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2019 Kia Niro Review

The 2019 Kia Niro is an efficiency-first hatchback with a secret: it’s also a good family car.
The 2019 Kia Niro is efficiency without pretense. Kind of like an office stapler, but with a better stereo, perhaps.

As Kia’s dedicated electrified model, no version of the Niro is sold without a hybrid battery. (A Niro with a much bigger battery and no gasoline engine is due soon, we hear.)

We give the 2019 Niros that are on sale now a 6.0 on our overall scale. That’s before safety is figured in, so that score may rise later. 

The Niro comes in two flavors, hybrid or plug-in hybrid, with mostly similar trim levels scattered between then. The Niro is available in FE, LX, EX, S Touring, and Touring trim levels; the Niro Plug-In Hybrid comes in LX, EX, and EX Premium trim levels.
Opting for a bigger battery (and up to 26 miles of all electric range) in the Niro PHEV costs at least $4,200 over a similarly equipped Niro, although nearly all of that initial outlay can be recouped from a federal tax rebate and any applicable state incentives.

The Niro skips the techno trends in vogue with other car companies. The Niro’s a hatchback (or wagon) without fussy lines or sheet metal frippery, it’s borderline boring or massively understated depending on your worldview.

Both Niro versions use the same 1.6-liter inline-4 teamed to an electric motor and hybrid batteries for propulsion. The net output is the same between the Niro and Niro Plug-In Hybrid, despite small differences in the electric motors’ outputs: 139 horsepower.

The Niro makes due with a 1.56-kwh hybrid battery that returns fuel economy in the high-40 mpg range combined in most versions; the Niro Plug-In Hybrid gets a 8.9-kwh battery that powers the car for up to 26 miles on electricity, 46 mpg combined when used as a hybrid. Kia says charging the Niro PHEV on a typical Level 2 home charger takes less than three hours.

Both versions of the Niro are spacious and quiet inside, comfortable for four adults as a commuter, or an un-crossover family ride that’s ultra-efficient.

The rear cargo area swallows more than 19 cubic feet of gear with the seats up, more than 54 cubes with the seats down.

The Niro FE is the most efficient version sold without a plug, and the least expensive too. At $24,430 to start, the FE gets 16-inch wheels with hub caps, cloth upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, one USB plug and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. That’s less than a base Prius, but unlike the Toyota, Kia doesn’t make automatic emergency braking standard on its base model.

Top trims of the plug-in hybrid can run past $35,000 with leather, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, premium audio, and active safety, although those cars qualify for tax credits or rebates.

The 2019 Kia Niro plays it safe for style. That’s just fine.
Automakers are trying hard these days—really hard.

That’s evident in the bends and creases, turns and upkicks in the styles of their cars. Many cars leaving lots are too busy, too expressive, too much.

The 2019 Niro skips most of that and it’s better for it. We give it a point above average for its class-leading restraint. 

Compared to the related Hyundai Ioniq, the Niro is plainer and more straightforward. We’ll let the automotive intelligencia argue whether the Niro is a hatchback or a wagon—to us the long roof is just more practical.

From the front, the Niro’s grille is tastefully upright, although the headlights reach further back on the fenders than initial appearances would indicate. That visually shortens what’s a fairly long hood, although the Niro is visually squat and lower to the ground. Deep stampings along the bottoms of the doors sink the car lower to the ground, despite a couple added inches of ride height for easier entry and exit.

The Niro’s roof skips the dramatic-drop fad for now—it gently reaches back to a tailgate that lacks any drama, too.

The inside is similarly plain, with just a few touches of color for the Plug-In Hybrid to separate it from the hybrid Niro.

Most of the surfaces are matte black plastic, although a smattering of the high-gloss surfaces show up—particularly around the gear shifter. We appreciate the simple (almost boring) layout for a family hatchback.

The 2019 Niro isn’t a screamer behind the wheel—we think that’s the point.
The 2019 Kia Niro is hardly thrilling behind the wheel, but it’s not supposed to be.

Electric versions may force us to eat our words later on, but those models aren’t yet confirmed for the U.S.

Starting from an average score, we dock the 2019 Niro a point for leisurely acceleration. It gets a 4 for performance.

The 2019 Niro and 2019 Niro Plug-In Hybrid on sale use the same gasoline-powered engine, but different batteries for propulsion.

The Niro is more common, and it teams a 1.6-liter inline-4 to an electric motor to make 139 hp combined. Its power is shuttled to the front wheels only via a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission—all-wheel drive isn’t in the cards.

