By on March 22, 2017

2017 Kia Niro EX front quarter

2017 Kia Niro Hybrid EX

1.6-liter Atkinson-cycle-style I4, GDI, DOHC (104 hp @ 5,700 rpm; 109 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm)

AC Synchronous Permanent Magnet Motor (43 hp; 125 lb-ft)

Hybrid system net output: 139 hp, 195 lb-ft

Six-speed dry dual-clutch automatic, front-wheel drive

51 city / 46 highway / 49 combined (EPA Rating, MPG, EX trim)

43.4 (Observed, MPG)

Base Price (EX): $26,595

As Tested: $28,895

Prices include $895 destination charge.

Is it or isn’t it? A crossover, I mean. That’s been the discussion over the 2017 Kia Niro ever since it bowed. No one seems to care whether the all-new hybrid functions as it should. Instead, the argument revolves around dimensions, and everyone knows that no one wins when someone whips out a ruler.

A couple of weeks ago, Corey took one glance at a photo I shared with the TTAC staff comparing the Niro to my mother’s 2014 Corolla. The photo showed the rather insignificant difference in overall height between the two compact vehicles, and fueled the argument that the Kia Niro is not a crossover.

I’m struggling to disagree.

But does it matter? While some pedants will dismiss the new hybrid from Kia since it apes the “hardcore” compact crossovers while eschewing all-wheel drive and real ground clearance, I’m of the mind that Kia has built a serious Prius fighter for those who don’t want the funky, “look-at-me-I’m-driving-a-hybrid!” styling.

2017 Kia Niro EX profile

If we must, let’s refer to the important dimensions. The Niro is 2.7 inches taller than the Prius (60.8 versus 58.1 inches), with an identical 106.3 inch wheelbase. Ground clearance is 6.3 inches for the Niro, compared to 5.1 for the iconic Toyota hybrid. Doesn’t sound like much — but really, do you get much more from the traditional compact crossover? The Toyota RAV-4 has but 6.1 inches of clearance. Similar-sized crossovers, like the Rogue, CR-V, Escape, and Forester sport greater figures at 7.8 inches for the Nissan, Honda, and Ford up to a surprising 8.7 inches of clearance for the Subaru. 2.4 inches of total clearance difference isn’t all that significant.

2017 Kia Niro EX rear quarter

Surprisingly, the Prius does give more cargo area than the Niro, with at least 24.6 cubic feet (depending on trim level) of luggage space in the rear compared to the Kia’s 19.4 cubes. The oddly shaped hatch for the Toyota does lead to struggles for oddly shaped cargo, while the tall crossover-like cargo area in the Kia will be more useful for drivers who haul their dogs around. I can’t speak too intelligently about this, however, as I have cats — three kitties who absolutely despise car rides — and I’m allergic to dogs, so I don’t know why people must take their dogs everywhere. Can’t they stay home for a few hours? But I’m ignorant about canines, so perhaps this hybrid’s traditional hatchback will be a boon for those wishing to save the earth while spreading dog crap all over it.

2017 Kia Niro EX front

Kia continues to go back to the Tiger Nose well, and it still feels fresh on the new Niro. While the wraparound headlamps do remind of the Sportage, there is a distinct difference to both the lower valance and crescent-shaped contours on the hood, which give something of a power-bulge effect. The black plastic cladding that lines the lowest inches of the bodywork does visually raise the body, lending an appearance of ruggedness that isn’t too distracting. The roof rails add another inch or so to the height. Those rails are indeed functional, as Kia has several accessory options to fit cargo boxes, bicycles, skis, kayaks, or other stuff that youthful, active crossover drivers might want to carry.

2017 Kia Niro EX rear

I’m not certain cladding and roof rails will convince every shopper of the Niro’s crossover status, however. Fundamentally, it’s a slightly taller take on a five-door hatchback or small wagon. A friend who owns a new Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen noted similarities. My beloved, a country girl from rural southern Ohio for whom an ideal vehicle is a lifted full-size pickup, was thrilled at the idea of a properly efficient hybrid SUV when she heard about the Niro, only to find disappointment at the obvious passenger-car roots and relatively low ride height when the car appeared in the driveway. She warmed to it over the week, but she’s not completely sold on a Niro as a replacement for her body-on-frame SUV.

The interior of the Niro truly shines. Kia has done a spectacular job of building high quality, easy-to-use interiors recently, and the Niro is no exception. The cloth-and-leather seating in my tester’s mid-level EX trim were some of the best seats I’ve sampled in any car. While the leather itself wasn’t quite as supple as some luxury models, it’s certainly in line with what you’d expect from this price range.

