 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.
The Niro Plug-In Hybrid uses the same engine and transmission with a more powerful 45-kw (60-hp) electric motor, and its much larger 8.9-kwh battery pack occupies the space under the load deck. Cargo capacity and rear leg room, however, are virtually the same either version, and only the eagle-eyed will notice a few trim differences and the charge-port door on the left-front fender that distinguish the plug-in from the regular hybrid.
EPA ratings for the Niro Plug-In Hybrid are 26 miles of electric range, 105 MPGe when running electrically, and 46 mpg combined once it reverts to a conventional hybrid after the battery is depleted. That’s slightly higher than the 43 mpg combined that the equivalent Hybrid model gets.
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.
A Niro EV is available in select markets with a permanent-magnet motor that powers the front wheels and makes 201 hp and 291 pound-feet of torque. Performance is perkier here than in the regular hybrid, hardly a surprise given the increased power output. The 64-kwh battery gives it a 239-mile range, which is slightly off of class leaders.
The plug-in Niro ranges from about $30,000 to about $37,000, while the Niro EV starts just under $40,000 and tops out at about $45,000. The PHEV and EV still qualify for the federal income-tax credit the year it’s purchased, as well as some state purchase rebates.