~ A DriveWays Review ~
by Frank A. Aukofer
As the nation and world limp toward an ultimate goal of substituting electric vehicles for those running on fossil fuels, hybrids like the all-new 2023 Kia Niro represent an important way station.
As of now, hybrids, which combine gasoline engines with electric motors, still are the most efficient, economical and worry-free choice for buyers who want to drive desirable vehicles and still do their part to combat global warning.
The others, which South Korea’s Kia also offers, are plug-in hybrids and 100% battery electrics. Kia says its redesigned family of Niro crossover SUVs are the only vehicles on the market available with all three of the different electrified power trains.
Of those, the Niro standard hybrid is the least expensive, and offers outstanding range that relieves so-called range anxiety. Its city/highway ranges are rated at 588/500 miles on gasoline and battery power combined.
The Niro’s plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and battery electric (EV) models are both more expensive and have more limited range. For example, the fully charged PHEV can travel up to 33 miles on electricity alone before it morphs into operating like a standard hybrid. Its overall range of 500 miles, however, is close to that of the Niro HEV. The EV has an advertised range of 239 miles.
All three models deliver outstanding fuel economy. The Niro EX Touring Hybrid, tested for this review, has a city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 53/45/49 miles per gallon. The PHEV checks in at 53/54/53 and the electric has a miles per gallon equivalent rating of 126/101/112 MPGe.
The Niro hybrid starts at $33,840, including the destination charge. Tested for this review was the all-new HEV 2023 Niro SX Touring, the top trim level. It had a starting price of $36,085 and a bottom-line sticker of $36,435. The PHEV has a base price of $35,135 and the EV opens at $40,845.
It’s a handsome crossover from any angle. The tester came with an artful two-tone paint treatment in “cityscape green” set off by a gloss black grille and trim. The interior had charcoal colored perforated synthetic leather upholstery and appointments.
Both front and outboard back seats were nicely coved and comfortable with ample head and knee room, and good bolstering to hold the torso in place. As usual in most vehicles these days, the fifth passenger in the center-rear position gets disrespected with a hard cushion and intrusion of a floor hump and the center console.
Out back, there’s a decent sized, well finished area to carry up to 23 feet of cargo. Rear seatbacks fold flat for extra space. There also are some small hideaway spaces under the floor.
A 10.25-inch center infotainment touch screen is integrated with the instruments, which featured large digital readouts for the speedometer and tachometer. Center screen functions included Apple Car Play and Android Auto, SXM satellite radio and a premium Harman Kardon audio system.
Standard driver assist and safety equipment includes forward collision avoidance with cyclist detection, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane following assist, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, and parking distance warning front and rear. Also: Dual-zone automatic climate control, hands-free tailgate, wireless smart phone charging, heated and ventilated front seats, power driver’s seat with memory, and a heated steering wheel.
The Niro SX gets its power from a 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine paired with an electric motor. Together, they make 139 horsepower to drive the front wheels through a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Dual-clutch automatics are noted for their rapid shifts. All-wheel drive is not available.
On its face, 139 horsepower doesn’t seem like a lot to motivate a 3,245-pound vehicle with passengers and cargo. But it’s a spunky critter with two drive modes: Eco and Sport. Eco is fine for tooling around in urban areas, never at a loss keeping up with traffic. Switching to the Sport mode holds the transmission’s speeds to higher rpms before shifting for stronger acceleration, which moves the Niro to 60 miles an hour in eight to nine seconds.
The Niro SX is no sports sedan. But it handles capably on curving roads and holds steady in straight-line freeway driving. For a tall vehicle just 14 feet 6 inches long, it has a supple suspension system that delivers a comfortable ride over all but the worst surfaces.
Overall, it’s a strong contender in the growing clutch of crossover SUVs.
- Model: 2023 Kia Niro SX Touring four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
- Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder with hybrid electric motor; 139 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
- Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
- Overall length: 14 feet 6 inches.
- Height: 5 feet 1 inch.
- EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 105/23 cubic feet.
- Weight: 3,245 pounds.
- Towing capability: 1,000 pounds.
- EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 53/45/49 mpg.
- City/highway range: 588/500 miles.
- Base price, including destination charge: $36,085.
- Price as tested: $36,435.
Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review. Photos ©Kia
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