The Deep Cerulean blue Kia Niro was waiting for me and the wife at the Ft. Lauderdale airport parking lot, and it was a welcome sight after a long day of airline travel.
We dropped the rear seatbacks down, and the generous 54.5 cubic feet cargo area swallowed up two huge suitcases, that in a bygone era would have been labeled “steamer trunks”. A set of golf clubs, and the carry-on bags were added easily.
As we eased into the front seats, we basked in the glory of comfortable perforated leather seats, with all the leg room we could want. After spending 3 hours in the torturous airplane seats with our knees knocking against the seat in front of us, this felt like heaven. We then turned on the standard ventilated feature, and the cool air against our backs and backsides felt wonderful. We looked forward to a week of a lot of driving, and getting to know this compact hybrid Niro.
The first thing you notice is the handsome lines of the Niro. It’s not overdone, like many other small SUV’s. No boy racer styling gimmicks, just flowing lines and interesting details on the front rounded hood with swept back headlights, and interesting details on the front fascia.
The sloping roofline give the Niro a sleek look. It must work, because the valet parkers at the exclusive golf resort we stayed at, kept the Kia parked in front of the hotel along with the Audis, Mercedes, and even Bentley vehicles in the few spaces near the entrance. Go figure.
The Niro is powered by a 1.6 liter inline-4 tuned to use the efficient Atkinson Cycle. It makes 104hp. It combines with a single electric motor to put out 139hp. There is a plug-in version of the Niro, with a more powerful electric motor, but the total horsepower is still rated at 139hp combined. The torque rating, however, is more impressive at 195 ft. lbs. The Niro will scoot away nicely from a stop, but runs out of oomph as you reach highway cruising speed.
Still, we were able to perform passes effectively on the many two-lane roads we drove on. It just took a bit of planning, and the shift into Sport mode will keep the transmission from downshifting early. Gas mileage is impressive. On a total of 700 miles of mostly high speed two and four lane roads, we got 41mpg (one more than the rating on the window sticker indicates). With that kind of gas mileage, the 11.9 gallon gas tank still has a range of 480 miles, and more if it’s city driving. And while we did very little city type driving, Kia says 46 mpg is what you can expect. For a 3,287 lb. vehicle of this size, that is excellent.
The power is transferred to the front wheels via a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission which shifts smoothly and quietly. You wouldn’t know you were in a hybrid except for the fact that the gas engine doesn’t come on when you start the vehicle, and the gas motor shuts off at stop lights.
And of course the driver’s dash gauge shows you when you’re driving in electric mode, and when the electric motor is being charged when coasting, or regenerating power when the brakes are applied. And that gauge doesn’t dominate the gauge package like so many other hybrids.
Out on the road, the Niro handles quite well. The 106.3” wheelbase and a well tuned suspension provides a very comfortable ride without being too soft. Bumps and broken pavement don’t upset the vehicle. There is very little lean in corners (although it’s very difficult to find many curvy roads in barren central Florida). The 18” wheels look good, but the tires are designed for high mileage, so they’re not built for outstanding cornering performance.
They can also be a bit noisy on certain road surfaces. Overall, however, the Niro is a pleasure to spend several hours at a time out on the road.
The Niro separates itself from other small hybrids and most other small SUV’s or vehicles in the same price range for that matter, with its interior. It’s beautiful to look at, and the materials look and feel upscale. Soft touch materials on the door sills, armrests, and center console are excellent.
The seats are nicely bolstered, and all-day comfortable. Our light grey interior color had light blue stitching on the seats, door panels, and other areas that were picked up by the same color metallic blue surrounding the dash vent outlets.
The cabin is fairly quiet on the road, except for the engine noise coming on under hard acceleration. Remarkably, the car can handle three full size adults across the back seat fairly comfortably for a two hour side trip we went on. Head and leg room are good for taller folks.
An 8” touch screen dominates the center stack with easy to use radio and navigation controls beneath that, and all the HVAC controls underneath those. In short, it’s easy to adjust the things you want to do most often without having to wade into the touch screen. The Niro comes with Apple Car Play, and Android Auto, and there is a wireless charging pad in the convenient cubby at the base of the center stack.
That cubby has 2 12-V outlets, a USB and AUX port for plug-ins. Another USB charging port resides in the center console. Kia’s UVO Services Infotainment System is excellent, but the Navigation System was poor. Even though I set the system to allow the use of Toll Roads, the system just did not want to take me on those roads, which was my preferred route. VERY frustrating, and puzzling. Not confidence inspiring when you’re in unfamiliar territory.
Standard features and content is what Kia is all about. The Niro comes with an electric moonroof, Dual Zone Automatic Climate control, with rear vents, Harmon Karden Premium Sound System, Navigation and rear camera, the leather heated and cooled seats, heated steering wheel, power driver seat with 2 memory position settings, Blind Spot Detection, Front /Rear Park Assist, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, fog lights and more.
Our test car added their Advanced Technology Package, only a $1,900 option, which added, HID headlights, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Smart Cruise Control, and the wireless phone charging system.
The base Touring model costs $29,650. With the Tech Package and freight, the bottom line was $32,445. That’s a lot of vehicle for not a lot of money. I thoroughly enjoyed the 750 miles I put on this Niro, and except for the wonky Navigation System, I had no complaints at all.
Next year when it’s time to replace the wife’s Nissan Rogue, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy this car. Unfortunately, right now the Niro is not available in all-wheel-drive, which is a must for living in Chicago. But I have a feeling that it will be offered soon, so that Kia can expand its reach into the snow belt areas where AWD is popular.
So if you are looking for a nice size SUV with excellent mileage, good handling, a long list of features at a very reasonable price, check out this Niro.
Ken “Hawkeye” Glassman has been a motor journalist for over 30 years, reviewing automobile, as well as motorcycle ride reviews and accessory reviews.
His car articles have appeared in Robb Report Magazine, Autoguide.com, Car-Revs-Daily.com and other media. His work has also appeared in Road Bike Magazine, Motorcycle Tour and Cruiser, SpeedTV.com, MotorcycleUSA.com and others.
As motorcycle columnist for The Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, the paper became the only major circulation newspaper in the country to have a separate weekly section devoted to motorcycles. Later he wrote a weekly column for Cyclefocus Magazine.