2017 Kia Niro EX seats

What surprised me was the second-row comfort. My standard test of rear seat room is simply to sit behind myself — adjust the driver’s seat for my 6’4” frame, and then squeeze myself into the second row. The front seats have enough travel that even I can’t reach the pedals comfortably at full extension. So when I found my ideal front seat position, I hopped into the back and found my knees didn’t even brush the seat back. During my time with the Niro, we had a long freeway drive to a funeral, and my wife decided to share the back seat with both of my kids (10 and 8). Three abreast, and all three were comfortable enough to doze off quickly for the two-hour drive, leaving daddy time to drive in peace.

2017 Kia Niro EX infotainment

That drive was made even more pleasant by Kia’s stellar UVO infotainment system, which is one of the best I’ve ever used. Other automakers need to study UVO and Chrysler’s Uconnect, because they lead the market in ease of use by a significant margin. The six-speaker audio system in the EX trim is sufficient for me, but audiophiles may prefer the eight-speaker Harman/Kardon setup in the Touring and Launch Edition models. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard in every Niro, including the base FE trim, so streaming audio and navigation are available to even budget buyers.

2017 Kia Niro EX dash

There’s been much discussion about Kia’s decision to not offer all-wheel drive in this purported crossover. Again, I’m thinking this is more of a proper hybrid like the Prius, for which the advantages of additional traction are significantly outweighed by the dual fuel economy penalties inflicted by additional weight and driveline drag. This unusually dry Ohio winter left me unable to test snow traction in the Niro, but I was able to easily scale my inlaws’ steep gravel driveway, which has bested the wife’s 4WD Trailblazer on more than one occasion.

The Niro’s dual-clutch automatic transmission is an unusual choice for a hybrid, as nearly all others employ a CVT to balance the drivetrain. I found the transmission shifted beautifully in most situations, eliminating the rubber-banding and droning sounds typically found in CVT-equipped counterparts. The brakes felt much better than in the Prius I’m driving now; the transition between regenerative braking and traditional friction braking isn’t nearly as harsh in the Niro.

2017 Kia Niro EX gauges

The transmission did give me two hiccups in my week, however. One particularly cold evening, the transmission was hesitant to shift from first to second gear when rolling away from a light. It reminded me of an old MGB I once drove with tired synchros as there was a significant pause before the second gear engaged with a lurch and a moderate clunk. It only happened twice. The rest of the week — with temperatures over 20°F — was uneventful.

Fuel economy, as monitored through the display between the gauges, was quite good, though I couldn’t quite meet the EPA combined estimate of 49 miles per gallon. I’ve a heavy right foot, but 43.4 mpg over my week was still excellent considering the comfort afforded by the roomy hatchback.

We’ve been shopping for a replacement for my wife’s Trailblazer for some time. With fuel economy in the low teens and frequent odd repairs causing me grief, it’s clear the Chevy needs to go at some point. If the choice were solely up to me, the Kia Niro would be near the top of the list. I’d likely choose this EX trim with the Sunroof and Advanced Technology Package (sunroof, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure, smart cruise, and power driver’s seat), but in the lovely Rich Espresso finish. For $28,895 delivered, it’s a bargain considering the efficiency and comfort.

But it’s not up to me. She wants something that rides high and can haul anything, even though we have a minivan for the hauling. Until someone builds a 35 mpg full-size pickup, or I convince her that this Kia Niro will do everything she needs, we’ll continue to shop.

[Images © 2017 Chris Tonn]

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39 Comments on “2017 Kia Niro EX Review – Don’t Call It a Hatchback...”


  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Chris,
    Thanks between this review, its configuration and the great experience that we have had with our Kia this goes into the top 3 contenders for our next vehicle.

    However, I would appreciate a little more information on its hybrid system. How does it operate. What is its ‘lifetime expectancy’, etc?

  • avatar
    threeer

    A hatchback by any other name…

    Kia should do rather well with this, I think. Folks will gush that their CUV gets such wonderful MPGs…squeeeee! (just don’t tell them that it’s a really, really nice hatchback).

  • avatar
    probert

    “Fundamentally, it’s a slightly taller take on a five-door hatchback or small wagon” Fundamentally this is the definition of a CUV – why the hand wringing?

    The inclusion of a DCT would seem to merit more discussion on a car website. It is not a CVT with less droning, it’s a whole other animal, and a very interesting feature on such an inexpensive car.

    Funeral/car testing – got to admire the multi tasking!

