2017 Kia Niro: First Impressions

17Kia_Niro_AS_AC_07.jpg 2017 Kia Niro | photo by Angela Conners

CARS.COM — The 2017 Kia Niro made its world debut at the 2016 Chicago Auto Show to flashing lights and pulsing rock ‘n’ roll. It was an interesting choice for the Niro, which is more Mickey Mouse than Modest Mouse: small and wholly inoffensive, but not exciting.

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17Kia_Niro_AS_AC_04.jpg 2017 Kia Niro | photo by Angela Conners

There are no surprises in the straightforward exterior styling. Up front is Kia’s now familiar tiger-nose grille. When viewed in profile, the Niro looks more like a raised hatchback than an SUV (similar to the Subaru Outback). The wheels are 18-inch alloys, and there is black plastic cladding wrapped around the side skirts as well as the front and rear fenders to give the Niro a rugged appearance.

17Kia_Niro_AS_AC_18.jpg 2017 Kia Niro | photo by Angela Conners

Kia says this is the first vehicle it’s designed as a hybrid from the start, allowing the Niro to avoid many of the deficiencies that have plagued converted hybrids. The battery pack is tucked under the second-row bench, opening up a flat cargo area.

Passenger volume specs aren’t yet available, but I’m 5 feet 11 inches tall and found the rear seats to have excellent head- and legroom. The Niro will fit four adults comfortably; I’ve gotten accustomed to having to duck my head when riding in subcompact sedans, even in some subcompact SUVs, but in the Niro there was a 4-inch buffer between my head and the headliner, even when I sat straight up, like Mom always told me to.

17Kia_Niro_AS_AC_21.jpg 2017 Kia Niro | photo by Angela Conners

The Niro’s black leather seats were comfortable, both front and rear. Overall materials quality is a mixed bag, just like much of the segment. The leather on the seats, steering wheel and other touch points feels good, but there is still plenty of hard plastic to let you know that the Niro lives in budget-conscious territory. Instead of using piano-black plastic trim, which is becoming more common in interiors these days, Kia opted to put white plastic inserts into the center console and each of the doors. This provides more visual contrast and is the most unique styling feature of the Niro, inside or out.

17Kia_Niro_AS_AC_25.jpg 2017 Kia Niro | photo by Angela Conners

Behind the second row, the Niro has 25.5 cubic feet of cargo space and beats the 2016 Ford C-Max Hybrid (24.5 cubic feet) and most 2016 Toyota Prius models (24.6 cubic feet except for the Eco trim, which gets 27.4 cubic feet). The cargo floor has a lower load-in height than is found on most SUVs; it should be easy to load the Niro with packages and groceries.

17Kia_Niro_AS_AC_28.jpg 2017 Kia Niro | photo by Angela Conners

We’ll have to wait until we get to drive the Niro to test its most interesting technologies, including the Coasting Guide and Predictive Energy Control systems, which help the driver maximize fuel economy. But at first glance, the Niro’s spacious interior and intriguing feature set are a great beginning in the quest for value-minded shoppers.

Two of the biggest questions about the Niro remain unanswered: What will its fuel economy be, and how much will it cost? Kia has announced that it is targeting 50 mpg combined for the Niro, and if Kia can deliver that while keeping the price low, it could be a winner.

Photo of Brian Wong
Former L.A. Bureau Chief Brian Wong is a California native with a soft spot for convertibles and free parking. Email Brian Wong

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