Road Test: 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

A Stealth Hybrid, Quasi-SUV

Kia is marketing the 2017 Kia Niro as a crossover SUV, even though some pundits say it’s more of a tall wagon or a five-door hatchback. It’s not available with all-wheel drive. Ground clearance is comparable to that of most cars, and the 23.1-inch seat height falls between cars and crossovers.

2017 Kia Niro

The badge may tell more than you know

But the Korean automaker isn’t messing around with its first ever dedicated gasoline-electric hybrid, even though Kia rarely mentions the hybrid powertrain. The Niro promises much: up to 50-mpg combined with the most frugal FE (for Fuel Efficient) trim level. The top-end Niro Touring is EPA rated at 43-mpg, while the midrange LX and LE trim levels register a 49-mpg combined rating. Kia parses the Niro into three separate EPA certifications in order to get a bigger number for the lighter, lower-spec trims.

Given America’s strong and growing preference for SUVs, Kia is not only wise to position the Niro as a crossover with exceptional fuel economy, but also with very alluring prices—the only hybrids carrying lower base prices are the new Hyundai Ioniq hybrid and the very small Toyota Prius c.

Looking Through the Lineup

A look at the lineup starts with the Niro FE, which starts at $22,890. It comes standard with a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, a six-speaker sound system, a rearview camera, Bluetooth, a USB port, cloth upholstery and 60/40 split folding rear seats. Kia’s UVO infotainment system is also standard and includes a seven-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and satellite radio.

2017 Kia Niro,interior

Kia has stepped upits game in the interior

Next up, the Niro LX has a starting price of $23,200. It adds push-button start and offers the LX Advanced Technology package for $1,450. It adds things like autonomous emergency braking and forward collision warning.

This is followed by the Niro EX at $25,700. Added are heated outside mirrors, leather trim, heated front seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, blind spot monitoring, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert and a rear USB port. A $2,300 package adds features like a sunroof and adaptive cruise control.

The top-end Niro Touring is priced starting at $29,650. It comes with lower-trim features and adds leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a sunroof, and front and rear park assist. A $1,900 Touring Advanced package offers features such as a wireless phone charger, lane departure warning, and a forward collision warning system.

On The Road

The 2017 Kia Niro is rather impressive underneath, using an all-new platforform developed exclusively for electrified vehicles shared with parent company Hyundai’s Ioniq Hybrid and EV cars. Kia’s hybrid powertrain is relativly simple, with a single 43-horsepower electric motor/generator incorporated into the six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and a 1.56-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion polymer battery pack.

2017 Kia Niro, engine

A dual system that delivers

Like other hybrid systems, the electric motor can power the Niro by itself or team up with the high-compression Atkinson cycle 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 104 horsepower and 109 pounds-feet of torque. In tandem, the gasoline engine and electric motor have an output of 139 horsepower and 195 pounds-feet of torque.

Seats on our Niro Touring test car were just high enough to make entering and exiting the vehicle easy and, once seated, provided a high enough position to give a good view of traffic ahead.  It wasn’t quite the height of most small SUVs, but better than a normal sedan.

As I eased out of our driveway, the Niro was silent up to 12 mph, when the gas engine joined in. It was a seamless addition that was only noticed by a small amount of engine noise. I increased speed to around 40 mph, briefly lifted my foot, then eased on the accelerator, and the little SUV began to cruise along on electric power only for nearly three miles, at which point I came to a stop sign. From there on it was easy to drive in town under electric power.

In the Mode

Most hybrids take a little time to get used to, primarily because of the way continuous variable transmissions (CVT) operate. Kia takes care of that by employing a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which unobtrusively and quickly went through the gears just like a traditional car. I drove the Niro mostly in Eco mode, which controls parts of the hybrid and climate control systems to achieve optimal fuel economy.

In Eco mode, starting up from a stop is like a slow moving conventional car. A switch to Sport mode made it difficult to remember that the Niro was a hybrid vehicle. That remained true even on the highway, although Sport mode had the penalty of reduced fuel economy.    

Kia made it easy to not only track my fuel economy, but also the operation of the hybrid system. There’s an Energy Flow diagram in the instrument cluster and on the central touchscreen with a minute-by-minute fuel economy graph and a Charge/Eco/Power meter that replaces the tachometer in the instrument cluster. The display also included a tree whose leaves gradually added or lost color—while or shades of blue—based on my driving habits.

As for in town driving, the Niro’s bluff shape and short overhangs made it an excellent urban car. The turning circle was impressively tight, and its boxy shape made it easy to get in and out of in tight spots. The Niro Touring proved itself well in city driving, surpassing the EPA’s 46 mpg rating with 49.4 mpg shown on the onboard readout.

