In the hotly contested subcompact SUV market, Korean automaker Kia offers no less than three models, the Soul, Seltos and the Niro. For consumers looking for a partially electrified SUV option from Kia, the Niro is the one to choose.
Compared to some hatchback rivals, such as the Subaru Crosstrek, the Niro is unusual in that it is only available as a partial or fully electrified model, with no pure gasoline-powered variants.
The 2021 Kia Niro hybrid puts the focus firmly on fuel economy, with impressive results. The Niro hybrid comes with an unexceptional 139 horsepower total output from its combination of 1.6-liter gasoline engine and electric motor.
The vehicle only comes in front-wheel-drive (FWD) form. All-wheel drive (AWD) is not available, which may be a limiting factor for those living in northern climes.
Around town, at least, the Niro’s handling is decent and fairly nimble, but the powertrain performance is decidedly modest, so do not expect a thrilling experience on the open road.
The Niro hybrid competes directly with the 2021 Toyota Prius hybrid, 2021 Hyundai Ioniq hybrid, 2021 Honda Insight hybrid and 2021 Toyota RAV4 hybrid. Shoppers may also consider hybrid versions of the Subaru Crosstrek, Mitsubishi Outlander, Hyundai Kona and Honda HR-V.
In the company of these rivals, the Kia Niro is definitely one of the better-looking SUVs on the market. It is not the most entertaining to drive, but its fuel economy is near the top of the charts.
What’s New for 2021?
The Kia Niro hybrid rolls into 2021 with some limited, but welcome upgrades.
Smartphone users will be glad to find their devices no longer need to be connected with cables for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay to function.
A rear occupant alert system is added to remind drivers of children or animals left in the back seat.
Moving up a trim level, the smart key and push-button start system now adds remote start as standard.
The top two trim levels come with a neat safety-related refinement to the navigation and adaptive cruise control system. With cruise control engaged, the vehicle will now slow down as it approaches corners, based on info in the navigation system, which itself will be updated for free for 10 years. Find a 2021 Kia Niro hybrid for sale
What We Like
- Excellent fuel economy
- Impressive warranty
- Attractive design
What We Don’t
- Sluggish acceleration
- Plastic interior
- Base version short on safety features
Pricing for the 2021 Kia Niro hybrid starts at $24,690 for the LX trim. The LXS costs $26,090, the Touring $28,390, the Touring SE $30,950 and the EX Premium $32,950.
Destination charge is $1,175.
The base LX is the most frugal of the Kia Niro hybrid trims. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that the LX returns 53 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city, 48 mpg on the highway and 50 mpg combined.
The LXS trim is slightly less economical with EPA numbers of 51 mpg city, 46 mpg highway and 49 mpg combined.
The Touring and Touring SE grades both return EPA figures of 46 mpg city, 40 mpg highway and 43 mpg combined.
As for the Niro EX Premium, it records the same mpg figures as the LXS trim.
Standard Features & Options
For 2021, the Niro hybrid comes in four trim levels, LX, LXS, Touring, Touring SE and EX Premium.
The five-passenger SUV comes in LX trim with 16-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, projector-beam headlights, a rear spoiler, and power-adjustable door mirrors.
Inside, standard features include cloth-covered seats, cruise control, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 6-speaker sound system, 8.0-inch color touchscreen, 4.2-inch instrument color screen, dual-zone climate control, and power windows.
Moving up to the LXS trim adds push button/remote start, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and chrome interior door handles.
The Touring trim includes an electric parking brake, 18-inch allow wheels, a power tilt/slide sunroof, fog lamps, heated door mirrors, a 10-way power adjustable driver seat, and a 7.0-inch instrument color screen.
At the Touring SE level, there are LED projector headlights, leather seating, and a Harman Kardon premium sound system with eight speakers.
On the Premium EX model, the wheel size reverts to 16-inch (for weight-saving reasons), and the seat trim is artificial rather than real leather. However, buyers will see heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, wireless phone charger and a cargo screen.
The base LX Niro hybrid comes with fairly basic safety features including seven airbags, anti-lock brakes and vehicle stability control.
For some of the more desirable features it’s necessary to step up to the LXS trim, which adds forward collision and rear cross-traffic warning, lane-keeping assist, high beam assist and driver attention warning.
The Touring model enhances the forward-collision warning system to recognize cyclists and adds lane following assist.
Both the Touring SE and EX Premium trims add the navigation/adaptive cruise control curve recognition system. The EX Premium grade also adds a rear parking sensor warning system.
Behind the Wheel
The Niro hybrid combines a 4-cylinder, 1.6-liter gasoline engine, with just 104 hp, and an electric motor for a total output of 139 hp.
Performance is leisurely, but at least the Kia hybrid is equipped with a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT), as opposed to the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) used by many hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius. This means Niro hybrid drivers do not have to suffer the noisy, high rpm engine syndrome that afflicts most CVT hybrids under acceleration.
We find the Niro to be reasonably responsive to drive in urban setting, with crisp steering and nimble handing, but at higher speeds on the open road, the Kia loses its charm.
Other Cars to Consider
2021 Toyota Prius hybrid – The Prius has available AWD and excellent fuel economy but it has turned into an ugly duckling and is outclassed by newer hybrids.
2021 Toyota RAV4 hybrid – More powerful and more fun to drive than most small hybrids, the RAV4 is entertaining but not as frugal as some rivals.
We think the 2021 Kia Niro LXS trim is the best of the bunch. The LXS adds some welcome safety features to the base model for a modest increase in price. Find a 2021 Kia Niro hybrid for sale