• 2017 Kia Niro FE
  • 2017 Kia Niro FE

Road Test: 2017 Kia Niro FE

An Affordable Hybrid Crossover

The 2017 Kia Niro hybrid compact crossover offers the kind of go-anywhere utility buyers want without any of the oddball styling of some of the famous and top-selling hybrid hatchbacks on the market (you know who we’re talking about).

2017 Kia Niro FE

The Niro’s styling (except the wheels and a few details) is consistent through all of its models

One of the issues with any electrified car, whether it’s a part-time electric like the hybrid Toyota Prius or a full-time battery electric vehicle like the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Bolt, is the price. It costs more to install a battery, or in the case of a hybrid, both gasoline and electric powertrain systems.

That’s the reason the 2017 Kia Niro FE model is so charming. My Silky Silver test car retailed at just $23,785, versus the top-level Touring model I tested last May, which came to $30,545. Of course, at the lower level, you get cloth seats and a key that flips out and must be inserted into an ignition—a little old school.

More Than a Base Model

Despite being the base model, you get to enjoy dual-zone, automatic climate control, power windows, locks and outside mirrors. There’s an AM/FM/MP3 audio system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay displayed on a seven-inch screen that also shows views from the rear camera. Surprise, surprise—you get Sirius XM built in, with a free three-month subscription. There’s even cruise control and privacy glass. Hardly a stripped-down price leader, the FE boasts 16-inch alloy wheels instead of 18’s, but they’re nice-looking.

Every Niro–from the entry level FE through the LX, EX and Touring–gets the same combination of a 1.6-liter gasoline direct-injection engine, 43-horsepower electric motor and six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. This system generates 139 horsepower and 195 pounds-feet of torque to motivate the 3,106-pound Niro FE.

Poking the Prius

In a well-crafted poke at the Prius, this attractively styled Kia flows nicely from end to end, wearing the corporate tiger nose grille up front, a lower half slice along the sides and a clean, uncomplicated crossover roofline. It’s restful on the eyes without being boring.

2017 Kia Niro FE

The Niro offers a hybrid crossover with a side of “fun”

The FE is the most affordable version, but moving up the food chain, the LX adds roof rails, rear combination lamps and push-button start with smart key. You’ll get fog lights and LED daytime running lights, cloth/leather seat trim and heated front seats and outside mirrors with the EX. At the top, the Touring brings in a power sunroof, leather seat trim, a heated steering wheel and ventilated front seats. It flaunts 18-inch wheels, too. There are likely more differences, but you get the picture.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

All Niros regenerate electricity when you brake and store it in a 1.56-kWh battery, tucked under the rear seat. It’s small, compared to the battery on a full-electric vehicle, so it doesn’t impact the interior space for passengers or cargo. This extra generation, combined with the efficient engine, gives the car its excellent fuel economy. Numbers wise, with carbon emissions of 177 grams per mile, the Niro has less than half the environmental impact of the average vehicle.

2017 Kia Niro FE

The “tiger grill” leads the way

My test car was rated at 52 city/49 highway/50 mpg combined. I got 48.2 mpg over my test week. The Touring model I tested earlier this year was rated at 46/40/43, and I got 43.8 mpg, so the FE model is not only significantly less expensive—it’s more fuel efficient, too.

The EPA green scores are 8 for Smog and 10 for Greenhouse Gas (the Touring model got 8/9).

The Crossover Part

Being a crossover, the Niro can carry 54.5 cubic feet of cargo and some pretty comfortable passengers, too.

Kia brags that this is a “fun” car to drive and, compared to a regular hybrid, they’re not kidding. Although the new Prius features an all new platform and has more responsiveness today, the Niro doesn’t feel like driving a traditional hybrid. The engine and motor provide decent power at a reasonable volume. The steering feels responsive, and the dual-clutch transmission shifts quickly.

This isn’t a luxury car, particularly in FE trim, but it’s remarkably quiet. Kia spent time and energy insulating the cabin. With more than half of the frame in Advanced High Strength Steel, weight was kept down. Some visible and hidden aluminum components also reduce pounds.

The Niro is built in Hwaseong, Korea, but the styling comes from Kia’s Irvine, California, studios, which may explain why the Niro looks like it belongs on American roads.

2017 Kia Niro FE

The Niro’s advantage over most hybrids is clear when you open the hatch

The EcoDynamics sub-brand encompasses Kia’s green offerings. Kia will be offering a plug-in hybrid version of the Niro “later in its life cycle,” which should make it even more fuel miserly. As it is, the Niro Hybrid received a Guinness World Record last year for the lowest fuel consumption driving across the United States (for a hybrid car).

The 2017 Kia Niro FE is a very affordable way to enjoy hybrid level fuel economy in a new, attractive and usable shape.  

In order to give you, the reader, the best perspective on the many vehicles available, Clean Fleet Report has a variety of contributors. When possible, we will offer you multiple perspectives on a given vehicle. This comes under SRO-Second Road Test Opinion. We hope you’ll enjoy these diverse views–some are just below—and let us know what you think in comments below or at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

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Road Test: 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid (Larry’s view)

Road Test: 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid (Steve’s view)

Road Test: 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid (John’s view)

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About Author: Steve Schaefer

Steve Schaefer has written a weekly automotive column for 25 years, testing more than 1,100 cars. Now, he’s focusing on EVs and hybrids. Steve remembers the joy of riding in his father’s Austin-Healey. After discovering the August, 1963 issue of Motor Trend, he became entranced with the annual model change, and began stalking dealers’ back lots to catch the new models as they rolled off the transporter. Coming from a family that owned three Corvairs, Steve was one of the first Saturn buyers, earning him a prominent spot in their 1994 product catalogue. To continue the GM tradition, Steve now has a Chevrolet Bolt EV. Steve is a founding member of the Western Automotive Journalists. Read his EV/hybrid blog at stevegoesgreen.com.

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