Kia is no stranger to electrified vehicles. It currently offers the Optima Hybrid in both regular and plug-in varieties and the fully electric Soul EV, so nobody should be surprised to see this new Niro subcompact crossover SUV show up in HEV guise.
The surprise is it’s dedicated hybrid powertrain. Yes, that means it won’t be offered with conventional gasoline-only propulsion at all. For this reason it’s been compared to the Prius, with some even considering it a Prius competitor. While this may indirectly be true, that’s really the job of Hyundai’s Ioniq, which while sharing the same underpinnings and the identical base Kappa four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle powertrain is shaped more like a traditional hatchback, is considerably longer, and sits a lot lower to the ground overall.
The shorter yet taller Niro is sized almost identically (other than its still lower overall height) to Mitsubishi’s RVR that has long been one of the largest subcompact SUVs available. The Niro is even wider than some compact crossovers, Subaru’s still longer Crosstrek being one, while Toyota’s new 2018 CH-R comes very close to matching the Niro’s size as well. This means the Niro, RVR and CR-R are considerably wider than most subcompact SUV rivals, while they’re also longer from nose to tail and ride on lengthier wheelbases.
Our Graphite painted Niro SX Touring looks stealth compared to those coated in Ocean Blue or Temptation Red; other exterior colours including a darker, greyer Gravity Blue, Espresso brown, Snow White Pearl, and Aurora Black, with all SX Touring models receiving black leather upholstery within an all-black interior (except for the white contrast stitching and colourful electronic displays).
Unlike Hyundai’s new Ioniq that comes with regular hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure electric (EV) powertrain options, the Niro only offers the Ioniq’s base single four-cylinder internal combustion engine (ICE) displacing 1.6 litres and incorporating direct injection. The ICE solely produces 104 horsepower while the permanent magnet synchronous electric motor it’s conjoined with is good for 32 kW (43 horsepower) on its own, but the combined net effect results in 139 horsepower at 5,700 rpm. Even better, the electric motor adds 86.5 lb-ft of immediate twist to the ICE’s 108.5 lb-ft of torque, the combined effect totalling 195 lb-ft of net torque at 4,000 rpm.
The inclusion of a quick shifting six-speed dual-clutch automated transmission makes the Niro feel even sportier, complete with Sportmatic manual mode, but despite Kia targeting the compact SUV market with a vehicle that looks very much the part, the placement of its 1.56-kWh rear-mounted lithium-ion battery means it won’t be getting all-wheel drive anytime soon if at all (although news that Hyundai-Kia is developing in-wheel e-AWD technology gives us hope).
AWD is a subcompact SUV prerequisite, its exclusion from Kia’s Soul one of the reasons many don’t classify the funky two-box model within same category the Niro is targeting. Will this make a difference to prospective buyers? It will to some, but the very fact many compact SUVs are sold in FWD as well as AWD trims means there’s room for the Niro, plus its fuel economy is superb.
In fact, this new Kia was barely born and it had already earned a Guinness World Book of Record’s entry thanks to Wayne Gerdes and co-driver Robert Winger using just 4.1 tanks of gas while driving their Niro EX 5,979 km (3,715 miles) from Los Angeles to New York City, the key number being an average of 3.1 L/100km (76.6 U.S. mpg). No doubt they were using hypermiling techniques to achieve such incredible efficiency, as the Niro EX trim’s five-cycle Transport Canada rating is a more conservative 4.6 L/100km in the city, 5.1 on the highway and 4.8 combined. The base LX is claimed to do even better with a 4.5 L/100km city, 4.8 highway and 4.7 combined rating, whereas the as-tested SX Touring is good for an estimated 5.1 city, 5.8 highway and 5.4 combined.
Features on our test model included HID headlamps, LED DRLs, LED taillights, 18-inch alloys, power-folding mirrors, proximity access with push-button ignition, a colour TFT multi-info display, dual-zone auto HVAC, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, navigation with mapping, a backup camera with active guidelines, wireless device charging, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio steaming, Harman/Kardon audio, satellite radio, a powered glass sunroof, a heated leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, leather upholstery, a 10-way powered driver’s seat with powered lumbar support and memory, heated and cooled front seats, heatable rear seats, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, radar cruise control, emergency autonomous braking, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, and much more.
We’ll have driving impressions as well as a full critique of its interior layout, ergonomics and refinement, its feature set (including what’s missing), its overall livability, and much more in an upcoming review.
For now it’ll clock up plenty of miles as we give it a thorough test…