2017 Kia Niro: New compact SUV redefines hybrid

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The 2017 Kia Niro is new in the South Korean manufacturer’s lineup. It’s a sub-compact hybrid utility vehicle that looks more like a handsome, streamlined wagon. And it performs well enough to earn the loose translation of its name — strength.

Unveiled at the 2016 Chicago Auto Show, the Kia Niro uses a 1.6-liter hybrid-electric powertrain with 139 horsepower. It’s built with lightweight metals which help most trims achieve the SUV’s superior gas mileage estimates: 46 miles per gallon in city driving, 40 miles per gallon on the freeway. Accessories lights are all operated via the hybrid engine. There’s no traditional battery.

The 2017 Kia Rio re-defines SUV hybrid.
The 2017 Kia Rio re-defines SUV hybrid. Image courtesy of Kia.

Positioned in the Kia line-up below the Kia Sportage, the Niro’s strength isn’t so much performance-oriented as it is efficiency and attractiveness. It’s also the manufacturer’s belief in its marketing of the Niro as an “un-hybrid.”

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It’s a growing trend in the industry. Hybrids still comprise a too-small percentage of the market. One reason: Until recently, hybrid vehicles’ early model appearances were best suited for futuristic-looking vehicles in science fiction films. The Niro further re-defines the segment’s new ways.

The 2017 Kia Niro is available in five trims, including my test vehicle, the Touring. The base model FE is also joined by the LX, EX and the limited-edition Touring Launch. A plug-in hybrid is pending. All trims feature a dual-clutch, six-speed transmission. If shopping primarily for fuel efficiency, the base model FE is the lightest, void of many features but achieves 50 miles per gallon.

The Tour Edition includes all of the lengthy list of EX trim standard and optional features including some surprising considering the moderate price point, about $30,000.

A blind-spot monitoring system, combined cloth and leather upholstery, heated front seats, rear air-conditioning vents, an additional USB charger and power-folding and heat side mirrors are all in the mix.

The optional features on the EX model, a sunroof, LED interior lights, a power driver seat and additional active safety systems such as lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control are standard on the Touring trim.

But Touring trim has its own specifics: 18-inch wheels, front and rear parking sensors, a glossy black front grille trim, sunroof, driver-seat memory settings, ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel.

The eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system has navigation, HD and satellite radio and an eight-speaker Harman Kardon sound system. Door scuff plates and LED interior lights are also on the impressive features list for the Touring trim as are xenon headlights, a 110-volt outlet and a wireless phone charger.

Like many hybrids, the Kia Niro has a noticeable engine lag. But it doesn’t deter from the overall performance. Albeit delayed, the new Kia offers a stable, confident drive. Its handling is without issue. While far removed from luxurious, seating is comfortable for four. Slight road noise is present at freeway speeds.

Some SUV competitors have more overall cargo space, but Kia also avoids another issue with many hybrids. Instead of positioning the hybrid engine behind the back seat and limiting trunk space, the Niro battery pack is below the back seat.

Likes:

The price is right.
Impressive fuel economy.
Batteries are positioned under the rear seat. Cargo space not compromised.

Dislikes:

Slight engine lag.
All-wheel drive not available.

Facts & Figures: 2017 Kia Niro

Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 11.4 seconds.
Airbags: 6
Fuel economy: 46 mpg (city), 40 mpg (highway), 43 mpg (combined), six-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Horsepower: 139.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $29,650.00
Manufacturer’s Website: www.kia.com.
Price As Tested: $30,545.00.
Warranty: Bumper-to-Bumper, 5 years/60,000 miles; Powertrain, 10 years/100,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/ 100,000 miles; Roadside Assistance, 5 years/60,000 miles.

What Others Say:

“The 2017 Kia Niro is not only affordable, versatile, and practical; it is also one of the most efficient hybrids available in today’s marketplace.” — Motor Matters.

The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:

“The 2017 Kia Niro is a smart choice for a versatile compact SUV. It sips fuel. It’s attractive. And it’s not-so-much an “un-hybrid,” but the welcomed new and evolving definition of hybrid.”

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