2017 Kia Niro

Niro’s style may look boxy, but it delivers cd

With a zero to 60 mph time of just under nine seconds, merging into fast-moving freeway traffic was best accomplished in Sport mode. Once settled in, Eco mode was adequate to keep up with the 75 mph flow. The Niro delivered a pleasant ride, soaking up mundane blacktop and concrete patches, cracks and expansion joints rather gracefully. Steering and handling mostly mimicked that of a car with controlled body roll, while brakes had a firm, confident feel. Of note, the Smart Cruise Control was one of the best we’ve used. It didn’t overreact when a vehicle moved into our buffer, and it kept a tight gap in slow-and-go traffic.

Our week of driving the Niro totaled 253 miles, with a combined fuel economy of 44.7 mpg, again better than the EPA’s estimate of 43 mpg combined.

Niro Styling

Regardless of the 2017 Kia Niro not having all-wheel drive, my view is any way you slice-and-dice the styling, it is reflective of a small crossover SUV. The Niro is a traditional two-box SUV design. It blends a lower height and wide stance with a four-door body that has a vertical rear tailgate.

2017 Kia Niro

An SUV style in a car package

Up front, swept-back headlights bookend Niro’s version of Kia’s new wide “tiger nose” grille, while a sporty rear theme is enabled by the wide stance, rugged-looking rear skid plate and multi-element horizontal LED tail lamp graphic. Black-outlined wheel arches, rocker-panel cladding and roof rails complete the SUV look.

Kudos to Kia designers who carefully crafted an aerodynamic body that brags a 0.29 drag coefficient. That’s low for any kind of utility vehicle, and undoubtedly contributes to its fuel-economy ratings at higher speeds.

The Kia Niro seats five and offers comfortable and supportive seats, even on long journeys. There is plenty of leg and headroom in both the front and rear seats, even for taller adults, although three is a crowd in the rear seats.

Inside, a clean design impresses. Kia has become a class leader in using quality materials that are perfectly fitted, and the Niro shows off this distinction. 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. Buttons and knobs all feel like they were designed, engineered and manufactured with attention to detail.

Kia’s UVO infotainment system, with an eight-inch touch screen, real-time traffic conditions, and a voice-command navigation system, is intuitive to use and offers vivid graphics. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, as is Bluetooth connectivity.

Rear doors open wide to aid in the fitting of child seats, which are easy to install. Cargo space is an adequate 19.4 cubic feet with the rear seats in use. Located beneath the Niro’s load floor, a compartmentalized storage area helps to organize things. Fold the rear seats, and a cavernous 54.5 cubic feet of space becomes available.

In The Marketplace

There’s a bushel basket full of 2017 subcompact crossover SUVs to choose from, but none offer the fuel efficiency of the Niro. Through July, leading the pack is Jeep’s Renegade, which I recently reviewed. There are a variety of trim levels to choose from, including the four-wheel drive Renegade Trailhawk that is the king of tackling rugged off-road trails.

2017 Kia Niro

The Niro is holding its own in a crowded market

Next up is the Honda HR-V. It is offered with all-wheel drive, but the Niro has a longer list of standard features, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The Niro also comes with more available advanced safety features, such as a forward collision warning system. Features like these aren’t even available in the HR-V’s top trim.

The HR-V is followed by the Subaru XV Crosstrek, which comes standard with all-wheel drive, but doesn’t come close to the Niro’s fuel economy numbers. Then there’s the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Mini Countryman and Mazda CX-3 that are all vying for your attention.

Kia didn’t release the 2017 Niro for sale in the U.S. until January 2017, yet through July it was the third best-selling hybrid vehicle, following only the Toyota Prius Liftback and Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, and the latter is only offered with all-wheel drive.

Apparently, promoting the 2017 Niro’s fuel economy without mentioning it’s a hybrid has hit a chord with American buyers. You should check it out. 

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 if you do or don’t at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

Road Test: 2017 Kia Nio (Steve’s View)

Road Test: 2017 Kia Niro (John’s View)

First Drive: 2017 Kia Niro

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Road Test: 2017 Jeep Renegade

Road Test: 2016 Honda HR-V (John’s view)

Road Test: 2016 Honda HR-V (Larry’s view)

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Road Test: 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Road Test: 2015 Buick Encore

Road Test: 2015 Chevrolet Trax

Road Test: 2017 Mazda CX-3

Road Test: 2016 Toyota Prius Liftback

Road Test: 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Disclosure:                                                                                       

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

Road Test: 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

A Fresh Kind of Hybrid

You may think you know what a hybrid car looks like. But with the all-new 2017 Kia Niro, you’re wrong. Eschewing the hunkered down Prius look, the Niro is a remarkably handsome compact crossover, but still earns the kind of fuel economy numbers that are the reason why people buy hybrids.

