Kia Motors is going green in a big way, with a Hybrid that doesn’t look like a Hybrid, and housed in a Crossover package that doesn’t look or act quit
Kia Motors is going green in a big way, with a Hybrid that doesn’t look like a Hybrid, and housed in a Crossover package that doesn’t look or act quite like a Crossover. It is more like an “un-Hybrid, non-Crossover.” Kia’s all-new 2017 Niro Hybrid Utility Vehicle (HUV) is marketed by Kia as: “A no-compromise vehicle that combines driving enjoyment with eye-catching design, functional utility and hybrid efficiency.”
What Niro does well is provide impressive fuel economy – EPA rated at 51mpg in the city, 46/highway and 49/combined. To back that up (though my tests showed a bit less, as they generally do), in December 2016, Niro officially received a Guinness World Records title for the lowest fuel consumption by a hybrid vehicle, as it traveled from Los Angeles to New York City with a fuel consumption record of 76.6 mpg. Now, they hypermile and use techniques you won’t use (and I didn’t use), but my review tests still produced a notable average of 47.1 mpg in mixed-use driving.
Niro is marketed as a Crossover, but seems like more of a Hatchback. It is not offered in AWD and cargo space is not as cavernous as what we expect from CUVs. Not boxy or high – Niro is curvy, slim and only 60.8 inches tall -- it doesn’t look like a typical crossover. In fact, Kia bills the exterior design as "un-hybrid". Niro certainly doesn’t fit the perception of what a hybrid is supposed to look like as it offers a wide stance, long and curved roofline and short overhangs.
Designed at Kia’s design centers in Irvine, California, and Namyang, Korea, Niro’s architecture is atypical of a hybrid, appearing strong and confident with subtly sculpted surfaces offset by robust styling cues. Niro sports wide and low proportions, standing 171.5 inches long, 71.1 inches wide and 60.8 inches high with roof rails, on a 106.3-inch wheelbase. The overhang is 34.3 inches in front and 30.9 inches in the rear and Niro has a ground clearance of 6.3 inches. Curbweight for the upper trims is 3161 lbs.
Up front, Niro bears a familiar front fascia highlighted by Kia’s signature grille and flanked by aggressively shaped headlights that accentuate the Niro’s strong shoulders. Contours on the hood lend visual interest and, along with voluminous wheel arches, rocker cladding, roof rails, and rear skid plate, contribute to a sporty look. Although Niro employs a Crossover theme, it was designed with aerodynamics in mind, with its carefully shaped bodywork contributing to a relatively efficient coefficient of drag of .29.
Stepping inside the Niro reveals an inviting, modern and high-tech interior. Glossy white or black accents underline the HUV’s straightforward theme. The instrument panel is uncluttered and clean, with colorful and informative gauges at the forefront and perfectly positioned primary and secondary controls falling readily to hand. Interior roominess measures 49.1 inches of front headroom with 39.1 inches in the rear; legroom is 41.7 inches up front and 37.4 inches in row two, and shoulder room has been measured at 56.0 and 55.2. Seats with increased pad density in the cushions ensure a comfortable ride, helping to prevent fatigue on longer trips and the Niro boasts an elevated seating position much like the Kia Soul, providing drivers with a more commanding view of the road as well as easy ingress and egress.
The powertrain begins with an all-new, state-of-the-art Kappa 1.6-liter GDI four-cylinder engine, engineered specifically for hybrid applications. The aluminum block and head system delivers 104hp and 109 lbs,-ft. of torque. The electric motor is a Lithium-Ion Polymer battery-powered 240-volt AC Synchronous Permanent Magnet Motor that provides 43 hp and the combined system is rated at 139hp and 195 lbs.-ft of torque. The system has a driving range of 583 miles.
Niro’s power is transmitted through a newly developed, second-generation six-speed dual-clutch transmission, which not only boosts efficiency but is also a key factor to a fun driving experience. The transmission delivers smooth, quick shifts for a natural and peppy feel, unlike other hybrids, though a zero-to-60mph “dash” took 10.9 seconds during an 18.4-second quarter-mile
Corners were taken effectively for the niche with little body roll and comparatively small top wobble. Road noise was surprisingly present in the cabin, but for the most part, Niro handled more like a sedan than a Crossover. Acceleration was decent enough for everyday driving, braking was confident, steering was supple and responsive and the independent front suspension with MacPherson struts, stabilizer and gas shocks, works well with the independent multi-link rear with twin tube shocks to smooth out most road irregularities.
The 2017 Kia Niro starts at $22,890 for the base NR trim, and moves up through the LX at $23,200; the EX at $25,700; the Touring at $29,650 and the Touring Launch at $31;950. My test Niro LX added the Sunroof Tech Package for $1450, with Autonomous Emergency Braking, Forward Collision Warning System, Lane Departure Warning System, Smart Cruise Control, Leather wrapped steering wheel and gear shift knob, LED Daytime Running Lights and front fog lights. Mud guards added $95; carpet floor mat was $130; and Destination Charges added $895 for a price-as-tested of $25,570, making it one of the more affordable hybrids in the segment.
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Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.