2021 Kia Niro

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2021
The Car Connection
2021
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Andrew Ganz Andrew Ganz Senior Editor
March 11, 2021

Buying tip

Skip the base 2021 Kia Niro because it lacks active safety tech that ought to be standard by now.

features & specs

EX Premium FWD
LX FWD
LXS FWD
MPG
51 city / 46 hwy
MPG
53 city / 48 hwy
MPG
51 city / 46 hwy
MSRP
$32,950
MSRP
$24,690
MSRP
$26,090

The 2021 Kia Niro is a thrifty choice for those who don’t want polarizing Prius looks.

What kind of vehicle is the 2021 Kia Niro? What does it compare to?

The 2021 Kia Niro is a small hatchback with crossover-like proportions. Shop it against the related Hyundai Kona and the Mazda CX-30, among other small SUVs. The hybrid version is thrifty enough to be a Toyota Prius rival, while the electric version squares off against the Chevrolet Bolt EV. 

Is the 2021 Kia Niro a good car?

Review continues below

The Niro is a likable small hatchback with a high seating position that offers a less-expressive way to save fuel than a typical hybrid or electric car. We rate the 2021 Niro at 5.7 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

What's new for the 2021 Kia Niro?

A few minor tweaks marked a late 2021 arrival for the Niro. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility headlines the updates, while the available adaptive cruise control can gain information about curves in the road from the navigation system in high-trim Niros.

The Niro is a low-slung SUV or a tall hatchback, depending on your perspective. Its lines are somewhat rugged, but there’s nothing inherently off-roady about this vehicle.

Base versions put out a so-so 139 horsepower offset somewhat by 195 lb-ft of torque, but the important number here is at least 43 mpg combined, with the greenest versions tickling 50 mpg. Plug-in hybrids are slightly less efficient—they weigh a bit more—but that 26-mile range could be a game-changer for many commutes. 

There’s a fully-electric version available only in certain states that offers upward of 200 miles of range, too, though we rate it separately

Though far from fun, the Niro is pleasant and competent, with long enough legs to handle a road trip in comfort. 

Inside, the Niro has a modern but not particularly lavish feel, even with optional leather seats and the 8.0-inch touchscreen. At least all the tech is good stuff—Kia’s intuitive display should be studied by rivals. Active safety tech is standard on all but the base Niro LX.

Crash-test scores have been excellent, though the fact that automatic emergency braking isn’t standard means the Niro doesn’t qualify as an IIHS Top Safety Pick.

How much does the 2021 Kia Niro cost?

The Niro comes standard as a hybrid in a wide range of trim levels that start around $25,500 and top out at about $34,000. A plug-in hybrid can go for about 26 miles on a full charge. It starts at about $32,000 and works its way to a hefty $38,000 with every option. 

Skip the base Niro LX and grab at least the LXS at about $27,300. Its extra crash-avoidance tech is worth the money. 

Where is the 2021 Kia Niro made?

In South Korea.

7

2021 Kia Niro

Styling

The 2021 Kia Niro has clean, conservative lines, but it’s not really a crossover.

Is the 2021 Kia Niro a good-looking car?

The 2021 Kia Niro would like you to think it’s a crossover, but it’s really not. Still, we like its chunky fender flares, its roof rails, and its proportions well enough to rate it at 6 out of 10.

The Niro doesn’t scream hybrid, even though it’s one of the thriftiest cars on the road. That works well for us, and it makes it more appealing to a wider swath of buyers than the Toyota Prius.

Inside, the Niro sports a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen and an optional 10.3-inch unit that’s brighter and sharper. Controls are easy enough to find, and Kia has put some effort into spicing up the design with expressive colors. 

Review continues below
4

2021 Kia Niro

Performance

Though certainly no jackrabbit, the Kia Niro is a refined runabout.

Is the Kia Niro 4WD?

It may look like a mini-SUV, but the Kia Niro comes only with front-wheel drive. 

How fast is the Kia Niro?

Most Niros use a 1.6-liter inline-4 teamed to a 1.6-kwh battery and 43-hp electric motor for a combined output of 139 horsepower. It’s delivered through a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Plug-in hybrid versions toss in a bigger battery plus a power port for about 26 miles of electric-only range, enough for most commutes.

Our 4 out of 10 rating is derived from its so-so acceleration. No Niro is quick, but the 8.6-second 0-60 mph sprint is acceptable. The Niro does run out of steam for highway passing, even in Sport mode, though. 

Handling is unremarkable, though the ride is soft and comfortable. Pricier versions have bigger wheels that result in a little more chop to the ride, so try before you buy.

