Kia's Niro Hybrids Lose Some of Their Anonymity for 2019
While the Kia Niro has its faults, most are forgivable. The vehicle’s imperfect highway manners and lackadaisical acceleration are easily offset by its competence in an urban or backroad environment. We’ve collectively praised just about every version of the Niro offered within North America over the last two years simply because it does the livability thing so damn well. But there’s a chink in its armor — its styling is about as memorable as the last place you left your house keys after a night of heavy drinking.
Again, our panties remained untwisted. Not every car needs to be visually bombastic to be good (cough, Volkswagen Golf) and sometimes it’s nice just to blend in with traffic. But the Niro was also one of the few entry-level models offering hybrid powertrains that didn’t get goofy styling touches to help distinguish themselves from an internal-combustion counterpart.
We say was because, for the 2019 model year, both the Kia Niro Hybrid and PHEV adopt the more radical styling of the Niro EV.
As much as we know you’d like us to complain about it, we’re going to disappoint you. The mid-cycle refresh just does too much right. For starters, the exterior changes add up to a better and more modern-looking car. The new front bumper gives the crossover (hatchback?) a more dominant presence without falling into the trap Toyota laid for itself with the wacky design of the fourth-generation Prius (though that model grew handsomer this year).
Redesigned headlights, available in LED form, update the car with help from stylish LED daytime running and optional fog lamps. Taillights are similarly resigned and ride above new light reflectors and a metallic-colored skid plate. Kia expanded wheel options to include a choice of two 16-inch alloy wheel designs, as well as a set of all-new 18-inch dual-tone diamond-cut alloys.
As Kia waits for the vehicle’s officially official debut at the Geneva Motor Show to show off the Niro’s 2019 interior, it promises superior materials than what was available on last year’s models, plus new customization options in the form of two color packages (Red-Orange or Plum), dependent upon vehicle specifications and market availability. Meanwhile, unstained interiors will still benefit from the dashboard’s new soft-touch coating and an instrument panel featuring gloss-black trim with silver or satin highlights. An 8.0-inch central touchscreen and 4.2-inch gauge cluster come standard, but a 10.25-inch touchscreen (with an upgraded version of UVO Connect) and 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster are available.
Additional upgrades for 2019 Kia Niro Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid include paddle shifters for the six-speed dual-clutch transmission, larger rear brakes, and an electronic parking brake (which we could have happily gone without).
Kia’s increasingly robust suite of driver assistance features sees a similar upgrade, adding Stop & Go functionality via Smart Cruise Control as well as Lane Following Assist. That’s in addition to the already available Forward Collision-avoidance Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Driver Attention Warning, High Beam Assist, Blind-spot Collision Warning,Rear Cross-traffic Collision Warning, and Intelligent Speed Limit Warning.
Powertrain options go unchanged in 2019. Both of the Niro hybrids pack a 1.6-liter GDi engine, paired with either a 1.56 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack or 8.9 kWh unit for the PHEV. The refresh won’t appease thrill seekers, but it’s not like this car was ever meant for them in the first place.
The facelifted 2019 Niro is expected to go on sale this summer, with prices to be announced after next week’s Geneva debut.
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