What it is: The Niro is a brand-new model from Kia that is a hybrid subcompact crossover. I’ve been excited for this car for awhile, so I was ecstatic to get behind the wheel. Unfortunately, it didn’t fully deliver. I’ll start with the positives, which is that it’s incredible how much car you can get today in the low $20s. The base trim, FE, starts at $22,890 and you get a hybrid, 7-inch touchscreen, cruise control, decent stereo and more. 

My initial negativity came from the interior. My touring trim came with leather seats, but they didn’t feel comfortable. The dash uses some rather cheap-looking plastic in places and it was an immediate turn off. While it’s possible I’ve been spoiled from testing several Lexus models recently, I tested the Niro’s cousin, the Hyundai Ioniq, the week afterwards and it was significantly improved.

The look of the Niro is mostly forgettable. The first time I saw one in person, I was surprised how diminutive it was (after expecting a compact crossover-sized footprint). In reality, it’s plenty large for four adults and some luggage, but if you are looking for a crossover this isn’t likely to scratch that itch. I’m not a fan of Kia’s signature grill, and it continues to look awkward on the Niro.

The lowest-trim Niros actually get roughly five percent better gas mileage, mostly due to skinnier tires. The difference is 50 MPH combined versus 43, so it is a significant difference. I actually drove my touring trim to San Antonio and back and felt that it was fine as a highway cruiser, but I was underwhelmed by my observed gas mileage. I-10 has a 75 MPH speed limit, and I kept the speed between 75 and 80 for most of that section and received closer to 30 MPG, still very good considering the immense air resistance when traveling that quickly. If you maintain the 60-65 MPH speed limit typically seen inside cities, then you can expect the 40 MPG that is on the EPA rating. 

The touring trim will run you a $6,760 premium over the base model. There are a few trims between them if you would like less equipment. Your $7K does go a long way, though, by adding LED lamps and DRL, push-button start with smart key, heated seats, leather, sunroof, heated steering wheel, ventilated seats, eight-speaker stereo with subwoofer, and more. There is an advanced tech package with HID headlights and adaptive cruise control available as well, to push your MSRP to just under $32,000 if you want a fully loaded Niro.

MPG: 46 city/40 highway/43 combined
Price: $22,890 base price. $30,546 as-tested.
Upsides: Great gas mileage and warranty. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are included on base model.
Downsides: Highway MPG lacking.
Wrap-up: I really wanted to love the Niro, but I ended up just liking it. I think that if you really want a crossover-styled subcompact (and don’t want a Prius), this is a great choice, but I think there are more car-like options, like the Hyundai Ioniq (which you can read about next week!) that are better choices at an identical price point. Kia should be commended though; I wasn’t sure we would see a 50 MPG this large for just over $20,000.

Wilson Calvert
Author: Wilson CalvertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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I am a long-time Houstonian and am obsessed with cars, soccer, traveling, bourbon and airplanes. I write a regular car review column for The Tribune and travel articles a few times per year.