  • avatar
    JMII

    43 MPG from a CUV looking thing? At reasonable Kia pricing? This thing should be instant hit. Adding an AWD option on next years model would be a smart move.

  • avatar
    Adam Tonge

    “2017 Kia Niro EX Review – Don’t Call It a Hatchback”

    *TRIGGERED*

  • avatar
    npaladin2000

    Hatchback

    Hatchback

    Hatchback

    Hatchback

    Hatchback

    It’s a frigging hatchback.

    It ain’t taller than my Mazda3, it’s a hatchback.

    Finally, HATCHBACK!!!

  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    “which has bested the wife’s 4WD Trailblazer on more than one occasion.”

    You and I both know your Trailblazer has not had functioning 4WD for some time!

  • avatar
    kvndoom

    It has black cladding on the wheel wells.

    Therefore, it is a crossover. The end.

    Didn’t we just clarify this last week?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I don’t care what it’s called, and I don’t need AWD. It’s supposed to compete with the (now ugly) Prius and former Prius v.

    The interior space utilization is outstanding. At 6’6″, I can sit behind myself in this car.

    I want one.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I saw one on the road last October, wearing Michigan manufacturer plates. It’s a hatchback.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    Reactions:

    •Having over 25% less ground clearance than the Escape certainly is a “significant” difference (even though, for typical drivers like me who never go off-road, the Niro is on the positive side of that difference).

    •The front and rear seat room in this car is indeed terrific. I’m 6’2″ and had no problem sitting behind myself. Just as nice, the controls and interior materials quality truly are up to mainstream car standards, which you can’t say of any Prius.

    •Mechanically, the Niro is the same as the Hyundai Ioniq, the Prius knockoff that’s about to come Stateside. To answer the question about the expected reliability of the hybrid bits, the DCT is the reason the Korean hybrids perform more alertly than Prii, but it’s also the same unit that’s caused some reliability problems in other Hyundais. Don’t expect these cars to be Prius-level unbreakable.

    •Unlike the Prius, at least you can see out the back window of this thing.

    • 0 avatar
      BlueEr03

      “To answer the question about the expected reliability of the hybrid bits, the DCT is the reason the Korean hybrids perform more alertly than Prii, but it’s also the same unit that’s caused some reliability problems in other Hyundais.”

      I believe this is a brand new DCT. If I remember correctly, the one currently used in the Tuscon and Veloster is a 7 speed unit, where as this is only 6. While I am sure they used their previous version as the base, these cars are the first application of their 6 speed Dual-clutch.

  • avatar
    HahnZahn

    The “crossover” is a weird, almost meaningless category to begin with, and the Niro is even more difficult to place based on size/height. I encountered one on the highway about a week ago, and I swear it was really no bigger or higher than my 2017 Impreza. I mean, the Impreza probably ticks as many boxes on the crossover checklist as the Niro – hatchback, AWD, roof rails… Two inches higher, and the Impreza becomes the Crosstrek, which is firmly in CUV territory.

    That aside, the Niro/Ioniq was high on my list of possible replacements for my TDI, but the Impreza had more of the amenities I wanted at a better price. But looking forward to seeing how this car does over the years. I’d buy a Niro over a Prius based simply on better looks than the horrid new Prius.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      As a former TDI owner, I feel your pain. You might want to check out a Ford C-Max Hybrid. It’s an unsung model near the end of its production, but after I took a test drive and some online research, I changed the way I ‘d been thinking about hybrids. Last week, I helped by daughter buy a used C-Max as her first car. It might not be the last one in the family fleet. My wife loved it. And while the glass cockpit and busy interior styling clashes mightily with my taste for VW’s minimalist, retro-Bauhaus interiors, that’s about my only complaint.

      How many folks know that the C-Max has a 0-60 time of right seconds? And 188 combined HP? I didn’t. Or that it’s a thoroughly European car, with a taut suspension and relatively wide tires? Or that the interior cargo volume is identical to a Tiguan’s? Now we all know that, but Ford’s not telling us. It’s moved on, leaving new C-Maxs scarce on the dealer lots. Used cars are a bargain, though. Our 2014, slightly marred by the unloved My Ford Touch sync system and showing 42,000 miles, sold for $14,000, losing about $20,000 off the purchase price.

      And the fuel mileage? Better than my other car. Probably better than your car, too. I never saw less than 40 mpg indicated on my trips, and I’ll leave the Prius sufferers to eke out the last few MPGs on top of that.

      I prefer the Niro’s styling inside and out, but I haven’t test driven one yet.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    By calling it an SUV they were able to put on dark tint from the factory. Note, Mazda didn’t tint windows on the Mazda5 because it was considered a compact car rather than a Van. At least that’s what I was told.