2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

A complement to the outside

This new car fits right in with the other Kias, from tiger nose grille floating in a dark surround to the alert, swept-back headlamp pods to the vents on the front wheelwells. Along the sides, a gentle lower half slice adds strength and movement. The roofline stands clean and uncomplicated. The rear flows from convex to concave, with the horizontal taillamps pulled just out from the surface for definition.

The inside complements the outside with simplicity and cleanness. The grained plastic sports a little bit of padding to keep it from feeling cheap. In my Silky Silver top-level Touring model, the leather seats were heated and cooled and the armrests, seats and leather steering wheel all featured stylish stitching. It’s a dignified, classic look, welcome to the eye when compared to some of the more radical approaches today.

Under the Hood

Every 2017 Kia Niro, from the entry level FE to the LX to the EX to the Touring, gets the same combination of a 1.6-liter gas engine, 43-horsepower electric motor and six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. These components are mounted together and provide 139 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque to motivate the 3,274-pound Niro.

2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

The Kia Niro advantage

As a hybrid, the Niro uses battery storage for the electricity it regenerates from braking. There’s no place to plug in, but the 1.56-kilowater-hour (kWh) lithium-ion battery, tucked under the rear seat, doesn’t get in the way of people or stuff, and works hard enough to give the car its excellent fuel economy. Numbers wise, with carbon emissions of 207 grams per mile, the Niro has half the environmental impact of the average U.S. vehicle.

2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

Dual power under the hood

Fuel economy numbers for the Touring are impressive. My test car carried EPA ratings of 46 mpg city/40 highway/43 combined. You know what I got for a week’s worth of driving? 43.8 mpg! The FE model, lighter and more efficient, earns an even 50 mpg combined.

The EPA green scores are 8 for Smog and 9 for Greenhouse Gas. Granted, the fuel economy numbers are a little below a Prius, but it sure is pretty. And, with its crossover proportions, the Niro can carry 54.5 cubic feet of cargo and some pretty comfortable passengers, too.

Inside Goodies

My topline tester featured a crisp-sounding Harman Kardon premium audio system, made more accessible with your choice of Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. High-tech electronic equipment includes blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, and a front and rear parking assist system.

2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

Some classy detailing

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, the Niro doesn’t feel like driving a hybrid. The engine and motor provide adequate oomph and don’t make a racket doing it, the steering feels responsive, and the dual-clutch transmission shifts quickly. There’s a Sport mode that allows a little delayed shifting for when you get off the freeway and onto the quieter, curvier back roads.

This isn’t a luxury car, 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.

Some Kia are now assembled in the U.S., but the Niro hails from Hwaseong, Korea. However, the design originates from Kia’s Irvine, California, studios, which may explain why the Niro looks so right on American roads.

The Bottom Line

You can pick up the FE for as little as $23,785, but my top-level Touring came to $30,545, with inland freight and handling added in.

Kia has created a sub brand called EcoDynamics to encompass its green offerings. It plans to release lots more members of the collection, which now includes the Optima Plug-in Hybrid

2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

The indication of a new direction for Kia

and Soul EV all-electric model. They plan to offer a plug-in hybrid Niro, which could double the hybrid’s fuel economy number, if my experience with other plug-in hybrids is any guide.

The Kia Niro received a Guinness World Record last December for the lowest fuel consumption driving across the United States (hybrid car). Two guys from Carlsbad, California, and Williamsburg, Virginia, drove an unaltered Niro 3,715.4 miles and used only 48.5 gallons—just over four tanksful.  That works out to 76.6 mpg!

The 2017 Kia Niro is another step forward for Kia, which has come a very long way and is heading strongly into the future with more alternative technology offerings.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy:

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

Comparison Road Test: 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid & Plug-in Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid

First Drive: 2017 Kia Niro

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Prius V

Road Test: 2016 Kia Soul EV

News: 2017 Kia Niro Debuts

Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class. We also feature those that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

Road Test: 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

Crossover Fuel Economy King

When it comes to classifying cars, there are blurry lines. Take the all-new 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid that Kia calls an “urban crossover hybrid vehicle.” Urban translates into the Niro not being available with all-wheel drive, so apparently no country living ahead. So the Niro is a hatchback, but no that isn’t right either, because no hatches are as tall or roomy as the Niro. This, then, leaves station wagon. Well, not quite a station wagon either, but for many this is where the Niro falls—a tall station wagon. Is there such a thing? Maybe there is now.

2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

Something new–from the ground up

The small crossover category (where the Niro will be lumped) is hot and getting hotter. However, hybrids in this size are rare, with the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and Nissan Rogue Hybrid going head-to-head with the Niro. Except, the RAV4 hybrid only comes with all-wheel drive and gets far less fuel economy. To make this easier, let’s drop the categorization and talk about what you get from the Niro. How it fits in your life will be up to you.

Common crossover attributes, versus a sedan, are a taller ride height with more interior passenger and storage space. The 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid adds excellent fuel economy to the equation, making it appealing to a wide range of consumers.

