Kia Niro takes advantage of timing, trends with hybrid crossover

  • Jimmy Dinsmore and David Mikesell
Dec 15, 2017
The 2017 Kia Niro offers crossover style and utility while providing up to 50 mpg in fuel economy. Kia photo

Contrary to a popular saying, timing is not necessarily everything. Good timing, though, is certainly a good thing. As gas prices creep back up, Kia executives have to be slapping themselves on the back in congratulatory fashion.

The release of the Niro, a hybrid four-door crossover, is right on time. Taking a look at the 2017 Kia Niro this week are our hybrid reviewers — former Wheels editors Jimmy Dinsmore and David Mikesell.

DAVID: Mileage, mileage, mileage. Maybe it will turn out to be the automotive equivalent to real estate’s location, location, location. If that’s the case, the Niro is ready to step up with EPA fuel economy ratings of 46 mpg/city and 40 mpg/highway. That is thanks to a gas-electric combination of a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine and 43-horsepower electric motor. The pairing and the 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission allots for 139 horsepower and 195 lbs.-ft. of torque. I’ve always wondered how the hard-charging Jimmy deals with the tranquility of a hybrid.

JIMMY: Not very well, Dave. Sometimes you get lucky with electric-assisted hybrids like the Niro and get some torquey fun out of it, but sadly, that’s not the case. The Niro is a tame performer that offers no exhilaration. It’s utilitarian and purposeful, but won’t do anything for enthusiasts. From a driving perspective it’s in the same vein as the Toyota Prius with maybe just a little more pep.

DAVID: The Niro, which uses the same platform as the Hyundai Ioniq hatchback, aims to compete with the Toyota Prius, a trendsetter in the segment. Whether you consider the Niro a crossover, hatchback or even a wagon is up to debate, but there is no denying this newcomer presents a more traditional look than hybrid pioneers. It starts low and wide at the front and rises gracefully toward the back end that drops abruptly after the hatch glass.

JIMMY: The interior is nice. I appreciate that it blends in like other quality Kia vehicles. Kia makes a concerted effort to offer comfort and minimal hard touch points in most of their vehicles. With the Niro, that’s certainly the case. Plus, I appreciated that it wasn’t too “hybrid-looking” like the Prius, which is funky. Of course, that also means it lacks much personality and distinction, too.

DAVID: Niros come in base, LX, EX and Touring trims with a starting price point of $22,890. Jimmy drove the EX ($25,700), which features cloth and leather upholstery, heated front seats, blind-spot monitors, fog lights and LED running lights, among other items. I tested the Touring ($29,650) with leather seating surfaces, front-seat ventilation in addition to the heat, an 8-inch touchscreen in place of a standard 4.2-inch screen, heated steering wheel, parking assist, upgraded audio system and 18-inch alloy wheels in place of 16-inch wheels. That is quite a package.

JIMMY: I was a Latin scholar and Roman history expert through high school and into college. As such, I hope my editors here correct my spelling of Niro, as I constantly wanted to type Nero after the Roman emperor. It’s usually exciting for me, as someone who gets behind the wheel of a lot of vehicles, to see a new vehicle. But, the Niro, despite being new, didn’t leave a big lasting memory with me. It’s just another crossover that happens to have some hybrid technology.