The Car Connection Kia Niro Overview
The Kia Niro is a hybrid crossover SUV launched for the 2017 model year, with a plug-in hybrid version added for 2018. The subcompact Niro is offered only with a hybrid powertrain; no gasoline-only version will be available.
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. The Kia Soul is even close, although it has more interior room, but lower fuel economy.
MORE: Read our 2018 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, the luxury Lexus NX 300h, and the Nissan Rogue Hybrid, all larger and less fuel-efficient than the Niro.
The FE 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 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.
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 legroom, 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.
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.
The plug-in Niro starts under $30,000 and goes to about $35,000. It The qualifies for a $4,543 federal income-tax credit the year it’s purchased, as well as state purchase rebates of $2,000 in New York and $1,500 in California, among others.