Drivetrain

The Niro carries an all-new and specifically engineered parallel hybrid powertrain of a 1.6-liter gasoline engine and a AC synchronous permanent magnet motor, putting out a total system 139 horsepower and 195 pounds-feet of torque. Mated to a six-speed dual clutch transmission (DCT), the fuel economy is excellent. Kia toyed with the idea of the more-popular CVT transmission, but with the low-end torque provided by its new engine design, Kia determined that they could eliminate the lowest gear. That saved cost, space and weight. We were impressed with the powertrain’s smooth operation. Torque for highway ramp sprints and passing 75+mph big rigs was easy and effortless, with acceleration better-than-adequate, but not fast.

The hybrid system’s 1.56-kWh lithium-ion polymer battery is replenished through the regenerative charging system. This technology converts kinetic energy into electric energy and stores it in the battery when applying the brakes or coasting. This process can be viewed on a dash gauge where you can watch the power flow into and out of the battery and electric motor. The pedal feel on hybrids can be grabby at times, requiring a learning period to get them right. Not so on the Niro, where the regenerative braking required little pedal modulation and had a confident feel.

There are three Niro models with the FE having an EPA fuel economy rating of 52 city/49 highway/50 combined. Opt for the higher optioned models of LX and EX and the numbers are 51/46/49; the Touring comes in at 46/40/43. The lower numbers on the upper trim levels are due to the larger wheels, tires and weight of equipment that comes with each package. Regardless of model, this is the type of game-changing fuel economy that will make the Niro a hit with those who value leaving a lighter ecological footprint and really dislike stopping at gas stations.

2017 Kia Niro Hybrid,hatchback

The Niro’s space expands with the seats down

In 410 miles of 65-percent highway/35-percent city throughout Southern California, Clean Fleet Report’s Touring model achieved 44.7 mpg. This is more than the Prius V which we recently tested, and which is frequently considered by consumers looking for a high mpg vehicle that also offers good cargo space. For even better fuel economy and driving range, there will be a plug-in hybrid Niro coming in late 2017, which will make this car even more appealing.

It is important to note that fuel economy numbers reported by Clean Fleet Report are non-scientific. They represent the reviewer’s driving experience in our reviewer’s city. If you live in cold weather, high in the mountains or spend time in the city or stuck in rush hour traffic, then your numbers may differ.

Designed From a Clean Slate

Car designers are at their gleeful best when management says something like: “Hey, let’s design a completely new car!” Maybe it isn’t quite a Eureka Moment, but as the conversation between sales, marketing, design and engineering evolves, at some point, the go-ahead lets designers loose to create what they hope is a hit with consumers.

In the case of the Niro, Steve Kosowski, Long Range Strategy Manager at Kia, told Clean Fleet Report that the “origin of the Niro came from top management in Korea to create a dedicated hybrid” that would be sold worldwide. That top management in 2012 was looking for a wedge-shaped car similar to the Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Volt or Honda Insight (discontinued in 2014), but the designers had different plans. While a Prius model might get a few more miles per gallon with its wind-tunnel-shaped wedge, the Niro designers went a different direction completely. They pushed for a design that might compromise a bit of fuel economy with more of a crossover-type vehicle. No wedgies here.

2017 Kia Niro Hybrid, styling

Style and aero right to the end

The Niro is stylish and uncluttered with excellent sight lines for the driver. With a taller stance than a sedan (remember earlier the Niro could be considered a tall station wagon), it still delivers outstanding fuel economy while not looking anything at all like a stereotypical hybrid car. This last part was important to focus groups Kia held throughout the country. Sleek and curved surfaces, a wide stance with a long wheelbase and short overhangs contributed to a .29 coefficient of drag (Cd). Anything below .30 Cd is worth noting.

The Niro has incorporated Kia’s signature “tiger nose” grille that runs edge-to-edge, leading to the swept back high intensity headlights that came with the Advanced Technology Package on our Touring model. LED daytime running lights and fog lights, located in the bottom fascia, complete the front end design. The side profile draws a nice line to the A pillar, leading to a gently sloping roof with rack rails, a shark fin antenna and an integrated black spoiler over the rear hatch window. The narrow horizontal LED taillights and smooth surfaced hatch finish off the attractive rear.

Welcoming Interior

You will quickly get a welcome feeling when slipping into the Niro’s spacious cabin. Sound deadening is very good with insulation and expanding foam placed throughout the vehicle’s structure. Acoustic windshield glass, aerodynamically shaped exterior mirrors, quieting technology designed into engine mounts, driveshaft and suspension bushings all contribute to a quiet and comfortable place to spend time on long road trips.

