An all-new model for Kia, the 2017 Nero, based on a dedicated hybrid platform that will ultimately spawn plug-in hybrid and all-electric variants, strikes a balance between compact hatchback and crossovers body styles.

Pricing and Equipment

Prices for the Kia Niro start with the entry-level FE, with a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail price (MSRP) of $23,785 (including $875 in destination charges) and top out at around $34,000 for a fully optioned-and-accessorized Touring model. Most buyers will likely choose the mid-level EX, its starting price of $26,595, and standard features that include:

  • LED positioning lamps, taillights, and daytime running lights
  • Seven-inch color infotainment touchscreen
  • Roof rails, rear spoiler
  • Power folding heated outside mirrors
  • Leather-trimmed cloth seats
  • Bluetooth technology
  • Heated front seats
  • Smart key with push-button start
  • Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob

All trim levels come with dual-zone automatic climate control, satellite radio, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, a USB port, and a touchscreen infotainment system. A rearview camera with dynamic guidelines is also standard, while EX models and above receive blind spot detection, lane change assist, and rear cross-traffic alert systems. A navigation system is only available on the range-topping Touring model, but with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard on all trims, this feature shouldn't be missed.

Radar-based cruise control, automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, and lane departure warning are part of an optional technology package available on all but the base FE trim. On the EX trim, it's priced at $2,300 and also includes a power sunroof.

The 2017 Kia Niro comes equipped with a 104 horsepower 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine and 43 horsepower electric motor generating 139 system horsepower. Unlike most hybrids that use a continuously-variable transmission (CVT), the Niro features a more conventional six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. Power to the electric motor is supplied by a 1.56-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion polymer battery pack.

Performance Pros

Nissan Maxima
  • The hybrid drivetrain features fuel-saving tricks like idle stop and go, which shuts off the engine when the car is idling. The transition is nearly seamless, without the annoying abruptness inherent in many of these systems. The transition between normal and regenerative braking is also smooth – a characteristic not common in many hybrids.
  • The Niro gets an EPA-estimated 51/46/49 city/highway/combined miles per gallon, while our own observed fuel economy was a vehicle-measured 50.1 miles per gallon in a mix of suburban and highway driving.
  • The Niro delivers a very un-hybrid-like smooth, controlled ride, and exhibits very little body lean during cornering.

Performance Cons

  • Not unexpectedly, in normal "eco" driving mode, acceleration off the line feels sluggish. "Sport" mode increases steering effort and throttle response, but the result still falls short of what we would call "sporty."
  • A fair amount of impact noise enters the cabin when traveling over rough and bumpy roads.
  • When pushed, the engine sounds coarse and unrefined.

Interior Pros

Nissan Maxima
  • The infotainment system features distraction-reducing hard buttons for many of the major functions.
  • Front seat occupants will find plenty of leg, hip, shoulder and headroom, even with the optional sunroof.
  • A wide rear hatch makes loading and unloading easy.

Interior Cons

  • Rear seat leg room is tight with the front seats in their rearmost setting.
  • With a lower ride height, the view of the road ahead is more like that of a tall wagon, rather than the more expansive view of a conventional crossover.
  • Interior sound levels are very good for a vehicle of this size, although a fair amount of engine noise enters the cabin under hard acceleration.

The Most Pleasant Surprise

Although its suspension tuning is skewed for comfort, the Niro feels surprisingly agile and steering feedback is very good. Feedback through the brake pedal is also very good, while the regenerative feature can hardly be detected. These are rare traits for a hybrid or a crossover, let alone a hybrid crossover.

The Least Pleasant Surprise

The biggest issue that mars an otherwise pleasant driving experience is the overall coarseness of the engine under hard acceleration.

The Bottom Line

With a suite of advanced active safety features available on all but the base model, an overall pleasant ride, and excellent EPA mileage numbers, the all-new Kia Niro is a serious competitor for the Toyota Prius in the compact hybrid segment.