2017 Kia Niro Review

I’m not much of a gambling man, but if I were, I’d have to think the 2017 Kia Niro is a pretty safe bet.

With a seemingly limitless ceiling on how many crossovers the market can bear, it’s all but guaranteed to sell based on body style alone. Add in fuel consumption that’s almost on par with the Toyota Prius, and the Niro has an appeal that’s all its own.

As the first dedicated hybrid crossover on the market, the Niro occupies a unique space that’s only barely been tapped by the likes of the hybrid versions of both the Toyota RAV4 and the U.S.-exclusive Nissan Rogue. But unlike both of those, which burn only slightly less fuel than their purely gas-powered siblings, the Niro has what it takes to do battle with the Prius sedan at the pumps with the added bonus of the space of a compact crossover.

Starting From Scratch

Hybrid crossovers, even front-wheel-drive ones, aren’t exactly fuel efficient, and that’s because they’re big, tall and heavy. That’s why the 2017 Kia Niro takes that trio of previously prerequisite conditions and tosses them right out the window.

Unlike both gas-electric versions of the RAV4 and Rogue, the Niro is built on a platform that was developed specifically for hybrid applications. Those underpinnings, which are shared with the upcoming Hyundai Ioniq, allow the Niro to be more slight and squat than a traditional crossover. That means the Niro is hunkered down like a car, riding low to the ground in a bid to improve efficiency.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Nissan Rogue Hybrid Review

Also helping on the efficiency front is the Niro’s powertrain, which, like its platform, is shared with its sister Ioniq sedan that’s soon to hit the market. It combines a 1.6-liter gas engine with a small electric motor that works with a rear-mounted battery pack to add electrons to the drive, while power is transferred to the pavement through a six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission.

And this is where the Niro’s only major concession comes into play. Because unlike both of the Rogue and RAV4 hybrid models, it’s only available with front-wheel drive. While leaving all-wheel-drive off the option sheet surely helps the Niro achieve its impressive fuel economy numbers — combined ratings range from 43 mpg (5.5 L/100 km) to 50 mpg (4.7 L/100 km) depending on trim — and shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, it will surely steer some buyers away.

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Maximizing Space

Doing without all-wheel drive and its perceived peace of mind does, however, have an additional benefit. Without it, engineers were able to mount the Niro’s lithium-ion battery pack beneath the rear seats. While most hybrids have their beefy battery packs mounted in the cargo area, doing so cuts into available cargo space. Situating the Niro’s battery where it is does nothing to impact the space behind the rear seats. Cargo room sits at a reasonable 19.4 cu-ft (549 liters) with the second row of seats upright as a result, and 54.5 cu-ft (1,543 liters) with them folded. Making the most out of the available space, the Niro’s tailgate opening is nice and wide, while its rear wheel wells barely cut into cargo volume thanks to cleverly packaged rear suspension.

ALSO SEE: Midsize Three-Row Crossover Comparison Test

Compared to the larger Kia Sportage, to which the Niro, at 171.5 inches (4,356 millimeters) from bumper-to-bumper, gives up about five inches (127 mm), that cargo capacity seems less than stellar. But with a wheelbase that stretches longer than the Sportage’s, at 106.3 inches (2,700 mm), passenger volume is nearly on par with its larger stablemate.

With 40.1 inches (1,019 mm) of headroom up front and 39.1 inches (993 mm) in the back, there’s plenty of space to accommodate adults in either row. Likewise, 37.4 inches (950 mm) of legroom and 55.2 inches (1,402 mm) of shoulder room in the back means there’s enough space for children and adults alike to get comfortable, while the rear doors swing open widely to make accessing the second row as painless as possible.

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Well-Appointed Interior

The Niro’s cabin isn’t just spacious, but it’s also pretty easy on the eyes. The layout is simple and clean, and is reminiscent of the rest of Kia’s current crop of cars and crossovers. It features buttons that are easy to see and use, spelling out in plain terms exactly the purpose they serve. The same goes for the touchscreen infotainment system, which runs Kia’s UVO interface and continues to be one of the easiest to use on the market.

