2017 Kia Niro Touring Review - Who Says Boring Is Bad?

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
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Fast Facts

2017 Kia Niro Touring

1.6-liter four-cylinder combined with electric motor (139 horsepower; 195 lb-ft)
Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
46 city / 40 highway / 43 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
5.1 city / 5.8 highway / 5.4 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price
$30,545 (U.S) / $34,735 (Canada)
As Tested
$32,575 (U.S.) / $34,735 (Canada)
Prices include $895 destination charge in the United States and $1,740 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.
2017 kia niro touring review who says boring is bad

Outside of perhaps its front styling – especially the slightly bug-eyed headlamps and the pinched grille – the Kia Niro doesn’t really stand out in a crowd.

It’s quiet, thanks to a hybrid powertrain. It’s compact in length and height. It has a driving experience that isn’t memorable in ways good or bad.

And none of that preceding paragraph is meant as an insult.

Sometimes calling a car “boring” is a bit like saying the wrong thing about a barfly’s mother – an invitation to trouble (metaphorical trouble, in this instance, but trouble nonetheless). Not in this case, though. As much as almost everyone who writes about cars wishes everything we drove was sporty and sleek-looking, that’s not what most buyers want or need. Why else has Toyota sold Camrys and Corollas by the literal boatload, regardless of any criticism from the automotive media?

Yeah, I know, this point has been made before – I’ve certainly written a variation of that previous paragraph multiple times. Self-plagiarism aside, it’s worth repeating because it’s an obvious premise that nevertheless often gets overlooked.

Sometimes a car just works. It does lots of things well, and it doesn’t matter if it’s entertaining or fun or turns heads. That, in a nutshell, is the Niro.

All trim levels have the same powertrain: A 1.6-liter four-cylinder gas engine that mates to an electric motor for a total system horsepower of 139, with a combined torque figure of 195 lb-ft. That power gets to the wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. Straightforward enough.

Even with almost 200 lb-ft of torque, the Niro feels a bit underpowered, and a 3,000-pound-ish curb weight (it varies by trim) doesn’t help. Plan your passing accordingly.

Kia has been accused in the past of offering poor steering feel, but the company has shown improvement, and that’s the case here. While there are crossovers out there with better, more dynamic steering, the Niro’s unit is at least engaging enough. There’s no numbness or excessive lightness.

Ride is pleasant, and handling is just sporty enough (it’s not all boredom round these here parts). Again, a more engaging personality would be nice, but the Niro doesn’t seem to need it.

That’s in part because, personality aside, my test Niro came in Touring trim — the model’s top trim level. As such, it arrived with features like heated front seats, heated steering wheel, nav, Bluetooth, UVO infotainment, satellite radio, leather seats – the usual when one asks for “the works.” An option package added forward-collision warning, smart cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, and lane-departure warning.

The “it just works” theme carries over to the inside. The radio has volume and tuner knobs in just the right place, the climate controls are simple and straightforward (as well as easily reached), and the touchscreen is intuitive and switches menus quickly. Graphically, it’s easy to read.

The USB port is in a convenient place, just fore of a small storage area and the cupholders. Nothing is fancy here, but everything is in the place where you’d expect it to be.

Rear-seat room is a tad tight, but legroom is class-competitive and headroom is only bested by the Ford C-Max. My tall frame was completely comfortable up front.

A nagging question bugged me during my entire time in the car – is the Niro a crossover or a wagon? The TTAC editorial staff was split. It doesn’t necessarily look like a wagon – the cargo area is too truncated. But in some ways, it feels like one. That’s also not an insult, by the way.

Yeah, Kia will market it as a CUV, and as noted, the editorial braintrust is split on whether it’s a wagon or not. To me, it has the same qualities that make small wagons appealing to so many.

Whatever it is, it has a lot going for it. Aside from a lack of punch and so-so steering, it’s not disappointing to drive. It’s not a looker, per se, but it’s not ugly – and to be fair, my tester came painted in a slightly pedestrian shade of blue. I’ve seen Niros with the red paint job that have more flair (sorry, Mike Judge).

I know, I know, a well-packaged car isn’t the most exciting thing in the world. But that’s the point. There’s a lot to like about the Niro, including fuel-economy ratings of 46 mpg city/40 mpg highway. It’s a package that just works.

That said, the sticker price for the Touring trim I tested reached $32,575, and that takes some of the shine off.

If you don’t need all the bells and whistles, you can get a LX or EX trim for a bit less money. That would give you nice value for a fuel-efficient daily driver that does lots of things well.

Not sexy, sure. But it doesn’t matter – you’ll be spending your energy figuring out if you own a wagon or a crossover, and that’s a debate that’s sure to never bore you.

[Images: © 2017 Tim Healey/The Truth About Cars]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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2 of 28 comments
  • Eyeofthetiger Eyeofthetiger on Oct 22, 2017

    Nobody knows if this is a wagon, CUV, or hatchback, so nobody will buy it. If they are marketing it as a CUV, it should at least have an AWD option. Sheeple don't buy ambiguous products. As good as their products are, Kia still cannot sell on their name, alone. The Niro marketing will have to create a strong identity that makes sheeple feel warm and fuzzy (no, not more hamsters), or it will end up just like the Mazda 5 and Ford C-Max. And then there is the price. Sure, it's a hybrid and it probably drives better than any Prius, but it's still $30K for a Kia.

  • Beachy Beachy on Oct 22, 2017

    FWIW, Motorweek has one of these as a long term tester. First update 11/03 17. I'm still waiting for the PHEV, can't find much on it.

  • Random1 So several of the interboro crossings are cheap: Brooklyn bridge, Manhattan bridge, Madison Ave, Willis/3rd Ave. One or two others I think.$18 is weirdly cheap, but "early bird" all-day parking is easily under $25 at many, if not most, places. That garage is actually on 62nd St, so I might be able to still drive in post-congestion, but I can't imagine they won't jack up that rate when the time comes, they're gonna be over run.
  • FreedMike Right, the fact that Jeep sales are down this year has nothing to do with it...nope. See FlyersFan's post above for the figures. They're ugly. Now, you'd think that a fact like this might be in this story, but a headline like "Jeep announces layoffs because its' sales are down" just doesn't have enought red meat to toss out. But toss "California" into the mix and voila! Political food fight. And given the political proclivities of a large bloc of Stellantis' U.S. customers, why not blame the big bad gubmint? And by the way, if Jeep has a beef with California, what's with this ad?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VegskIOcU7Y
  • 3SpeedAutomatic Drove a rental Renegade in Florida. Tigershark engine vibrated like crazy at stoplights. Someone had bumped the plastic cladding and parts were ready to fly off at speed. If you could pick one up on the cheap, you would give to your kid for college or trade school. Once they were earning a steady paycheck, it would be traded in a flash!!🚗🚗🚗
  • SCE to AUX I don't understand how BMW keeps this brand in business.
  • JJ I have this same car and drive it every summer. Only difference is mine does not have the swing roof. Same interior, engine, etc. Found it in British Columbia about 15 years ago with 90,000 km and zero rust. I know it's not a popular member of the Mustang family, but I love it and lots of people stop to tell me their memories of the Mustang II.