2017 Kia Niro Hybrid, interior

An inviting, tech-laden interior

With an outlook on the road higher than a sedan (from 6.3-inch ground clearance), but not as high as an SUV—a comfortable compromise was met. The Touring model comes with leather-trimmed, heated and ventilated seats that are power adjustable. A long seat track aids taller drivers in finding a comfortable seating position. The rear 60/40 split-folding rear seat has a center armrest with cup holders and is best suited for two adults. The flat load floor provides for extra cabin space and legroom. Rear storage features a large flat carpeted surface, made even larger when the rear seat is folded flat. An added bonus is a concealed storage compartment beneath the cargo floor where an optional sectioned storage tray keeps loose items secure and separated.

The center dash in our Niro Touring came with an eight-inch LCD touchscreen housing Kia’s UVO eServices infotainment system, which included navigation. The excellent Harman Kardon sound system, with eight speakers, plays AM/FM/CD/MP3/AUX along with Pandora, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Niro FE base model offers a long list of convenience features that drivers want. Move into either the LX, EX and Touring and no convenience is left off the table. Nice touches are the available wireless phone charger, 115V inverter, heated steering wheel, push button start/stop, power and heated folding exterior mirrors and a power sunroof.

Safety, Pricing and Warranties

With what Kia says is its “artfully intuitive technology,” the Niro comes with an extensive list of standard and optional safety features. Since some of the features are available on higher trim levels and through packages, we advise getting your car with as many advanced driver technology and safety features as possible. Features available on the Niro include seven airbags, a four-wheel power disc ABS braking system with brake assist, forward emergency braking and collision warning, stability control, smart cruise control, blind spot monitoring, park assist with front and rear sensors, vehicle stability management, traction control, hill launch assist, tire pressure monitoring system, engine immobilizer, lane departure warning and rear cross traffic alert.

The 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid comes in five trim levels. MSRP for each without options or the $895 destination fee:

  • FE $22,890

    2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

    Premium speakers are a nice touch

  • LX $23,200
  • EX $25,700
  • Touring Launch Edition $28,000
  • Touring $29,650

The 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid comes with these warranties:

  • Powertrain – 10 years/100,000 miles
  • Battery – 10 years/150,000 miles (CA, OR, WA, NY)
  • Battery – 10 years/100,000 miles (Remaining states)
  • Basic – Five years/60,000 miles
  • Roadside Assistance – Five years/Unlimited miles
  • Corrosion – 10 years/Unlimited miles

Observations: 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

Clean Fleet Report was invited to the recent US press launch of the 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid where we were impressed with this purpose built and designed hybrid small crossover. Over a short drive we felt it was at the top of high mileage vehicles that offer comfort, style, interior space and safety technology. Now, after having the Niro for more than a week and driving for several hundred miles, our impressions were reinforced and confirmed.

2017 Kia Niro Hybrid,gauges

The payoff shows up on the dash–50+ mpg

The Niro Hybrid compares favorably with the Toyota Prius V, which as a hybrid station wagon, offers a large interior and excellent fuel economy. Clean Fleet Report feels the Niro is a better overall car when the driving attributes, styling and fuel economy are considered. Another Toyota, the Prius Prime gets even better fuel economy than either the Niro or Prius V. The Niro will be offered as a PHEV starting in the Fall of 2017 with estimated fuel economy rivaling the Prius Prime. So, in other words, Kia is upping the ante and challenging the hybrid vehicle industry leader

The compact crossover segment is extremely competitive—and becoming more so every model year. The hybrid part of this segment only had one manufacturer in this space until 2016, but this year with the Niro, there are three. If you are interested in getting at or above 50 mpg in a well-built, attractively designed, comfortable-to-drive compact crossover, station wagon or whatever you want to call it, go check out the 2017 Kia Niro. We know you will not be disappointed.

Whatever you buy, Happy Driving!

Related Stories You Might Enjoy:

First Drive: 2017 Kia Nio Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Prius V

Road Test: 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Nissan Rogue Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class. We also feature those that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

First Drive: 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

First Drive: 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

Purpose Built Hybrid – Going Where No Crossover Has Gone Before

Full Road Test Review Coming Soon!

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word passé as (1) past one’s prime, and (2) outmoded or behind the times. Harsh to think that anyone or anything we have loved is considered to be fading into the sunset, but that is exactly what is happening to the venerable family sedan. The new kid on the block, which has been creeping up slowly over the past few years, is the crossover. Though they share similar underpinnings, the crossover has a taller ride height, more interior passenger and storage space and the option of all-wheel drive (AWD).

TThe 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

A hybrid built to take on Texas Hill Country

Kia asks you to eliminate the AWD trait from the list with its all-new front-wheel-drive-only 2017 Niro Hybrid. Clean Fleet Report was invited to the U.S. press launch of the Niro in San Antonio, Texas. We had the opportunity to meet Kia’s designers, planners, engineers and marketing team members that have been working on the Niro for the past several years. We also had the chance to drive the Niro on highways, country roads and city streets, in other words, exactly what you would be doing if you had a Niro.

