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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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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First Drive: 2017 Kia Niro
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Road Test: 2016 Kia Soul EV
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