The all-new 2017 Kia Niro is a unique animal: It's a small crossover SUV that doesn't offer the choice of all-wheel drive; it was designed from the ground up to be a gas-electric hybrid, rather than being adapted from an existing model; and the attractive styling doesn't shout "hybrid" from the rooftops. The Niro's strength is that it offers crossover utility and hybrid efficiency while meeting the requirements of the many shoppers who simply need an affordable, practical around-town vehicle.
For ease of entry, it sits lower than an SUV. For better visibility, it's higher than a sedan. The Niro is, essentially, a wagon with better ground clearance and the ability to haul slightly taller cargo. It shares a platform with the new Hyundai Ioniq lineup, which comprises hatchback hybrid, plug-in and electric models, but with the slightly muscular stance that marks it as a sleekly styled crossover.
The heart of the Niro's hybrid system is a 104-horsepower, 1.6-liter gasoline engine that pairs with a lightweight electric motor for a combined 139 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. And, unlike many hybrid powertrains that mate to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic, Kia opted for a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic gearbox, which it says provides a more engaging driving experience. An 11.9-gallon fuel tank, combined with a lithium-ion battery that's recharged by the engine and by regenerative braking, provide a total claimed range of up to 595 miles.
The EPA rates fuel economy for the base Niro FE at 50 mpg combined (52 city/49 highway), although moving up to the better equipped, and heavier, trim levels can reduce the combined rating by as much as 7 mpg.
The Niro has been designed to deliver an understated, conventional ride, and it accomplishes that mission admirably. The hybrid system is generally unobtrusive and delivers decent acceleration, although selecting Eco mode causes a noticeable reduction in zip. Conversely, shifting to Sport mode can pep things up a bit, at the expense of a few mpg. And with its low center of gravity and well-balanced suspension system, the Niro handles well on the highway and in the city.
Although set up for five passengers, the Niro is best able to transport four in comfort. Though not exactly luxurious, the interior is well designed with good-quality materials and solid-feeling controls. And even tall drivers will find the multi-adjustable seats easy to live with. Cargo capacity with the rear seats in place is 19.4 cubic feet, and with the seats folded that expands to 54.5 cubic feet. What that means is that the Niro can haul more than the average sedan but less than many competing small SUVs.
The base Niro FE comes very well equipped with such niceties as automatic headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, a rearview camera and a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system. The midlevel LX and EX trim levels add more power accessories and comfort and convenience features. The top-of-the-line Touring model brings on more appearance and comfort features. Whatever your preference, let Edmunds help you find the 2017 Kia Niro that best meets your needs.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.