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.

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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:

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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.