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Review: 2017 Kia Niro EX looks better, drives better than its competition

The 2017 Kia Niro looks like a crossover and drives as good if not better than its number one competitor. The entry price on a 2017 Niro is $22,890. The price as tested was $28,895.
The 2017 Kia Niro looks like a crossover and drives as good if not better than its number one competitor. The entry price on a 2017 Niro is $22,890. The price as tested was $28,895.

This week, we’re driving Kia’s all-new 2017 Niro Hybrid, built to take sales away from Toyota Prius and conceived from the very beginning to be a new compact crossover hybrid.

This five-door design delivers crossover looks, ease of city driving and impressive road handling.

Similar to other hybrids on the road today, Niro uses an electric motor, battery and internal combustion engine, resulting in a combined 139 horsepower and impressive 195 pound feet of torque.

The fuel mileage is impressive, as the mid-level EX model, tested this week, delivers 51 mpg city and 46 mpg highway thanks to a 104-horsepower, 1.6-liter Atkinson four-cylinder engine that works in tandem with a 43-horsepower electric motor and Lithium polymer battery mounted under the rear seat.

Kia calls its hybrid combo a full parallel hybrid system that combines the power of its hybrid-optimized engine with a highly efficient, lightweight electric motor and a powerful lithium-ion polymer battery. The result is a smooth, reliable performance that delivers outstanding hybrid efficiency. (Don’t add the horsepower of the engine and electric motor together as neither ever works in unison at 100 percent capacity. Thus, the 139-horsepower total instead of 147 horsepower for my mathematical conscious readers.)

A fine shifting, six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission delivers the power to the 16-inch Michelin tires on alloy wheels. The front-drive Niro handles extremely well, and all suspension components are strong but lightweight to help in delivering better fuel mileage.

Notable is that the current Niro is not available in an all-wheel-drive format, which is puzzling since every other crossover on the market today offers both two-wheel and four-wheel-drive models.

The upper class Touring models come with 18-inch Michelin tires and a host of other features. The result is a Niro that is heavier and less fuel efficient, with 46 mpg city and 43 mpg highway, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates.

Niro offers the driver an Economy and Sport mode option. The Sportmatic transmission mode offers a more aggressive (read that as less fuel efficient) approach as the engine will rev higher before shifting, giving better acceleration and throttle response.

Listed as a small station wagon by the EPA, Niro is a little longer in wheelbase (1.2 inches) compared to the compact Kia Sportage but just as good-looking in its final pattern.

Our tester arrived in mid-level EX trim, which is listed at $25,700 for the entry model, while the upper class Touring models start at $28,000 but elevates the creature comfort quotient substantially. The entry Niro FE starts at just $22,890, followed by the LX at $23,200. Regardless of choice, you receive the exact same drivetrain in every model.

Every Kia Niro comes with a pretty nice UVO infotainment stereo system that offers eServices technology and numerous functions via your smartphone. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard, as is SiriusXM radio. The FE, LX and EX come with 7-inch touchscreens and a six-speaker stereo; while the Touring versions come with 8-inch screens and enhanced Harmon Kardon stereos with navigation and eight speakers.

Kia’s markets its Niro as a crossover, calling it a “new crossover” vehicle. However, until they offer a 4x4 or all-wheel drive system, Niro to me is a very nice front-drive hybrid wagon I doubt will deliver acceptable traction in a major snowstorm.

Our EX had one option, a recommended safety upgrade called Advanced Technology and Sunroof that included smart cruise control, automatic emergency braking, forward collision control and a lane-departure warning system. This option costs $2,300 but is well worth it from a security aspect.

Another consumer well-being feature is a blind-spot detection system with lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert that is standard on the EX and Touring models. Add all expected modern day vehicle safety items, from four wheel disc brakes with anti-lock braking system to all the airbags, and Kia Niro is one safe vehicle.

I was impressed with the pep of the Niro under full throttle, especially from a dead start. The excellent torque available should erase any concerns of Niro being a “turtle” when it comes to acceleration or merging on a crowded, higher-speed freeway. And, unlike other hybrids that use continuously variable transmission automatic transmissions, the better acclimated six-speed dual clutch makes Niro feel like a “real car” when it comes to shifting.

A very composed highway cruiser in Eco mode, we gave Niro a pretty good country road run in Sport mode with good results. The 16-inch Michelin tires grab in the tighter corners yet still deliver excellent easy roll resistance that equates to better mileage. With a full fuel tank, Niro has a 500-mile cruising range.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 106.3 inches; 3,161 pound curb weight; 11.9 gallon fuel tank; 17.5 feet turn circle; 6.3-inch ground clearance; and from 19.4 cubic feet to 54.5 cubic feet of cargo space.

Niro’s good exterior looks and comfortable EX model leather cabin surroundings are noted.

In summary, Kia Niro indeed looks like a crossover and drives as good if not better than its number one competitor, Toyota Prius. It’s going to be interesting to see what Niro can do at the showroom sales office. The Niro comes with a 10-year, 100,000-mile limited powertrain and battery warranty.

Likes: Looks, safety, hybrid powertrain, six-speed automatic.

Dislikes: High-tech safety features not available on entry FE, no all-wheel-drive makes no sense if it’s really a crossover.

• Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and other Gatehouse Media publications.

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