(Contributing Editor: Tomasz Paluch)

Recently Roadblazing.com’s blog site ChicagoNow.com “Drive..He Said” evaluated the 4th generation of the “Godfather of Green” cars, the re-designed 2017 Toyota Prius.

Noting that while the latest Prius still merits the respect of the growing ranks of competitors, both a polarizing design & timid driving experience conspire to put off potential gas-electric hybrid converts.

If there is such a thing, the all-new for 2018 Kia Niro sub-compact crossover utility vehicle badly wants to be the “conventional” urban hybrid alternative to Prius’ unconventionalism.

 

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WHAT: All-new 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid Touring gasoline electric hybrid sub-compact urban crossover utility vehicle, sharing platform with all-new Hyundai Ioniq hybrid/ BEV sportback.

Standard Power: 1591 cc Atkinson cycle, dual VVT-i DOHC 16V I-4 cylinder gasoline engine: 104 hp/ 109 lb-ft; 104 kW (139 hp) net hybrid

parallel to: 1 x 240V synchronous AC traction / regenerative charging motor: 32 kW, 1 x 240V synchronous AC Hybrid Starter Generator: 8 kW

electric supply battery: (Prius Two) 64 Lithium Ion Polymer cells, 240V, 6.5 amp hr, 1.56 kWh;

(Stay tuned for a plug-in BEV Kia Niro.)

WHAT (A) STYLING DIFFERENCE: Fenders = more relaxed than Sportage’s, grille = dark lattice bowtie; Lower airdam features dark clad horizontal bars, chrome trimmed bezels for the fog lamps and corner brake ducts;

Chiseled doors comprise Coke-bottle fuselage; Roof with integrated brushed metallic rails slopes aft of B-pillar, with small fixed window separating C & D pillars;

Formidable gloss black rear roof spoiler blends with similar outboard tail-lamp trim; Liftgate makes concave descent to bumper cover; Chrome trimmed dark cladding rises in center lower rear fascia, terminating in diffused pseudo skid plate; -1: Deep recessing of liftgate e-latch release is challenge.

WHY: Urbanites clamor for their gas-electric hybrids in a more conventional small family crossover wagon package;

WHEN: On-Sale (in the U.S.) since Spring 2017

WHERE: Kia new vehicle dealers

WHERE MADE: Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, South Korea

WHERE TO: Up to the challenge of urban scoots and country skedaddles.

HOW ROADWORTHY: Kia’s stated quest for Niro is a “Non [traditional] gas-electric hybrid” [read “Toyota Prius”] driving experience

Conspicuous in its omission is the absence of an aggressive regenerative slowing mode AKA golf cart braking;  Instead the throttle and dual clutch gearbox do the toiling: Going easy on the throttle earns more blue-green tree leaves in the UVO’s Eco Driving menu display; In normal drive, the dual clutch transmission eagerly heads for the highest gear, sapping useful engine speed; With the selector moved left to “Sport/ Manumatic” mode, gears are held more steadfast for purposeful acceleration, but with droning high-revving & detriment to fuel economy;

Instead of being stuck with Kia Soul’s flinty torsion beam rear suspension, Niro’s 4-link fully independent layout gains more compliance; A battery pack formed lower center of gravity contains most body roll and pitch; Frost heaves transmit mild thuds, and the axles jitter slightly rather than hop;  Kia has ditched their obnoxious steering weight variability, having found a middling natural heft, even if road feel is filtered out; Regenerative e-motor slowing doesn’t do any favors for an inert responding 4-disc brake set-up, hampering confidence at the end of pedal travel;

HOW FAR: 46 combined miles per gallon = 18% < 2017 Toyota Eco Two

HOW BIG/ LITTLE:  Lengthwise splits difference between Kia Soul personal cute ute and Sportage compact family SAV, Sitting on wheelbase 1″ > Sportage, yet standing -3″ lower in height, comes amazingly close in rear legroom;  Packaging battery under rear seat & nixing the donut spare for a tire inflator manages 20 cubic feet of cargo space, nudging past Soul’s;

Compared to 4th generation Toyota Prius [Eco Two]: Despite sharing identical 106.3″ wheelbase, 1.5″ cabin height > Prius + less sloped rear roof = 4″ 2nd Row legroom > Prius; Niro’s abrupt wagon-style liftgate = 28% hatch area cargo space < Prius;

HOW USEFUL: Low load floor w/ 60/40% split 2nd Row seatbacks; +1 Sub-load floor storage management caddy; +1 Low cowl for improved forward visiblity; -1 Seat cushion comfort wanting over longer road stints; +1 Front pax seat includes height adjustment; +1 Manageable liftgate reach; -1 Minimal door pocket storage; Tow Rating: Not Rated.

HOW SAFE: 7 airbags; Rear camera; sonar front & rear Park Assist, Roll Mitigation, Blind spot, rear cross traffic warning, Partial adaptive cruise control, Lane change assist Autonomous emergency braking -1 Lane departure warning has difficulty sensing lane markings;

HOW PEOPLE FRIENDLY: Heated & cooled driver/ front passenger seats; 10-way power driver’s seat;  Driver’s seat & wing mirror 2 position memory; Heated D-shape heated leather steering wheel with large tactile spoke-integrated controls;

Cool Gizmo(s): Key-fob proximity hands-free power folding wing mirrors;
Qi inductive wireless device charger

Details Done Right: Metallic bezel rotary dials, tipped door switchgear; Dashboard blue tinted vent bezels; Piano gloss black appliques;

Nearly Non-Descript: -1 Hard plastic grain; -1 Leather feels fake & lacks hide scent; -1 Steering wheel heating switch hidden from view; -1 Red night instrument + switch illumination = retina burning;

HOW “APP” -LICABLE: 8″ matte capacitive touch LCD infotainment screen; +1 Large icons; Voice command hands-free communications; 3-D SD GPS navigation; Complimentary UVO telematics includes Park Minder, Geo-fencing; low depth Harman Kardon audio w/ 8 GB juke box; UVO-3 Apps: Android Auto, Apple Car Play, Google Local Search, destination import, Siri-Eyes, Pandora, SoundHound, Yelp;

 Subscription based: Sirius XM TravelLink Sports, Weather, Traffic; Fueling; Cinema;

USB x 2, 12V x 3; 115V AC x 1; Qi inductive wireless device charger; +1 Generous lower center stack mobile device connectivity/ storage;

HOW MUCH: $32,445 = fully loaded 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid Touring;

WHAT’S MISSING: Positive transmission action; Steering feel; Progressive brake pedal; native SMS messaging app; Heated rear seats; Heads-up display; AWD option??

ANY COMPETITION:  Ford C-Max: +1 Taller euro-crossover packaging, available plug-in BEV; Hyundai Ioniq: +1 sportback and available plug-in BEV,  Toyota Prius: +1 traditional hybrid experience, genuine hatchback cargo space, available plug-in BEV; Toyota RAV4 Hybrid: +1 upscale cabin finish, ride compliance, road clearance.

BOTTOM LINE: Laudable first attempt at ground-up gas-electric hybrid vehicle by Kia results in a stylish, urban & suburban usable, reasonably efficient value driven package.