While many brands have attempted to de-throne Toyota’s mighty Prius from its position as the de-facto fuel-saving hybrid, few have. That hasn’t stopped competitors from having a go, and Kia is the latest with its newest creation, the Niro.
Both the Niro and the also-new Hyundai Ioniq were designed from scratch as alternative energy vehicles, with hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and electric capabilities at their core. The Niro hides its green nature by looking like a crossover vehicle. There are no quirky angles, odd fastback shapes, and it also happens to avoid looking like a mini-minivan – similar to Ford’s C-Max. Thanks to a smooth underbody, strategically placed air vents, and active grille shutters, it cuts through the air with little wind resistance. Standard rolling stock on the Niro are lightweight aero-efficient 16-inch wheels, with larger 18-inch units featured on upscale trims.
What you won’t find with the Niro is an all-wheel-drive system. Nor, for that matter, will you find a conventional gasoline engine. For the time being, all Niro models are hybrid, the powertrain similar in nature to the one used in the Optima Hybrid. The gas component of the powertrain is a 1.6-litre four-cylinder that makes a modest 104 horsepower and 109 lb-ft of torque, which is paired to a lithium-ion battery pack and an electric motor for a total system output of 139 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. The two drive the front wheels through a six-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Projected fuel economy figures on the EPA test cycle see the Niro rate at 50 mpg, which is equal to 4.7 L/100 km – very good, but not quite as thrifty as the Prius, which rates at 4.4 L/100 km. Down the road, expect to see a plug-in hybrid and an all-electric version join the range.
While the Niro aims to be frugal, going green does not mean roughing it with available luxuries including heated and ventilated front seats, a power 10-way driver’s seat with memory, heated steering wheel, and proximity key access with push-button start. Soft-touch plastics are used on the dashboard, a nice departure from similar-sized crossovers and compact cars.
With its upright body, the Niro offers plenty of interior room for passengers in front and back; rear seat headroom is greater than in the Honda HR-V. Thanks to a battery pack mounted under the floor, the Niro has a cargo hold that features flat-folding 60/40 split folding seats. Total volume eclipses the standard Prius, but isn’t quite as voluminous as the Prius v.
The Niro is also one of a growing number of Kia products to be offered with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, plus wireless device charging. The premium infotainment system comes with built-in navigation and an 8.0-inch touchscreen, though. A 7.0-inch touchscreen display, reverse camera, Bluetooth phone and audio are standard, while the audio system can be upgraded to a premium Harman/Kardon sound system.
The Niro will also keep drivers safe with available active safety features such as radar cruise control with emergency autonomous braking, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and lane departure warning.