  • avatar
    SPPPP

    This sounds like a real hit. However, I wish the reviewer had mmentioned something about the ride and handling. The only dynamic quality mentioned was about the DCT, which is very important information. But it would be nice to have some more insight about how it drives.

  • avatar
    bluegoose

    Is a Toyota Matrix a crossover? That is what the Niro is. Its a hybrid Toyota Matrix..without the AWD option. The fake skid plates on the Niro don’t make it a crossover.

    • 0 avatar
      JRoth

      That’s what I was going to say as well. I’d be surprised if there were more than an inch of height difference between the two.

      Incidentally, I though the Matrix/Vibe were each the best looking car in their brands at the time*, and that the Vibe was a notch better looking. From most angles, I don’t like this Kia nearly as much, largely because of the faux-crossover styling. Blah.

      *well, after the Solstice

  • avatar
    ijbrekke

    So, how does it drive?

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Impressive vehicle in my book.

    A little smaller cargo-wise than what we wanted. And with gas under 2 bucks a gallon and screaming deals on the Equinox, took the larger size.

    If gas ever doubles again, this will be a hot item.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    The review doesn’t mention it, but I have the impression that this Kia must be unbearably slow. Is the increased gas mileage worth the aggravation, when larger CUVs are available in the same price range?

  • avatar
    Chocolatedeath

    Two things. Firstly they can address the whole no AWD thing in three years by adding electric/batteries motors at the rear wheels independent of the front like Toyota did and can call it a CUV without fuss.
    Next
    How does this stack up against the Prius V…

  • avatar
    John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

    I don’t think its a CUV. But I also don’t care, its a fine car and that’s all it needs to be. Its not ugly (Prius), and its roomy. These are good things.

    If Kia wanted a Hybrid crossover, why not just offer this powertrain on the Sportage 2wd, then you won’t have to squint your eyes and pretend this is one. Worked for Ford before, and its working for Toyota now.

    (Kudos to Ford for not calling the C-Max a Crossover Hybrid…or perhaps they just didn’t think of it first?)

    This a tall, functional Hybrid vehicle. What category it fits in isn’t really important. Kia could call it a Moon Rover and it’d still be a decent little car, sounds like.

    Datsun (yes, Datsun) has found success in India with the redi-Go (based on the Renault Kwid) “urban cross”, which is a tall hatchback with no optional AWD. It really took off where their previous cars (Go and Go+) pretty much flatlined. Obviously people enjoy small wagons/hatchbacks when you call them something else. See PT Cruiser, Scion xB, Matrix/Vibe, etc. All enjoyed success in their time

    A utility vehicle has become quite aspirational, as they have discovered. Suddenly lumping tall hatchbacks in with them has made them fashionable.

    BTW: There is a “real” Datsun crossover coming (or maybe out by now) based on the Dacia Duster.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    I’m always glad when MFRs bring to market fuel-efficient cars, but I think the Niro will find the market is tiny these days with such low fuel prices. Sales of hybrid models are way down. I think I’ll stick with my C-Max, which has 49 more horsepower in exchange for about 3-4 fewer MPG.

  • avatar
    mshenzi

    The test drives I did to replace my TDi Golf: Cruze hatch, Focus hatch, Clubman (barn doors), Mazda 3 hatch, Civic hatch, Impreza (5 door AKA hatch), and Niro hatch. Pretty wide range of driving characteristics in the group, but the Niro wasn’t a meaningfully different animal from the others in the set.

    I second the praise for the Niro’s interior, including the seats. Pretty easily the best audio in that set, (optional HK system in the Impreza has reasonably precise but thinner sound). I nearly bought it.

  • avatar
    Ltd1983

    I showed the photo at the top to two different female friends who care nothing about cars, and are definitely in the market for smaller, urban runabouts, and asked them what kind of existing vehicle it looked like to them. One said an Explorer, the other just said “You mean like another SUV?”.

    I don’t know where I stand on what this is, but I think it’s pretty clear the public will have 0 problems buying this as a CUV.

  • avatar
    Sjalabais

    The Niro sells really well in Norway. It quickly established itself as a good choice for the pragmatic, rational customer. To my mind, it’s a wagon squarely aimed at former Volvo customers, pun intended. Good pricing, market leading warranty (7 years in my neck of the woods), outstanding interior and a smooth, well-working hybrid setup. Pretty neat.

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    This looks like a facelifted Hyundai Elantra Touring.

    Which means my wife will want one.

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