If I’m to be perfectly honest, I really thought the Kia Niro was going to do a lot better than it has so far. Kia has sold its fair share of them, but I really thought a hybrid SUV with a competitive price tag would do be a slam dunk.
I was sure it would wreak havoc on Toyota Prius sales, for one, and cause massive headaches for every other automaker trying to market a hybrid vehicle for less than $30,000.
I’m not quite sure why the Niro isn’t the new segment king in sales. Maybe hybrid buyers don’t want an SUV. Maybe the Niro isn’t versatile enough to outshine the Prius which is quite practical in its own right. Maybe Kia isn’t aggressive enough in promoting it.
It’s a bit of a shame because the Kia Niro is the most enjoyable hybrid vehicle you can drive right now in this price range.
What the 2019 Kia Niro does well
1. It doesn’t feel like you’re driving a hybrid vehicle from a handling stand point. The Niro features sharp, sporty handling that makes it quite enjoyable on a winding road without being uncomfortable or annoying in the city.
2. One issue with hybrid vehicles is battery placement which can hurt available cargo space. That doesn’t happen if the vehicle is built as a hybrid from the beginning like the Niro. There’s 635 liters of cargo space with all seats in place in the Niro, making it one of the most versatile hybrids you can buy on the market today.
3. It has remarkable fuel economy for such a spacious vehicle. Average fuel economy is less than 4.8 liters per 100 kilometers in the Niro.
4. Currently only offered as a hybrid, the 2019 Kia Niro will get a plug-in hybrid version later on as well as an all-electric version. The PHEV Niro will feature 42 kilometers of range in electric mode which isn’t too far off what you get in the Prius.
5. Overall, the Niro doesn’t feel like a hybrid vehicle. Its interior is stylish and traditional, and it drives like any normal compact SUV. For many who want the advantages of driving a hybrid without feeling like they are in a spaceship, this is a definite advantage.
What the 2019 Kia Niro doesn’t so well
1. It certainly lacks power, there’s no doubt about that. It’s hybrid powertrain delivers a measly 139 horsepower and more often than not you’ll find that accelerating and passing in the Niro is quite underwhelming. A little more kick would work well with the Niro’s precise handling.
2. It’s only front-wheel drive. The Niro looks like an SUV and has the cargo capacity to go with its looks, but it doesn’t have all-important AWD. That may also explain why it’s not having the success it should.
3. It’s a bit lacking when it comes to features and equipment. For example, to get 18-inch wheels, you need to get the $34,985 SX model. If not, you’re on hubcaps. The base L model gets decent equipment (heated front seats, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and a 7-inch center display), but you’ll spend more than $30,000 for a sunroof and blind spot monitoring. In other words, when you compare value, the Niro is okay at best.
What we tell our friends
If you want a hybrid vehicle that drives like a normal vehicle and happens to have a decent amount of space, check out the Niro. On the other hand, there are better hybrids out there, and better sport utility vehicles as well. You could get a Honda HR-V or Nissan Qashqai with more space for less money and still-very-good fuel economy, or a more versatile and upscale compact SUV with a lot more space for the same price.