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By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

The all-new Kia Niro is another bold move for the Korean carmaker, this time for putting forth a hybrid that can retain 43 miles-per-gallon and decent space. A bit of a chameleon in terms of exterior shape and design, it’s being touted as compact crossover.

I drove a 2017 Kia Niro with the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine paired to an electric motor and lithium Ion polymer battery for 139 total horsepower. Available in five trims – the base FE, LX, EX, Touring Launch Edition and Touring – my Touring test drive featured the following standard features: leather seat trim; heated and ventilated front seats; power adjustable driver’s seat; 8-inhc touchscreen with navigation and backup camera; upgraded Harman Kardon audio system; Bluetooth connectivity; UVO eServices technology; Android Auto and Apple CarPlay; push-button start; sunroof; roof rails; rear spoiler; Blind Spot Detection; Front and Rear Parking Assist System; Rear Cross Traffic Alert; and eighteen-inch alloy wheels. Total vehicle price as described without options came to $29,650.

The Kia Niro competes with other fuel-saving hybrids like the Ford C-MAX and Toyota Prius and RAV4.


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Stylish But Comfortable Results: More liken to the Ford C-MAX design than the Prius or a crossover, the Niro feels pretty roomy nose to tail and carried my 14-foot kayak on the hood along with accompanying gear tossed in the rear cargo area like a true outdoor warrior. I wouldn’t say I experienced the same impressions that I typically do in top-of-the-line trims with the Touring version, so on the downside the interior felt a bit bland but on the up side you could opt for the base FE or LX trims and not feel like you are missing too much (the Touring Launch really just stands out due to different exterior colors). While many might not care for the Prius shape, the Prius interior addresses our tech-filled lifestyle better with a new 11.6-inch display screen (it’s bigger than an iPad and can display climate, navigation, and music without screen crowding) and pays homage to the smartphone by giving it a desirable place to rest on a Qi-combatable wireless phone charger. However, Kia does have far better graphics on their UVO eServices system.

Reliability & Safety Factor: The 2017 Kia Niro has not yet been rated by The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) nor with The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Safety standards include dual front seat and full side airbags; anti-lock brakes with brake assist; ESC; electronic-brake distribution; traction control; tires pressure monitoring; front and rear crumple zones; side impact beams; LATCH; front three-point seat belts with force imitators; and Hill-start Assist Control.

Cost Issues: Base price for the 2017 Kia Niro is $22,890 with the loaded Touring trim at $29,650. The base model Prius One starts at $23,475 while a full-loaded 2017 Prius Prime in the Advanced trim is $36,305.

Activity & Performance Ability: The Niro’s ride is life changing in regards to the fuel economy and size – you have a vehicle here that can handle modest recreation trips and get you 43 miles-per-gallon (no all-wheel drive here). Truth be told, I felt a bit more involved with the Prius, and enjoyed their digital cluster on the instrument panel that gave me better visuals with my driving score and suggestions on how to improve the numbers. The Niro’s six-speed dual-clutch transmission is a change from your typical systems and adds smooth and quick shifting. Essentially you are riding on a hatchback platform, and in no way did I feel like I was riding in a crossover.

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The Green Concern: Fuel economy is 46-city and 40-highway for a combined 43 miles-per-gallon, which is excellent. Yet I cannot get out of my head the Prius Two Eco’s 58-city and 53-highway for a combined 56 miles-per-gallon, which is a smidge better than the other Prius trims at 52 combined.

The 2017 Kia Niro is an alternative hybrid option for those who seeking a more crossover-like vehicle; and while the Niro did fulfill my recreation needs, it’s a stretch classify it as a utility vehicle as it rides like a car. Skip the top trims and get it in the base or one trim above – you’ll still get 43 miles-per-gallon.

©2017 Katrina Ramser

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