WASHINGTON — Not long ago, if you wanted a hybrid there were the go-to players in the market. When it came to smaller crossovers, you needed to squeeze into a smaller compact car. Kia saw an opportunity to bring a new car to market, one that sits up higher and has more of a crossover look and feel.
If saving money at the gas pump is important to you, the Niro is easy on the wallet. Even my loaded Touring trim level has combined 43 mpg, and I managed a better 44.9 mpg in a week of driving.
And if you can live without leather, heated and ventilated seats and don’t want to spend $30,000, choose the FE trim level, save $7,000 and get 50 mpg combined — pretty good for a crossover.
Even with all the bells and whistles, the Niro Touring moved briskly for a hybrid. Coming from say, a Prius, it feels punchy from the line, with power to better keep up with the flow of traffic. To get the most power, you need to switch out of the ECO mode as it feels very slow. Switch to sport if you really need to go.
Instead of using the normal CVT transmission like most hybrids, Kia changes it up and uses a dual clutch transmission that acts like a manual sometimes from a stop with a bit of roll on hills. But overall it’s better than the normal drone you get with a CVT.
Handling is more car-like than crossover with decent steering feel. You can enter a turn with more confidence than taller crossovers, but there is some road noise on the highway. While not very sporty, it gets the job done.
The Kia Niro Touring is more about the upscale version of a hybrid. You don’t have to skip the nice luxuries to drive a hybrid. The heated and ventilated leather seats work so well, my wife had to turn it down from the highest setting. The driver has a heated steering wheel, so winter mornings won’t seem as bad.
The space inside has nice head and leg room for a small crossover. I would say a fifth person would be tight in the back seat, but four adults won’t be a problem.
NAV is standard along with the large 8-inch touchscreen on the Touring trim level. There is Android Auto and Apple Car play that help bring your phone capabilities to the car’s touchscreen. With the Niro Touring you get a nice dose of safety features like blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert and the parking assist system.
Styling of hybrids can be distinctive, and that’s not always viewed as a positive. With the Niro you would be hard pressed to really know that this is a hybrid. The Niro looks more like a smaller crossover, and that’s good thing for people who really like the idea of hybrid but don’t want to be seen in an odd-looking machine.
The Kia Niro follows the typical Kia styling with a large, wide grill up front. The headlights seemed to be pushed out to the edge of the front end. They then taper back on the hood, which adds a bit of a visual splash to this crossover.
The Niro Touring has some distinctive 18-inch alloy wheels that look nice. This hybrid excels with its normal styling, blending the looks of crossover and hybrid. Some might say the Niro looks more like a wagon than a crossover.
The new Kia Niro Touring is a small hybrid crossover that is easy to drive and like for all its benefits. If you need extra space and don’t want to have to stop very often for gas, the Niro is worth a look.
Plus, a 10-year powertrain warranty and five-year or 60,000 mile limited warranty gives you peace of mind for the long haul. Kia is the company that’s serious about winning your next car purchase, and other companies are taking notice.
Mike Parris is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association. The vehicles are provided by STI, FMI or Event Solutions for the purpose of this review.
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