Kia introduced its Niro compact crossover, the automaker’s first from-scratch hybrid, in 2017. That was a big deal, because there’s a dearth of reasonably priced hybrids in this popular segment. And the base version of the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and Nissan Rogue Hybrid, the next closest crossovers in price, each start about $4,000 north of the Niro.
For many motorists, the Niro’s main appeal is its stellar fuel economy—49 mpg in combined driving for the base FE version—but there’s lots more good stuff worth noting. The cabin is spacious, with good visibility, easy-to-use instrumentation, and plenty of headroom, although cargo volume with the seat backs up is modest. Kia’s extensive standard and powertrain warranties are a plus, too.
When it comes to performance and drivability, the Niro has a split personality. In its default Eco mode, it’s pleasant to drive—if a bit floaty over the road at speed—with adequate power and decent braking and handling. Flick the shift lever into Sport mode, though, and the Niro’s entire personality changes. All its reflexes sharpen, and it becomes alert and genuinely fun to drive, albeit at the expense of fuel economy.
Regarding advanced safety features, forward-collision warning, adaptive cruise control, forward automatic emergency braking, and lane-keeping assist are standard only on the high-end Touring trim level; they’re optional with the Advanced Technology Package ($1,450) on lower trim levels, however.
The only area the Niro falls short is styling, which is attractive but not head-turning. It simply doesn’t match the standards this small crossover sets for utility, drivability, and fuel economy. For 2018–19, the Niro received minor trim changes. The Niro is also available as a plug-in hybrid.
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Model years: 2017–2019
Vehicle layout: Compact SUV, 1.6-liter inline 4, electric motor (139 hp total), 6-speed automatic, FWD
MSRP: $24,430 (base), $34,000 (well equipped)
MPG, city/hwy/ combined: 51/46/49
Crash-test ratings: NHTSA: not yet rated. IIHS: good (all ratings). Top Safety Pick Plus.
Basic warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles
Spare tire: Tire-inflator kit
Final assembly: South Korea