The all-new 2017 Kia Niro is the first Kia designed from the ground up as a hybrid/electric vehicle, and the result is an impressive mix of excellent fuel economy, ample passenger room and a long list of up-to-the-minute convenience and safety technologies. Crossover-like styling and familiar driving manners help set it apart from Prius and others.
You'll Like The 2017 Kia Niro If...
If you love the idea of 50 mpg but aren’t into that whole Prius thing, the 2017 Kia Niro’s less polarizing style and familiar driving dynamics just might make you a hybrid owner.
You May Not Like The 2017 Kia Niro If...
While Kia is marketing the Niro as a crossover SUV, just be aware that it’s not available with all-wheel drive, it has about as much ground clearance as a Toyota Camry, and the Prius V blows it away in cargo volume (but not mpg).
The Kia Niro isn’t just new for 2017, it’s an all-new addition to the Kia lineup.
Kia has developed a reputation among the KBB editors for exceptionally well-rounded interiors, and the Niro’s passenger cabin is no exception. The clean design impresses first, followed by the intuitive layout, refined feel and intelligent functionality. Audio and climate controls are smartly situated, there’s a handy open bin with USB and power ports ahead of the transmission selector, and the buttons and knobs all feel like they were designed, engineered and manufactured with attention to detail. The Niro’s backseat provides plenty of headroom and legroom for 6-footers and beyond. The cargo area isn’t quite as generous, but a 60/40-split-folding seatback adds valuable cargo/passenger flexibility. Like most any hatchback, wagon or SUV-like vehicle, however, the Niro grows positively cavernous when you fold down the rear seats.
With its black plastic wheel arches, rear skidplate and design cues that add visual height, the Kia Niro resembles a small crossover SUV. Technically it’s more of a tall wagon or 5-door hatchback, but given America’s strong and growing preference for SUVs, Kia is wise to position the Niro as a crossover. And if you don’t need the all-wheel drive, extra ground clearance or increased cargo capacity available in similarly priced SUVS, the difference is academic. While every Niro gets modern touches like body-color door handles and mirrors, you have to reach all the way to the top-line Niro Touring to move out of 16-inch wheel covers into 18-inch alloys.
The Niro’s newly developed gasoline-electric powertrain is Kia’s best hybrid system yet, resulting in a car that drives less like a complex hybrid and more like a good ol’ gas-guzzler. Seamless acceleration and braking aside, 139 horsepower is not a lot for a vehicle that weighs more than 3,000 pounds, and we had to tap every bit of its output during highway merging and passing. Once up to speed the Niro proved quiet and comfortable for a car of its stature, and a long list of available safety and convenience technologies help to reduce driver effort and increase confidence. In-town acceleration was never a problem, and the Niro proved smooth and responsive in the go-turn-stop-repeat of city driving. Kia likes to talk about the new Niro being fun to drive -- there’s even a Sport driving mode -- but keep your expectations in check. While the Niro's quick-shifting 6-speed dual-clutch transmission, independent rear suspension, and decent driving feel help compensate for the Niro’s challenged power-to-weight ratio, the Niro remains first and foremost a practical mileage-maxer. The Niro also performs well in parking lots, thanks to a tight turning radius, standard backup camera, good outward visibility, and available rear cross-traffic alert.
The 2017 Kia Niro lineup starts around $24,000 and tops out around $32,500 for a fully loaded Niro Touring model, putting it in the same ballpark as the 2017 Toyota Prius. While the Niro is covered by Kia’s superior 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, the Prius boasts an established reputation and excellent resale value. While we haven’t yet published official resale value predictions for this all-new model, there’s a good chance a $30,000 Niro will cost you more over a full buy-own-sell ownership cycle than a $30,000 Prius. Keep in mind, however, that it’s usually worth spending a little extra to drive the car you prefer.
The 2017 Kia Niro lineup starts at $24,000 (with destination) for the Niro FE trim, but Kia doesn’t plan to sell many of them and you shouldn’t plan to buy one (you get one extra mpg, but it’s not worth the equipment tradeoff). So let’s focus on the standard equipment roster of the Niro LX, which is priced just $310 higher than the FE. Highlights include keyless entry and push-button start, UVO3 infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, AM/FM/SiriusXM audio, a 7-inch touch screen, rear-view camera, Bluetooth phone connectivity and dual-zone automatic climate control, to name a few.
A fully loaded 2017 Kia Niro Touring with the Advanced Technology Package stickers around $32,500 with destination, and includes a bunch of cool features. In addition to visual differentiators such as 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and power-folding heated outside mirrors with integrated turn indicators, a loaded Touring model features familiar interior upgrades like a moonroof and leather seats (heated and ventilated up front). The touch screen is upgraded to eight inches, sound is upgraded to an 8-speaker harman/kardon system, and there’s a wireless charger for compatible phones (iPhone and others require a special case). Then there’s a long list of driver assist technologies that includes (deep breath) a blind-spot detection system, lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, autonomous emergency braking, smart cruise control, plus front and rear parking sensors. It’s important to note, however, that Niro Touring models are rated to return 43 mpg combined, versus 49 mpg for LX and EX models. Kia explains it as a consequence of added weight and aerodynamic differences. At 12,000 miles per year and $3 gallon, the difference is about $9 per month.
Kia’s attractive, intuitive and functional UVO infotainment system is one of our favorites, and the Niro includes the newest version as standard equipment. UVO3 highlights include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, one-touch Pandora internet radio and other apps, 8GB of music storage, plus subscription-free telematics features like vehicle diagnostic and roadside assistance services.
SMART CRUISE CONTROL
We haven’t yet had the opportunity to put the new Niro’s adaptive cruise control through extended testing, but in the 2017 Kia Cadenza, the system is among the best we’ve used. It doesn’t overreact when a vehicle moves into your buffer, and it keeps a tight gap in slow-and-go traffic.
Under the Hood
The new Niro’s gas-electric hybrid system is comprised of a 4-cylinder engine and a lithium-ion polymer battery, the output of which is run to the front wheels via a quick-shifting 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. It’s an impressive system for both its outstanding efficiency and its seamless operation.
1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine + 1.56-kWh lithium-ion polymer battery
139 horsepower (gas/electric combined)
195 lb-ft of torque (gas/electric combined)
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 52/49 mpg (FE), 51/46 mpg (EX, LX), 46/40 mpg (Touring) Note: Due to changes in EPA testing to more effectively reflect real-world conditions, some 2017 models show slightly lower fuel-economy scores than their 2016 versions.
The all-new Niro is the first Kia designed from the ground up as a hybrid/electric vehicle, and the result is an impressive mix of outstanding fuel economy, ample passenger room and a long list of modern convenience and safety technologies. While its combined city/highway fuel economy rating of 49 mpg doesn’t quite match the 52-mpg rating of the Toyota Prius, it’s notably more efficient than just about everything else in its price range including the Ford C-Max and roomier Toyota Prius V. Combined with crossover-like, anti-Prius styling and refined driving manners, the Niro is a welcome addition to the genre. Later in 2017, the Niro will also be offered as a plug-in hybrid that Kia says should be rated to deliver 26 miles of all-electric range.