Kia Niro SX Touring
In a few of the enthusiast pubs – notably, the Brit pubs – there’s the regular reference to what their editorial staffs buy and drive. And those wheels just keep on spinning, with an ongoing hubbub of collectible this and trackday that; you wonder how-in-the-Queen’s name they have the time, even if they can find the money, to acquire so many machines. In my garage it’s inevitably more quiet, but with the recent spike in gas prices (along with a reawakened sense of environmental responsibility) I’m inclined to buy something more efficient for my daily drive to and from my grandson’s elementary school, a 45-mile roundtrip consuming some 90 minutes of my daily time. And among those options, a Kia Niro hybrid – newly redesigned for 2023 – would be on the shortlist.
Even before this newfound need Kia’s Niro was on my radar – if not on a shopping list. As a fan (if not fanatic) of hatchbacks for some 50 years, the Niro’s combo of compact footprint, reasonable glass area, credible utility and 40+ miles per gallon – for an investment this side of $30K – seemed tailor-made for our transportation needs as a second or third car. But at the time of its U.S. intro in 2016 our Subaru CrossTrek was just over a year old, and when shopping for something efficient in the summer of ’21 my wife Tina deemed the Niro too small; we opted for Toyota’s Venza hybrid, which delivers more comfort but with an EPA estimate closer to 40 mpg than 50.
The Venza, however, is in Southern California, while our still thirsty Grand Cherokee is garaged in Virginia. And in the Grand Cherokee, that 45-mile roundtrip consumes three gallons of gas each and every day, whereas the new Niro hybrid would do it in just one gallon. And with a hypothetical budget of $40K for the Jeep replacement, we could spend around $30K for a mid-level Niro and keep the Jeep for the occasional adventure or – you know – as a ‘Jeepsake’.
While liking the non-descript vibe of the 1st-generation Niro, there’s no argument with its redesign. It is, as Kia’s blurb suggests, lighter, larger and more efficient. Classified as a small station wagon by the EPA, the 2023 Niro boasts – according to Kia – best-in-class second row legroom, best-in-class passenger room of 105 cubic feet, and best-in-class passenger volume.
While its design is all-new, its footprint remains similar to the smallish hatch Kia began importing almost seven years ago. The revised grille is more of this century, and the sail panels on our SX Touring test vehicle are finished in a contrasting black. And while the sail panels won’t have anyone confusing the Niro with Audi’s about-to-depart R8, they do move the Niro from the ranks of anonymous, perhaps closer to its ‘Soul Sister’. I’m still drawn to VW’s GTI for its take on athletic minimalism, but the VW will be hard-pressed to give you 30 miles per gallon; the Niro delivers – at a minimum – an EPA estimate some 50% better.
Inside, the combo of all-new and familiar seems more comfortable than in Kia’s redesigned Sportage, as the infotainment is more intuitive, the ventilation more accessible. I’m also glad Kia’s product team elected to keep a shift lever as opposed to the Sportage’s rotary knob – the rotary is slightly imprecise, whereas the lever requires no guesswork, and almost no looking. The driver and his or her passenger will find the front buckets comfortable and supportive, while two full-grown adults will find adequate space (and best-in-class legroom!) in the rear.
Under the Niro’s hood you’ll find a normally aspirated 1.6 liter four driving the front wheels – and only the front wheels – through a 6-speed dual clutch automatic. In our test hybrid its power is complemented by a 32kW electric motor, giving the Niro both its additional urge and 53 City/45 Highway and 49 MPG Combined. Efficiency is a wonderful thing, especially when arrived at while its owners suffer few if any compromises.
Kia’s continues its still-unusual approach to its Niro platform, offering what is essentially the same vehicle in hybrid, plug-in hybrid and EV variants. You can make an argument for any of them, but the conventional hybrid is the more accessible, beginning at $28K (with destination) and topping out at about $36,000 – again, with destination. I’d be inclined to go with the mid-level EX, at just over $30K, which would give us everything we need…and without the contrasting sail panel (a $195 option on our SX Touring) no one – nobody! – will confuse it with Audi’s R8.
Finally, a word of warning: Although Kia and its products continue to do well in the J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study – they are ranked #1 for the second consecutive year – Kia and its dealers continue to absolutely suck in the J.D. Power Sales Satisfaction Index; Kia is at the very bottom in the mass market category. My advice: Secure your financing before visiting the Kia showroom, make your intentions very clear on that showroom, and don’t ever tell the sales rep or manager what you’re comfortable paying per month. And then – and only then – you can enjoy your 50 miles per gallon, along with what should be years of dependable service.