Korean car manufacturers are wasting no time catching up to green products like the Toyota Prius and the Tesla Model 3, and the 2019 Kia Niro compact crossover is perfect example of their hard work paying off. Offered as a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or pure electric, the Niro wraps cutting-edge technology in a more conservative shell, broadening its appeal to mainstream consumers turned off by overly futuristic designs. Like all Kia products, the Niro’s interior is handsomely styled and loaded with features, and its price falls squarely in line with non-hybrid SUVs like the Honda CR-V and the Nissan Rogue.
The Niro is attractively priced and comes with Kia’s excellent 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty. Better yet, the Niro manages to reach 50 miles per gallon in combined driving in its entry-level FE trim, while the new EV version can travel a remarkable 239 miles on a single charge.
What’s New for 2019?
For 2019, the Niro gains a new model, the all-electric Niro EV. The EV is powered by a 201-horsepower electric motor with a range up to 239 miles. The rest of the Niro fleet carries over largely unchanged.
What We Like
Crossover styling; honest-to-goodness 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission; a big array of driver-assistance technologies; terrific fuel economy; impressive electric range
What We Don’t
Performance is a bit sluggish in Eco (normal) driving mode; limited ground clearance; modest cargo bay; no all-wheel drive
$24,430 — $40,000
The hybrid system produces a total of 139 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. Gasoline-hybrid powered Niro grades using the same 104-hp 1.6-liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder engine mated to a 43-hp electric motor to provide forward thrust, government-estimated fuel economy depends on the trim level. The government rates the entry-level FE at 52 miles per gallon in the city and 49 mpg on the highway. The two midlevel grades (LX and EX) come in at 51 mpg city/46 mpg hwy. At the top of the trim-level heap is the Touring at 46 mpg city/40 mpg hwy. The Niro PHEV plug-in hybrid attains an EPA estimated 48 mpg city/44 mpg hwy/46 mpg combined, with a MPGe rating of 105. The Niro EV uses a 201-hp electric motor and has an estimated range of 239 miles.
Standard Features & Options
The Niro offer fours grades for the hybrid, three for the plug-in hybrid and a single, well-equipped trim for the new EV model. No matter how you cut it, there’s a load of value regardless of the grade.
Anchoring the Niro lineup, the FE ($24,180) comes with 16-in tires with wheel covers, auto on/off headlights, power outboard mirrors and door locks, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, 7 airbags, an outside temperature display, a trip computer, 6-way adjustable front bucket seats, dual-zone auto climate control, a backup camera, Bluetooth connectivity, a UVO infotainment interface, a 7-in touchscreen and a 4-speaker audio system with a USB port. No factory options are available.
If you add roof rails and push-button start to the FE, you basically get the LX ($24,740). It also comes with a hidden storage tray in the cargo area and a rear center armrest. Factory options include fog lights, LED daytime running lights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a forward-collision warning system, lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking and smart cruise control.
There’s a little more air between the LX and the EX ($27,240), with additional features on the EX that include the LX’s available options (except for the driver-assist technologies) as well as power-folding/heated outboard mirrors with integrated turn signals, cloth-and-leather seat trim, 3-level heated front seats, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic assist and lane-change assist. Optional on the LX and EX is an Advanced Technology package that adds autonomous emergency braking, smart cruise control, lane-keep assist and, on the EX trim, a 10-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar. Much of the Touring standard equipment can be added to the EX via the EX Premium package.
The Touring ($33,090) is the top-level trim. It builds on the EX’s content with 18-in alloy wheels, a power sunroof, leather seating, ventilated front seats, an 8-speaker Harman Kardon audio system with a subwoofer, an 8-in touchscreen, a heated steering wheel and a front/rear park-assist system. In addition to the driver-assist features offered as options on the LX and EX grades, the Touring also includes HID headlights, a 110-volt inverter and a wireless phone charger.
The Touring S ($29,640) is similar to the Touring, but features a unique graphite grille insert, special interior colors and black alloy wheels and roof rails. It doesn’t get the power sunroof, ventilated front seats or heated steering wheel, nor any driver assist features like autonomous braking, lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control. There are no factory options.
The 2019 Kia Niro comes standard with a driver’s knee airbag in addition to the typical six airbags found in most cars. Every Niro also has hill-start assist and a rearview camera. The full battery of safety technologies isn’t standard except for on the Touring grade, but blind spot monitoring, lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic assist are standard on the EX and Touring trims.
In crash testing, the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Kia Niro top marks in all its crash tests and awarded the 2018 model a Top Safety Pick designation.
Behind the Wheel
In its quest to build an unhybrid hybrid, Kia not only attended to what we see, but to how the Niro feels to driver and passengers alike. With the two driving modes, you can choose to optimize fuel economy, causing the Niro to accelerate as one might expect a hybrid to accelerate — engaging the throttle leads to a short pause, a gradual takeoff and long, leisurely shifts. Or opt for Sport mode and discover that here Kia pretty well hit its unhybrid mark. Upshifts are noticeably snappier and downshifts quicker. Goosing the accelerator is answered with acceleration that’s about what you would expect from a traditional 4-cylinder crossover.
In terms of ride and handling, the Niro has a relatively low center of gravity and feels well-planted in the turns. Some of this is due to the electric motor’s battery being stowed under the second-row seat. In any event, steering response is quick and there’s very little sway when taking a turn.
Other Cars to Consider
2019 Toyota Prius Prime — It’s tough to talk about hybrids without bringing a Prius into the discussion, because it’s the car at which Kia was aiming. Hands down, it’s the best Prius yet and now offers the option of AWD.
2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid — More SUV-like than the Niro, the all-new 2019 RAV4 Hybrid also offers more room, more ground clearance and better performance and AWD, plus every model comes standard with advanced driver assist features.
Used Lexus NX 300h — A 2015 — 2016 Lexus NX 300h may cost a bit more than a loaded Touring, but not by much. It delivers excellent power, economy and luxury in a vehicle renowned for its excellent reliability and resale.
Each version of the Niro offers better-than-average value. The EX will probably be the biggest seller, and we believe it offers the best value. It allows for the same driver-assist safety features and options as the Touring and can be outfitted with most of the Touring’s standard features such as the Harman Kardon audio, heated and ventilated front seats, wireless phone charging, HID headlights and navigation.