Kia has been a company on fire lately: From world class-design led by design chief Peter Schreyer to top quality ratings from JD Power to building out a lineup that serves a broad range of drivers needs, the company clearly wants to offer something to everyone.
Hybrid fans, you’re up next. Kia has just proudly launched the 2017 Niro hybrid crossover, and maybe the greatest thing is that you can go into a dealership and test drive one right now. But read the rest of this story first.
Why Kia needed to build the Niro
The Niro is Kia’s answer to the growing demand for fuel efficiency, because, really, no matter how cheap gas is, who wants to spend MORE money or time buying it? And, to keep in good stead with the government, Kia, like all auto companies, needs to increase the efficiency of the cars it builds.
But Kia didn’t want to build just any old hybrid. The design team rethought the idea and deliver all the things in a car that customers want—fuel efficiency included.
Who the Niro is For
- Singles, couples or small families
- Millennials and buyers with an active lifestyle
- Buyers who want a crossover or SUV-type experience
- Drivers who want great MPG
- Buyers who need capability and flexibility
- Drivers who like to sit up a bit higher off the road
- Drivers who want back seat passengers to be happy and comfortable
What it costs
- FE (base level) $22,890
- LX $23,200
- EX $25,700
- Touring (fully loaded, the model we drove) $29,650
The Niro’s MPG
- FE 52 city/49 highway
- EX/LX 52 city/49 highway
- Touring 46 city/42 highway
- We got: about 49 MPG during our test drive of the Touring edition, which is fully loaded with features such as leather seats, active safety features and my five favorite features (below). It also has larger tires which reduce fuel economy. However, our fuel economy in the Touring model was right in line with the estimates of what the FE, EX and LX are expected to get.
The six most brilliant things about the Niro
- Battery reset button: if you have ever had the pleasure of owning a hybrid, you know to keep jumper cables in the back because leaving the lights on, doors open or even the dome light on in the back seat can drain the battery. You get in to start the car and you get nothing. The Niro’s sensors will trip an automatic shut off when this happens, so when you get in and the battery is dead, just punch this button and you’ll have enough juice to start the car. SO brilliant.
- Child-proof household plug (an option only on the Touring edition): I can’t say how much I love this. A household plug should be required equipment in every car—replace those 12V cigarette adapter style power ports with something that is universally useful. But this takes it a step further: it’s child proof; it needs to be turned in order to plug in an adapter. And, it’s well placed; I was able to plug in my bulky Mac adapter just fine.
- Apple CarPlay/AndroidAuto (standard on all trim models): This feature is in a lot cars and frankly, should be in all of them. Simply plug your phone in and, boom! you can make calls, take calls and more with your own personalized screen at your fingertips.
- Adaptive cruise control (an option on the EX, LX and Touring editions): We tested this out and it was easy to use and worked perfectly, slowing, speeding up and even stopping in response to the traffic ahead of us.
- Qi wireless phone charge pad (an option only on the Touring edition): I was able to put my iPhone 6+ on the pad and if I had the charge case for it, charge it. Owners of compatible phones will love this feature. Put your phone down and it charges while you drive. If you don’t have or need the charge function, this space is also a great place for keys, change and other small items.
- Efficiency coaching: This is pretty cool: set your destination in the navigation system and it’ll tell you when and where to coast, accelerate, and brake to be as efficient as possible and to regenerate the battery. The system reads the terrain and roads to give you advice; as you drive you’ll see prompts such as ‘traffic signal ahead, begin coasting.’
The one thing missing from the Niro: All wheel drive
Nobody is perfect, right? The Niro design team decided to opt for MPG over AWD, which would have further reduced the fuel economy and added weight and cost to the car. So, no AWD. For now.
What’s inside the Niro
Aside of those great interior features, the Niro’s designers wanted give owners the capability and capacity of a small crossover, classic styling that evokes the feel of a more expense car, a great drive experience and lots of nice interior touches. The goal was to create “rugged, modern efficiency,” said Mike Torpey, the Niro’s designer.
The result is an interior that is well designed and planned, not overwhelming but with all the key ingredients right where you need them. The touchscreen was easy to use, there were plenty of small storage spots including bottle pockets on the doors and a small compartment inside the center arm rest. There are 2 12V cigarette lighter style charge ports, and two USB ports: one under the center console and one in the center arm rest.
Probably my favorite feature was the leather upholstery accented with blue contrast stitching. There’s a lot of blue throughout, including the rims of the air vents and the charge indicator on the dashboard, all to remind you that you’re in a hybrid, saving fuel and money as you drive.
The Niro’s exterior appeal
We couldn’t stop taking photos of the Niro’s exterior; it’s a pretty car. Mike Torpey explained some of details that add up to the car’s look, including the broad “shoulders,” which sweep from front to back and fall just below the windows, the design of head lights that give the car an aggressive feel and the Kia “tiger” grille, inspired by a tiger’s nose and remarkable for the way its nostrils are connected, enhancing both airflow and the ability to sense its prey.
Higher off the ground means more comfort inside and out
As a crossover, the Niro sits higher off the ground than a typical sedan but not a high as an SUV. The key here is the ‘hip point,’ or the height of the seats from the ground, which are close to the natural hip level of most people. This means you don’t have to do a ‘yoga fold’ to get into or out of the car. I asked several other drivers, including my friend Don, who is 6’2”, how the car was for him and he reported getting in and out with ease and feeling quite comfortable behind the wheel.
The size of the Niro on the outside was good, too. The roof rails are at a fairly comfortable height; I could reach them easily and could see loading bikes, carriers or other equipment without too much strain.
The hybrid experience: pretty darn good
Niro’s designers wanted great MPG to be a benefit, not a badge. So while you get feedback to help you to be a more efficient driver, the drive experience is pretty seamless. The Niro has plenty of pep making merging on the highway was easy, and the 6-speed automatic transmission had a more familiar engine rhythm. However, the 104 horsepower engine is designed for efficiency, not speed, so be cautioned that this isn’t the car to race performance cars as you try to get ahead of the gap in tight traffic. The Niro might just make you a nicer driver as well as a more efficient one.
For times when you need a little more pep (and a little less efficiency), we popped the gearshift into sport mode and could even shift through the gears. Sport mode maximizes the engines power and I could not only feel it as we drove but also, as I let off the accelerator the Niro gave a noticeable pullback on the power.
Overall, though, the Niro provided a quiet ride with a well-insulated interior and a quiet hybrid engine. And when fully under the power of the gas engine the Niro was powerful enough to carry its weight, handling back roads and busy highways quite nicely.
What it competes with
What we listened to in the Niro
We love playlists. And we love great sound systems. The Niro features a Harman Kardon sound system (the Touring edition has a premium H/K system with extra speakers). Here’s what we listened to on our test drive.
Disclosure: I was Kia’s guest for this test drive; travel and accommodations were provided. All opinions are my own.