For those looking for a practical hybrid vehicle, the Kia Niro is an appealing package. Its hybrid drivetrain returns up to 50 mpg, not quite Toyota Prius territory, but close. And its straightforward styling doesn't scream "Look at me, I'm driving a hybrid!" the way the Prius does. Kia likes to call the Niro a small SUV and, although it does have an elevated driving position it, doesn't offer all-wheel drive. It also lacks the rugged styling cues that most compact SUVs have adopted.
The Kia Niro's hybrid powertrain is more powerful than most, and we appreciate Kia's use of a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission, which provides a more traditional driving experience than the CVTs typically used in hybrid vehicles. We've also given it high marks for its spacious interior and simple control layout. We like the idea of a dedicated hybrid vehicle with a more conventional approach, and we think the Niro will have great appeal for a large number of hybrid shoppers.
Current Kia Niro
Kia offers the Niro in FE, LX, EX and Touring models, as well as the limited-edition Touring Launch version to commemorate its first year on the market. If you're looking for maximum fuel economy, the FE is the model you want: It's EPA-rated at 50 mpg combined versus 49 mpg for other Niro models. This requires shedding of weight, so the FE is a bit more sparse than other models, though it's still generously equipped. The LX adds a few more nice-to-have items, while the EX is your key to options such as a sunroof and advanced driver assistance and safety features. The Touring is the leather-lined luxury model. Despite its name, the Touring Launch is really closer to the EX, lacking leather but adding unique paint colors, a power driver seat and a premium stereo.
All Niro models use the same hybrid powertrain, which is built around a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with an electric motor and a six-speed, dual-clutch transmission. Total system output is 139 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque, which is more than most hybrid cars offer. The Niro is hardly a speed demon, but it does feel quicker than most hybrid cars, with the electric motor providing plenty of low-speed boost until the gas engine can get up into its powerband. Despite Kia's insistence than the Niro is an SUV, it's only available with front-wheel drive, so it lacks the all-weather ability that many SUVs offer. Steering feel and response are good, and with its low center of gravity — aided by the battery pack under the rear seat — the Niro drives more like a hatchback than an SUV.
We'd never call the Niro luxurious; there's too much hard plastic throughout the cabin, which looks especially cheap in Niros with light-colored interiors. But the front seats are comfortable and getting in and out is easy. The back seat is comfortable, but the hard plastic on the backside of the front seats can meet your knees with rather unpleasant results. Cargo space is less than offered by most compact SUVs, not to mention most hybrid hatchbacks, but compared to a small sedan, the Niro is much more useful.
Used Kia Niro Models
The first-generation Kia Niro was introduced for the 2017 model year.
Read the most recent 2017 Kia Niro review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Kia Niro page.