Most models of the Niro make do with a seven-inch screen, while top grade models get a larger eight-inch unit that features native navigation. Regardless of screen size, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone interfacing is standard and allows devices to be run through the infotainment system to access maps and messaging, as well as certain other apps, on the road with less distraction. Drivers also benefit from a bright 4.2-inch display in the gauge cluster, as well as a unique gauge that displays efficiency-related info including estimated remaining driving range.

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Efficient Drive

Get behind the wheel of the Niro, and the entire package comes together tremendously well. Not much noise emanates from under the hood even with the gas engine running, while switching between fuel sources on the fly occurs without much fuss. It’s almost Prius-like in its execution, with the added bonus of a true geared transmission as opposed to an electric drive unit or continuously variable automatic.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime Review

Power is delivered smoothly, with a combined system output of 139 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque to work with, and the Niro accelerates seamlessly from both a standing start or in a passing situation. Don’t expect blistering performance here, but don’t expect the Niro to fall flat on its face either. The powertrain occasionally left a desire for a little more giddyup on the highway, but the transmission’s sport mode certainly helps lift the Niro’s spirits and provide the extra push needed to pass slower traffic. When it comes time to slow Niro, the regenerative brakes don’t feel like, well, regenerative brakes, and simply make the crossover feel slightly heavier than it is.

The chassis does ride a little on the rigid side and doesn’t provide much flex, but the overall dynamics more closely resemble those of a car and not a crossover — and that’s a good thing. The suspension setup — independent at all four corners, including four links around back — impresses with its ability to smooth rough roads, while body roll is almost non-existent despite the somewhat numb and disconnected steering feel. The only real complaint from the cabin is the road noise that makes its way inside, which can be slightly excessive at times.

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The Verdict: 2017 Kia Niro Review

When it comes to being both a crossover and a hybrid, the 2017 Kia Niro finds itself with few rivals. That list shrinks even further when you factor in its price. Base models start at just $22,890 ($24,995 in Canada), strategically undercutting the Toyota Prius by a hefty margin. Overall, it’s an impressive offering that executes Kia’s bang-for-your-buck strategy to near perfection. Add in its outstanding fuel economy, and the Niro looks like a pretty safe bet.

  • Jonny_Vancouver

    As the first dedicated hybrid crossover on the market, I expected more. So it only has FWD and it rides low like a car, what advantage does it have over the Prius? Can it even be called a Crossover if it doesn’t have an AWD option? I see too many compromises in this thing. Time will tell, but I wouldn’t bet on this thing lasting too long on the market. it offers nothing that makes it stand out besides it’s price. Honestly, they could have done more with what they had. How about a 1.0L 3 cyl that powers 2 electric motors, front and rear with AWD? That would offer better fuel economy and more power. Maybe that would raise the price point a bit too, but consumers have already proven that we’d pay more for hybrids, options and uniqueness. Compromises suck when it comes to cars. I say build with a specific purpose in mind, and let the people decide what they need instead of trying to check off all the boxes in one car. Otherwise what’s the point of offering so many “different models”?

  • kprenesti

    Personally, I think this model is awesome, and I plan on getting it as my next car. Before, I had been wavering between the Honda Fit and Honda HRV, but the Fit was too small and the HRV was too high, too big, for me. Plus, neither of the Hondas come with the option of Autonomous Braking or lane departure warnings. The closest it comes is having the right lane change camera, which I found to be annoying at best. This Niro is not only the perfect size for me and two Golden Retrievers, it also soundly beats both Hondas in fuel efficiency. And I won’t say no to a 10 year warranty either! As for Kia (or Hyundai’s) other offerings, the Soul is ugly and too high with too much body roll, the Tucson too big, and the Elantra GT too expensive for the features it offered. (Yes, I know the Niro is comparably priced, but it gets so much extra for the dollars!)