This First Drive showed us that Kia has accomplished what they had set out to do more than five years ago: design from a blank sheet a purpose-built hybrid crossover. During our time traversing San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country we were impressed with the powertrain’s smooth operation. Torque for highway ramp sprints and passing 75+mph big rigs was easy and effortless, with acceleration better-than-adequate. The fun factor was built into the Niro, which showed up as an atypical hybrid drive experience.

The country and hilly terrain was easily matched with handling that was not top heavy and had low body roll or pushing (understeer) when cornering at speed. Others noted that the electric steering was tuned for good road feedback. Unlike some hybrids, the regenerative braking on the Niro required little pedal modulation and had excellent feel.

Design Philosophy: Design and Build a Dedicated Hybrid Crossover

One of the more fascinating aspects of the automobile industry is the art and science of long-range product planning. Get it right and the birds are singing and the air is sweet. Get it wrong and you may not have a job any more. Most new vehicles from the initial concept to finished product take about five years.

In the case of the Niro, Steve Kosowski, Long Range Strategy Manager at Kia, told Clean Fleet Report that the “origin of the Niro came from top management in Korea to create a dedicated hybrid”

The 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

From the rear–what do you say? SUV? Crossover? Station Wagon? Tall Sedan?

that would be sold worldwide. The need was driven by fuel economy, pollution regulations and targeted sales goals. Because this took place circa 2012, management wanted a wedge-shaped car similar to the Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Volt or Honda Insight (discontinued in 2014.) Each of these cars got exceptional fuel economy aided by being slippery going through the wind, but also were polarizing with a shape only a Green Bay Packer fan could appreciate fully.

However, the design team in the U.S. didn’t want to go this direction and pushed for a new hybrid concept that might compromise a bit of fuel economy with more of a crossover-type vehicle. This car would stand out from the existing hybrid offerings, making a statement that Kia was thinking differently from the pack.

Michael Torpey, Principle Exterior Designer for Kia, explained that the all-new Niro was designed from the start to be a hybrid, so don’t expect there to be a gas-only version showing up anytime soon. There will be a plug-in model coming in late 2017, which will make this car even more appealing. With a clean slate from which to start, Kia was able to position the batteries and fuel tank where the suspension could be designed for maximum handling and ride comfort. The goal was to create a vehicle that was stylish (which it is), has excellent sight lines for the driver with a taller stance (which it does) and delivers outstanding fuel economy through hybrid technology, while not looking anything at all like a hybrid car. On this last point they hit a home run.

Through focus groups in Texas and California, Kia learned that car buyers embraced the hybrid concept, but did not want to own what was currently on the market. Kia said it softly, but Clean Fleet Report will be a bit bolder. The newly redesigned Toyota Prius is not up to everyone’s liking, which has given people pause when pushing the buy button.

2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

Aggressive, but not threatening

Torpey went on to say that the Niro design was to be “aggressive, but not threatening,” and to “not look like a hybrid.” What strikes you immediately about the Niro design is how uncluttered it is, with sleek and curved surfaces contributing to a .29 drag coefficient (Cd). The Niro has a wide stance with a long wheelbase and short overhangs, placing the wheels at the far outside corners.

This is what makes the Kiro look so unlike a typical crossover, which are typically taller and boxier with sharper edges. The Niro has incorporated Kia’s signature tiger nose grill that runs edge-to-edge on the front end, leading to the swept back projection headlights (high-intensity headlights are an option), LED daytime running lights and fog lights in the bottom fascia. The side profile draws a nice line to the A pillars, leading to a gently sloping roof with rack rails, a shark fin antenna and an integrated black spoiler over the rear hatch window. The narrow horizontal LED taillights and smooth surfaced hatch finish off the attractive rear.

This would make it a hatchback, which it certainly isn’t, or maybe a station wagon. While Kia says the Niro is “a new kind of crossover” and may not like it being considered a station wagon, this is what Clean Fleet Report leans towards. The Niro is a high-stance, almost-crossover, or maybe a “cross-wagon”? Bottom line, it’s beautifully designed and gets up-to 52 mpg.

The All-new Hybrid Engine Design

The 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

Something special under the hood

The Niro carries an all-new and specifically engineered hybrid powertrain of a 1.6L gasoline engine and an AC synchronous permanent magnet motor, putting out a total of 139 horsepower and 195 pounds-feet of torque. Mated to a six-speed dual clutch transmission (DCT), the fuel economy is excellent. Kia toyed with the idea of the ever-more-popular continuously variable (CVT) transmission, but the low-end torque provided by their new engine design allowed them to eliminate the lowest gear, which saved cost, space and weight.

The hybrid system’s lithium-ion polymer (Li-Ion) battery is replenished through the regenerative charging system. This technology converts kinetic energy into electric energy and stores it in the battery when applying the brakes or coasting. This process can be viewed on a dash gauge, where you can watch the power flow into and out of the battery and electric motor.

