The Toyota Prius V just got some company.
Being the only hybrid gas-electric wagon around, it offered the combination of extra cargo space with high efficiency and great fuel economy. The Prius V had plenty of power. Its uniqueness alone was the reason for Toyota to offer such a vehicle.
However, it is no longer the only hybrid of its type on the road. There’s another wagon — OK, crossover — that is about to provide hybrid vehicle shoppers a real choice.
Prius V owners and potential customers…meet the 2017 Kia Niro.
Kia is no stranger to hybrid vehicles. They offer a gas-electric driveline in their Optima sedan. With the Soul EV, Kia has plenty of experience in electrified vehicles; however, the Niro is the only model in its lineup that is exclusively a hybrid with no all-electric or normal gas-fueled versions available.
Is this new player in the hybrid market good enough to sway customers away from the Prius V?
By looking at a Niro, it might seem like any other Kia. Although the Korean car market has been producing some compelling designs, the Niro is a bit “normal” looking. “Normal” has its advantages; it is actually quite handsome in comparison to a lot of its hybrid rivals.
While the Prius V is longer by almost a foot with a three-inch wheelbase difference, the Niro has the advantage of being more of an urban go-getter because of its size. Its lighter weight confirms the Niro’s purpose for urban driving and beyond. Plus, its practicality comes true with good cabin access and cargo hold.
Inside, the comparisons between the Niro and Prius V become quite compelling. The passenger space is the same between the two. Yet, the Niro appears to have less cargo space, even with a underfloor stowage unit. Overall, the Niro has a very straightforward approach to everything, which becomes very useful to those looking for a hybrid that is not made by Toyota.
This straightforward theme continues in the instrument panel. It looks almost like every other Kia on the market with familiar controls, the UVO-driven infotainment screen, and the combination of analog, LED, and TFT dials and information screens. The idea of a hybrid is to not make it futuristic, but to make it accessible for everyone to drive. Kia accomplished this with a clean and clear design that makes drivers feel comfortable behind the wheel.
Speaking of comfort, the seats were of a good size with plenty of bolstering and support up front. Rear seats are equally comfortable and offer good space for most passengers.
As with every high trim level Kia, UVO drives a touchscreen that integrates audio, navigation, and information. This is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for further connectivity options. Bluetooth is included, creating a complete setup for safe vehicle operation, including those of us with iPhones using our friend Siri for hands-free help. Harman/Kardon adds eight speakers, including a subwoofer, to our Touring tester.
What lies underneath the Niro is a hybrid gasoline-electric drive system with a few twists. First, the gasoline half of the driveline consists of a 104-horsepower 1.6-liter engine. Combined with the electric motor, the Niro is rated at 139 horsepower with a combined torque rating of 195 pound-feet. Instead of a continuously variable transmission as found on most hybrid drivelines, Kia uses a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox for the Niro. This crossover/wagon is only offered in front-wheel drive.
It is a decent engine/electric motor/transmission combination. There is some struggle between the motors and the gearbox at some speeds. The solution would be to put the transmission in Sport mode — just move the shifter to right of Drive — and toggle through the individual gears. For fuel economy, we averaged 43.9 MPG in our Touring tester which is above the manufacturer’s stated average for this model. We know that Kia advertises the Niro to average 50 MPG. To do so, you would have to get the FE model. The LX and EX models also are advertised to average 49 MPG.
The best way to describe driving the Niro is “normal.” Normal, though quiet due to the hybrid driveline, but it does corner quite well and rides pretty decently. Rougher roads expose some tire noise and some feedback through the suspension. There is a lower limit on some turns through the curves. Steering is solid and provides good feedback from the road and the wheel. There is a bit of play at the wheel on center, however. Sport mode will resolve the on-center feel issue with a heavier feel. Brakes are also good, though one would notice the minute regenerative lag when applying the brakes. Normal and panic stops were good.
The Niro Touring offers a good amount of active safety technology. Features include Smart Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning System, a rearview camera with cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, and a self-parking system.
The Niro lineup starts with the aforementioned FE model and its $22,890 base price. Our Touring model came with a sticker price of $32,575.
For those looking for an alternative to wagons and crossovers will find the Kia Niro a solid choice. Its smaller size and lighter weight are great advantages for urban dwellers. The Niro offers a more engaging drive than its rivals.
Even as our community continues to love hybrids, the question remains whether the Kia Niro can be considered a choice for us. The only way to find out is to try one out and see if it fits our lifestyle.