Kia Motor may be a bit better positioned for the SUV revolution than its South Korean corporate sister, Hyundai Motor, because it offers a more robust lineup of crossovers, including the Kia Soul, which was one of the early entries to the now-white-hot subcompact SUV market.
Along comes the 2017 Kia Niro, a gasoline-electric hybrid that seemingly appeals to buyers of subcompact SUVs, as well as those hearts and minds with a greener hue. Kia set the tone with Super Bowl ads featuring Melissa McCarthy as an eco super hero.
The Niro puts its green foot forward with a nameplate that offers not one, but three different EPA fuel economy ratings. The base FE (Fuel Efficient) provides the loftiest ratings with 52 mpg in the city, 49 mpg on the highway, and 50 mpg combined. The LX and EX have been rated to deliver 51/46/49 mpg, while the Touring and Touring Launch come in at 46/40/43 mpg. Kia has submitted the models separately with different equipment, hence the various ratings.
The Niro pairs a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with a 43-horsepower electric motor. A 1.56 kWh lithium-ion battery pack feeds the motor. All this is paired with a six-speed dual clutch transmission.
Compared to other hybrids, the Niro tends to switch into gasoline mode more quickly. It clicked on the engine on one occasion for me after I turned on the air conditioning while the car was in park.
With its gently sloping hood, more squared off nose and roof rails, the Niro brings SUV-like styling to a vehicle that drives more like a car. The Niro is lower the ground that Kia's other SUVs, but it still gives some body sway, especially when maneuvering at higher speeds for a highway lane change.
The Niro Touring provides plenty of safety and driver assistance features, including blind-spot detection, a front and rear parking assist system, and a rear cross traffic alert.
The Niro is priced to undercut some of its competitors with the FE starting at $23,790. Our Touring model would retail for $30,675.