There are three basic Niro models with the FE having an EPA fuel economy rating of 52 city/49 highway/50 combined. Opt for the higher optioned (i.e., heavier) models of LX and NX and the fuel economy numbers are 51/46/49. The wee bit lower numbers on the LX and NX are due to the larger wheels and tires and equipment that comes with each package. Regardless, this is the type of game-changing fuel economy that will make the Niro a hit with those who value leaving a lighter ecological footprint and really dislike stopping at gas stations.

Kia’s Design Philosophy: Interior

2017 Kia Niro Hybrid,interior

Welcome to Niro’s technology home

You quickly get a welcoming feeling when slipping into the Niro. Senior Interior Designer Brian Peterson delivered a spacious cabin with good sight lines, partially due to the 6.3-inch ground clearance. Sound deadening is very good with insulation and expanding foam placed throughout the vehicle’s structure, acoustic windshield glass, aerodynamically shaped exterior mirrors and even quieting technology designed into engine mounts, driveshafts and suspension bushings. All-in-all, it’s a quiet and comfortable place to spend time on longer road trips.

With an outlook on the road higher than a sedan, but not as high as a SUV —Kia crafted a comfortable compromise. The good seat support, including lumbar adjustment and a long seat track for taller drivers, helped in finding a comfortable seating position. The rear 60/40 split-folding rear seat has a center armrest with cup holders, and is best suited for two adults.

The center dash finds a seven- or eight—inch LCD touchscreen housing Kia’s UVO eServices infotainment system, which includes navigation. Depending on the trim level, an excellent Harman Kardon sound system with eight speakers is available for AM/FM/CD/MP3/AUX with Pandora, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Niro FE model offers a long list of convenience features that drivers want. Move into either the LX and NX and no convenience is left off the table.

Safety, Pricing and Warranties

An extensive list of standard safety features are available on the 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid, including seven airbags, four-wheel power disc ABS braking system, forward emergency braking, intelligent cruise control, blind spot monitoring, park assist with front and rear sensors, vehicle dynamic control, traction control, hill launch assist, tire pressure monitoring system, engine immobilizer, lane departure warning and rear cross traffic alert.

The 2017 Niro comes in five trim levels. MSRP for each without options or the $895 destination fee:

2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

A new hybrid shape

  • FE $22,890
  • LX $23,200
  • EX $25,700
  • Touring Launch Edition $28,000
  • Touring $29,650

The 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid comes with these warranties:

  • Powertrain – 10 years/100,000 miles
  • Battery – 10 years/150,000 miles (CA, OR, WA, NY, CT, DE, ME, MA, NJ, PA, RI, VT)
  • Battery – 10 years/100,000 miles (remaining states)
  • Basic – Five years/60,000 miles
  • Roadside Assistance – Five years/Unlimited miles
  • Corrosion – 10 years/Unlimited miles

Observations: 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

2017 Kia Niro Hybrid

The 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid-ready to roll

Clean Fleet Report will provide a more in-depth review after we have had the opportunity to get a few hundred miles of seat time in the 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid. Until then, this First Drive showed us that Kia has accomplished what they had set out to do more than five years ago: design from a blank sheet a purpose-built hybrid “crossover.”

The compact crossover segment is extremely competitive—and becoming more so every model year. The hybrid segment only had one manufacturer in this space a few short years ago (Lexus) and now there had better be a pretty good reason why a car company isn’t selling one. Toyota and Nissan have launched hybrid versions of their existing compact crossovers and more are expected from other manufacturers. But combining a hybrid and a unique compact crossover/station wagon/hatchback shoppers will notice was Kia’s goal. They met the challenge quite nicely.

The 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid is in dealerships now, so go take a test drive and see for yourself how it is possible to get at or above 50 mpg in a well-built, attractively designed, comfortable to drive compact crossover, station wagon or whatever you want to call it.

Whatever you buy, Happy Driving!

Related Stories You Might Enjoy:

Road Test: 2017 Nissan Rogue Hybrid

Road Test: 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

News: Kia Niro Hybrid: New Kid

News: Kia Niro Debuts in Windy City

Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class. We also feature those that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

News: 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid Bows at Windy City’s Auto Show

News: 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid Bows at Windy City’s Auto Show

Another “Big Green Statement” from Kia

2017 Kia Niro

Kia rolls out its first dedicated hybrid

It wouldn’t be the Chicago Auto Show without Kia kicking things off with a rock n’ roll band. This year, as teens from the School of Rock Oak Park belted out Rolling Stones tunes, Kia launched its compact 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid to an audience of sleepy-eyed automotive journalists still drinking coffee.

“We’re here to make a big green statement,” said Kia Motors America chief operating officer Michael Sprague, in reference to the Korean automaker’s aims to improve its fleet mpg by 25 percent over the next five years, going from four to 11 eco models by 2020.

