Review of: 2017 Kia Niro FWD 4dr SX Touring
2017 Kia Niro: Crossover convenience with hybrid propulsion
By Jil McIntosh
May. 24, 2017
Although they still make up only a tiny slice of the automotive pie, hybrids are very much on the radar with several automakers. Kia now adds a newly-minted one, the 2017 Niro.
Although they’re run as rivals, Kia and Hyundai are sibling companies that share their engineering, and in this case, the Niro’s chassis and driveline also underpin the equally new Hyundai Ioniq. But unlike the Hyundai hatchback, the Niro is styled as a crossover. And while the Ioniq also comes as an all-electric model, the Niro is strictly offered as a hybrid, no doubt since Kia already has the Soul EV for electric-only fans. Both the Ioniq and Niro will eventually add plug-in versions as well.
The Niro comes in four trim levels, starting with the L trim at $24,995, and running through the EX at $27,495 and EX Premium at $29,095. My ride was the top-level SX Touring, which started at $32,995 before a $200 coat of extra-charge blue paint, bringing mine to $33,195 before freight and taxes.
Pros & Cons
- + Space efficiency
- + Automatic transmission
- + Warranty coverage
- - Not big on driver involvement
- - Navigation only available in top-end model
- - Off-the-line responsiveness
The Niro is a good-looking vehicle, bearing some resemblance to the company’s conventionally-powered (and aging) Rondo crossover. My top-line trim swapped out the lower-levels’ 16-inch wheels for handsome 18-inch rims, and while all have LED daytime running lights, the SX includes high-intensity xenon headlamps. LED tail lamps are included on the EX and up, as are roof rails. A power sunroof comes on the EX Premium and SX trims.
Despite the low-slung look suggested by the chrome window trim, the Niro has a fairly straight roofline front to back, which gives it decent headroom in the rear seats, as well as good visibility all around.
The Niro’s roomy for its compact footprint, both in the front and rear, along with an impressive cargo area that lengthens with the flat-folding rear seats. The cargo floor also lifts to reveal a hidden compartment.
There are wide swatches of plastic, but there are plenty of soft-touch surfaces, and the design is clean and handsome. The controls are laid out similarly to Kia’s other vehicles—there’s no offbeat “Hey I’m a hybrid!” look here—and are straightforward and easy to use. That said, a button lets you adjust the climate control for the driver’s side alone, to save battery power when there isn’t anyone in the passenger seat.
Even the base level comes with heated seats and a heated steering wheel, which is also consistent with Kia’s philosophy of packing in a lot of items for the price. That might sound strange on a car that propels itself with battery power, at least part of the time, but when your hands and butt are warm, you tend to turn down the climate control fan. The top-line SX Touring includes heated and ventilated leather seats, heated rear seats, driver’s seat memory, 110-volt outlet, and alloy pedals.
The L and EX come with a seven-inch touchscreen audio system that includes satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The SX Touring upgrades to an eight-inch multimedia system that includes an easy-to-use navigation system and a Harman/Kardon premium audio system.
This being a hybrid, the centre screen can bring up a display that shows the power flow (if it’s running on gasoline, battery, or both), fuel economy, and a tree that “grows” sets of leaves when you drive more efficiently. I used to think these incentive systems were silly and childish, until I started driving vehicles that had them. They really do work, and I found myself trying hard to get as much greenery on the screen as possible.
All trim levels get a rearview camera, and the EX Premium adds blind spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert, and rear parking sensors. Tthe top-line trim gets the remainder of the available electronic safety nannies, including adaptive cruise control, front parking sensors, lane departure warning, and forward collision braking intervention.
The Niro uses a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine that makes 104 horsepower and 108 lb.-ft. of torque on its own, and 139 hp/195 torque when combined with the electric motor. While most hybrids use a CVT, the Niro comes with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, giving it more of a conventional driving feel.
As with other hybrids, the Niro automatically switches between gasoline, electricity, and a combination of the two, depending on what’s best at the time. If your foot is light enough, it will cruise at highway speeds on electricity alone.
The switch is seamless, and the engine is so quiet that, at times, I had to check the display to see if it was running. But while the hybrid system works well, there’s not much in the way of driving excitement. Acceleration is tepid in regular mode, and about what you’d expect for the average small-engine crossover in sport mode.
The system also has an extremely annoying—and possibly hazardous—habit of taking time to get its act in motion under certain conditions, such as when you’re backing out of a driveway. On several occasions when backing up, I put it in Drive, hit the throttle, and…nothing. It was only a split second before the Niro responded and started moving forward, but it didn’t do a lot for my confidence, and I compensated by waiting much longer for traffic that would normally have been far enough away for me to make my move.
Handling is about mid-pack for the segment: you won’t be actively searching for switchbacks, but the steering is accurate and with enough feedback to know what’s under the tires. The brake pedal is smooth and feels more conventional than hybrid, and the ride is nicely dampened and comfortable.
The official figures are 5.1 L/100 km in the city and 5.8 on the highway. I spent a fair amount of time on the highways during my week with it, and so I averaged 5.9 L/100 km. That’s a decent figure for a roomy crossover, but I wonder if that will be enough to win over a large market share in a segment where Canadian buyers tend to like their utility-style vehicles with all-wheel drive, which the Niro doesn’t offer.
Compared to its rivals, the Niro shows decent value, with its price range of $24,995 to $32,995. That said, there actually isn’t a lot of competition, as this hybrid-crossover segment is still a very slim one.
The Toyota Prius V, the wagon version of the Prius hatchback, is pricier at both ends, starting at $28,990 and going up to $34,975. Meanwhile, Ford’s C-Max also has a higher initial cost, starting at $26,578, but its top-end Titanium is lower at $31,208. That top price beefs up to $33,553 if you add an optional sunroof, but it’s a panoramic version, rather than the Niro’s smaller pane, and for those who managed to get a driver’s license without having mastered a full skill set, the Ford can park itself.
From their earliest days as automotive oddities, hybrids are now basically viewed as fuel-efficient conventional vehicles. The Niro is a bit sluggish, but it offers a comfortable ride, roomy interior, and a bucket load of features, combined with that hybrid performance at the pumps. And with that crossover size and styling that’s currently so popular with Canadians, I suspect that in comparison to its Hyundai Ioniq hatchback cousin, it’s the version of the two that’s going to come out on top.