  • Fred Silva

    The Niro technically is not a real crossover but considering how good Kia has become, the Niro will sell well. I am looking forward to test driving one and if it’s as good as the reviews are saying, maybe even purchasing.

  • Pesobill

    The Kia Niro looks like it will be a very attractive choice for city driving and for those wanting a nice sized commuter car with amazing mileage . The styling looks much better than the Prius and the hatchback design looks practical . When I saw a guy 6’2 and comfortable in the back seat I was impressed …Well done Kia , I look forward to driving it .

  • Mel Profit

    I live in the middle east where this model is already out. I bought one a couple of months ago and so far so good.

  • jammamon

    This one deserves to become a best-seller.

  • Jonny_Vancouver

    The Melissa McCarthy of CUV’s. enough said.

  • Andy

    What’s not to love. Prius efficiency but CUV ride height, less expensive, and not vomit inducing to look at.

  • James Polk

    Compelling offering from Kia. Well done.

  • John Thornton

    I am excited about the Niro. However, I sure hope the Niro has soft seats with a NICE fabric. I am SO SICK OF LEATHER!!!!! Crappy leather seats ruin an interior. And the rough cloth seats are not much better on so many new cars. Kio Rios have decent soft cloth seats, but only on the lower end models. Why the leather fetish? Come on! Give us soft and comfortable cloth seats!

  • k ma

    How come my local dealer has the MSRP of the Niro FE base model at $24.060 when it should be $22,890?

  • k ma

    The Niro models I saw the specs for online are both grey cloth or charcoal cloth for the FE base model. I’m guessing the top of the line Touring models may have leather as standard.

  • k ma

    1) Can you choose to drive strictly on the electric motor or is it regulated by the speed you are driving when the gas engine turns on?

    2) Regarding the regenerative braking, if you are a hyper miler like I am and rarely use the brakes until coming to a complete stop (I have mastered the art of coasting) will the act of coasting have any positive effect on recharging the battery or just not draining the battery? Basically I am asking if hyper mileing in the Niro is wasted since you get more bang for the buck by just braking normally?

  • Matt Flannery

    coasting will do nothing to recharge, but you won’t use any either

  • Matt Flannery

    shady dealer?

  • Matt Flannery

    not for me, I have no idea what that means, so more said is needed

  • Matt Flannery

    no one needs AWD. Maybe in the winter states for like 2-3 days total. FWD with traction and good tires is 99% as good, without the added complexity, weight, or expense

  • Malik

    Canadian base model of Niro costs around $24K. $22K is US base model.

  • k ma

    I know. I’m in the US (Florida) and the dealers base price is $24,060 which is shady when it should be MSRP or LOWER.

  • Speedygonzales

    Well said Matt! It amazes me how people are so fixated on having AWD. Let’s carry extra weight and complexity in my daily driver for 10-20 days out of 365 that it might snow so I can have a false sense of security. Using this logic, I think it’s best that these people carry around a gym bag with their snow suit all year in case it snows at some point all year. This car is designed for fuel efficiency and keeping weight down along with parasitic loss from the drive train should be the highest of priorities.

  • bd

    The Niro is just as much of a “crossover” as a FWD RAV-4, CR-V, NX, MDX, etc.

    As for “compromises,” adding AWD at this point would have compromised fuel efficiency (which is the main point of a hybrid), as well as the EV range for the forthcoming PHEV and EV variants, and added considerably to the price-tag.

    Kia is supposedly working on a solution to adding AWD for the next gen Niro that doesn’t compromise fuel efficiency/EV range and pricing as much.

  • Jonny_Vancouver

    Sooo why not just buy a Prius …?

  • Wanta Kia

    I am looking for a Niro LX with the LX tech package which you can “build” on the KIA site but there are no vehicles like that in my Florida area. Moving up to the EX with tech adds several thousand. Contacted KIA via chat and they said they would get back to me…..

    I would love the air conditioned seats on the Touring but I don’t need all the other options.

  • k ma

    The looks that’s why.