But as the bright red Niro rolled onto the stage, the gathered media greeted the crossover hybrid vehicle with only slight enthusiasm as the exterior styling isn’t particularly sexy, racy or unusual, but looked pretty much like a smaller version of Kia’s Sportage SUV.

The 2017 Kia Niro will Kia’s first dedicated hybrid vehicle platform. It’s directly related to Hyundai’s Ioniq hybrid, which debuted at the Geneva Motor Show. Unlike most crossover utility vehicles (CUVs), Niro initially will be offered only with front-wheel drive and not all-wheel drive. However, we do expect, an AWD model in the future, likely based on the Kia Soul-based Trail’ster concept shown at last year’s Chicago Show.

Since it looks like a CUV, but operates like a hybrid vehicle, Kia refers to the Niro as HUV (hybrid utility vehicle). “The subcompact CUV market continues to be one of the fastest-growing segments in the world, and Niro offers a uniquely alluring yet practical package that consumers haven’t seen before,” said Orth Hedrick, Kia’s vice president-product planning.

Kia is targeting an EPA fuel economy rating of 50 mpg combined, an exceptional number for a vehicle with crossover looks and capabilities.

Design And Styling

Kia insists that the Niro’s design shares DNA with crossovers and SUVs, but there’s a lot of hatchback in the styling. And, while it’s a hybrid, it’s a vehicle the automaker says has an “Un-Hybrid”

2017,Kia,Niro,hybrid,tech

High-tech looks and content

look.

The 2017 Kia Niro is built on a 106.3-inch wheelbase, which is larger than the subcompact Kia Soul and shorter than the midsize Kia Sportage, but it’s the same as the all-new 2016 Toyota Prius Liftback. Does that make the Niro and Prius competitors?

Niro’s exterior design splits the lines between those of a crossover utility and a conventional hatchback wagon. It is a bit wider and lower than many subcompact CUVs, but a long roofline and short overhangs give an athletic profile.

Things are lead off by the now-familiar Kia signature grille that is flanked by aggressively shaped headlights. Design elements that verify its crossover credentials include muscular wheel arches, rocker cladding, roof rails and a rear skid plate.

Despite the crossover utility shape, Kia says carefully shaped bodywork contributes to a relatively slippery coefficient of drag of .29—low for any sport utility or crossover vehicle.

And Tech

Inside is a relatively uncluttered look with large clear instruments and black-and-white glossy trim that gives a slight high-tech feel. Seats provide a good view of the road and feature extra padding to reduce fatigue on long drives.

The 2017 Kia Niro will be offered with an extensive list of advanced technology systems, including:

  • blind spot detection
  • rear cross-traffic alert
  • lane-change assist
  • advanced smart cruise control
  • lane-departure warning
  • autonomous emergency braking.

The new hybrid will also feature what Kia calls Eco-DAS driver-assistance system. It’s the company’s first application of “Coasting Guide,” which tells the driver when to coast or brake to maximize efficiency. Predictive Energy Control uses the navigation system and cruise control to anticipate topographical changes on the road ahead and manage energy flow accordingly, determining when it’s best to recharge the battery or to expend stored energy. Kia says the technology is expected to yield as much as a three percent improvement in fuel economy.

As for information and entertainment, like other Kias the Niro will be equipped with the latest UVO3 infotainment system that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, all operated on a seven-inch touchscreen display.

Hybrid Drivetrain

2017, Kia Niro,hybrid,technology

Taking Kia down an electrified path

Ultimately, a hybrid vehicle will be defined by its powertrain, and on paper the Kia Niro’s appears to be a very good one. The task of engine motivation will be borne by an all-new “Kappa” Atkinson Cycle 1.6-liter direct injection four-cylinder rated at 103 horsepower. Kia says the engine is specifically engineered for hybrid vehicles.

Unlike many hybrids, the engine’s power is directed to the front wheels through a newly developed six-speed dual-clutch transmission, rather than a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). On the electric side, a transmission-mounted 43 horsepower electric motor device, called TMED, works with the gas engine to produce a combined output of 146 horsepower and 195 pounds-feet of torque.

Bringing the whole system together is a compact, lightweight 1.6-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery located under the rear seat. The battery sends energy to the motor to power the Niro—whether by itself or in combination with the engine—as well as storing otherwise wasted energy captured through regenerative braking.

The powertrain isn’t the only clever engineering that will help reduce fuel bills. The Niro was built using 53 percent high-strength steel along with extensive use of aluminum, including an aluminum hood, tailgate, front control arms and front and rear knuckles.

The hybrid specific-platform also allows Kia to follow up with a plug-in hybrid version of the Niro. The 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid is expected to arrive at the end of 2016, followed by the plug-in hybrid model in the first half of next year.