Braking, on the other hand, isn’t great. The calipers grab well enough, but pedal feel is vague and the regenerative braking system that adds power to the battery that would otherwise be wasted results in a lurchy feel at times. 

We rate the all-electric Niro EV separately

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6

2021 Kia Niro

Comfort & Quality

The 2021 Kia Niro is comfortable and spacious, if not exactly upscale inside.

The crossover-like shape that helps the Kia Niro look more like an SUV than an economy car pays dividends inside. We rate it at 6 out of 10 on account of its good cargo capacity.

Passengers will find comfy seats up front and reasonable rear-seat leg room. Cloth seats are standard and leather is optional. 

The cargo area comes in at 20 cubic feet with the second row upright, and nearly 55 cubic feet with it flopped down. The low rear floor makes cargo loading a cinch. 

The Niro has a durable feel inside, though it’s hardly upscale even in top trims. 

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3

2021 Kia Niro

Safety

The 2021 Kia Niro fares OK in tests, but collision-avoidance tech isn’t standard.

How safe is the Kia Niro?

The 2021 Kia Niro has done well in most IIHS crash tests; the insurance-industry-funded group rates it as “Good” in each of its tests. 

But it doesn’t win a Top Safety Pick award because automatic emergency braking isn’t standard. You’ll have to step up to the LXS for that trim, which also includes blind-spot monitors and active lane control. A more advanced collision-avoidance system is included on Touring and higher trims, and it uses both a camera and a radar system to apply the brakes. 

Adaptive cruise control comes on EX Premiums Tourings. The system links to the navigation system when that feature is optioned up to slow the car automatically when it knows a curve is approaching. 

The NHTSA scores it at four stars overall. From our average score the Niro drops a point for the lack of standard automatic emergency braking and for that four-star rating, to come in at a 3.

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6

2021 Kia Niro

Features

The 2021 Kia Niro comes well-equipped in most trims, though the base model is too spartan for the money.

Which Kia Niro should I buy?

First, you’ll need to decide if the plug-in hybrid version of the Niro suits your needs. If you’ve got a regular commute of under 26 miles, or a place to charge at work, it may eventually pay for itself.

Base standard Niro LX models cost about $26,000, while the LXS that comes standard with automatic emergency braking and a few other safety features runs about $27,300. The Niro LXS Plug-In starts at about $30,700, so budget accordingly.

The Touring tosses in partial leather upholstery, power adjustment for the driver’s seat, a larger digital display in the instrument cluster, a sunroof, and a few other niceties. It costs around $29,500. Another $2,200 buys the Touring Special Edition, which includes larger wheels, LED headlights, full leather seats, and a 10.3-inch touchscreen, though oddly it trades wireless smartphone compatibility for a system that requires iPhones and Androids to be plugged in. 

Confusingly, the Niro EX comes only in LXS, EX—equipped about like the Touring Special Edition—and EX Premium grades. 

Our money would be spent on the LXS or the Touring, both of which strike a good balance between features and value—plus wireless CarPlay and Android Auto are nice features. 

How much is a fully loaded 2021 Kia Niro?

A Niro EX Premium Plug-In costs just shy of $38,000, though the standard hybrid sibling is largely identical minus the plug and bigger battery for about $34,200.

Review continues below
8

2021 Kia Niro

Fuel Economy

The 2021 Kia Niro earns great fuel economy in any form.

Is the 2021 Kia Niro good on gas?

Absolutely. The 2021 Niro is one of the most fuel-efficient cars on the market. We rate it at 8, a score topped only by some serious plug-in hybrids or electric cars.

That said, which Niro version you buy makes a big impact on fuel economy. 

The most frugal standard Niro Hybrid is the base LX, rated at 53 mpg city, 48 highway, 50 combined. The LXS comes close—and likely will be the same in real-world use—at 51/46/49 mpg.

But the Touring and Touring SE swap in 18-inch alloy wheels that dent fuel economy to 46/40/43 mpg. That’s a big difference.

The EX Premium, however, comes with the LXS’ smaller wheels and it’s rated at the same 51/46/49 mpg.

Then there’s the Niro Plug-In Hybrid, which can go for about 26 miles on a full charge. After that, it’s rated by the EPA at 48/44/46 mpg. That slightly lower figure than equivalent standard Niros is due largely to the bigger battery’s heft.

Review continues below
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$24,690
MSRP based on LX FWD
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5.7
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 7
Performance 4
Comfort & Quality 6
Safety 3
Features 6
Fuel Economy 8
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