Kia quotes a 8.6-second run to 60 mph in FE, LX, and EX trims, and top Touring trims take a second longer due to their added weight (nearly 100 pounds) and bigger wheels.

The Niro’s hybrid battery is just 1.56-kwh, so the gasoline engine is tasked with shouldering most of the burden of moving the 3,200-pound hatchback. A drive mode switch toggles between Eco and Sport, with discernible differences, but the big hatchback never feels hurried.

The Plug-In Hybrid mates a bigger electric motor (60 hp vs. 43 hp) to the same 1.6-liter inline-4, although the net output is the same. The bigger, 8.9-kwh lithium-ion battery can power the Niro alone for up to 26 miles, according to the EPA, and it adds roughly 200 pounds to the overall weight.

Kia doesn’t quote a 0-60 mph time for the Niro Plug-In Hybrid and that’s the point; both hatchbacks are aimed squarely at efficiency.

Driving the Niro (and Niro Plug-In Hybrid) is mostly drama-free, with predictable body lean from such a heavy car but light steering.

Kia’s decision to use a single-motor hybrid system (many other automakers use a dual-motor system) impacts the performance in one specific way: under braking the Niro’s friction and regenerative brakes can hesitate between duties, which can feel like the car is lurching.

Comfort & Quality
The 2019 Kia Niro is the un-crossover family crossover with a quiet ride and plenty of room inside.
Efficiency is the Niro’s first mission, but its secret weapons are versatility and space.

We give the family hatchback a 6 out of 10 for its capacious interior and quiet ride.

Tall riders won’t be short for space in the Niro. The front seats are comfortable and adjustable in every trim level and our 6-foot-6 editor had no issues climbing aboard. Most Niros will be equipped with cloth upholstery, although there are two variants: FE and LX trims get a woven cloth material, EX and S Touring get a cloth/leather combo. Leather upholstery is standard on top Touring and EX Premium trims, and is optional on EX versions.
The rear seats are wide enough for three adults abreast, although two American widebodies will fit better. The seats sit just a few inches higher than a normal sedan or hatchback, which makes entry and exit easier for empty nesters or sore joints.

Kia quotes 37.4 inches of rear seat leg room for the Niro, which feels right to our knees.

Behind the second row the Niro offers 19.4 cubic feet of cargo room, which expands to 54.5 cubes with the second row folded. It’s enough space for a long day at the home improvement store, plenty of dogs, camping gear, groceries, or all of the above. Hatchbacks like the Niro have a leg up on crossovers in one important area: without all-wheel-drive running gear, the load floor is lower and more accessible.

The Niro is hardly impressive in its materials, but they do feel durable. Most of the surfaces are hard and black or gray, but grained with a matte finish that cuts down on glare and smudges less.

In multiple drives we’ve noted how quiet the Niro is on the road. Mashing the accelerator or groomed pavement can result in howls creeping into the cabin, but the Niro is mostly quiet and calm—impressive for its price and busy engine.

The 2019 Kia Niro hasn’t yet been comprehensively rated by federal safety officials.
Official safety data on the 2019 Kia Niro is incomplete, but what’s in so far is good.

We’ll update this space when federal officials ruin one, stay tuned.

The IIHS called specific versions of the Niro a Top Safety Pick+ for 2018. In addition to top “Good” scores on all crash tests—including both front- and passenger-side small overlap crashes—the Niro’s optional automatic emergency braking system was rated as “Superior” in avoiding or mitigating forward crashes. Frustratingly, Kia reserves automatic emergency braking as a spend-up option on LX and EX trims, and it’s not available on base models. The life-saving technology is only standard on Touring models and plug-in hybrid versions. We think it should be standard across the board.

Outward vision in the Kia Niro is generally good, although the view toward the back is compromised by thick rear roof pillars. The Niro EX trim level includes standard blind-spot monitors that we strongly recommend.

The Niro Plug-In Hybrid’s upgraded headlights on EX and EX Premium trims should fare better than last year’s “Poor” rating by the IIHS. Automatic emergency braking is standard on all trim levels of the plug-in hybrid.

The 2019 Niro is handsomely equipped for a family hatchback, but many base versions skip critical safety tech that others make standard.
The 2019 Kia Niro is a competitor to the Toyota Prius in many ways. On top of similar fuel economy scores, the Niro’s starting price is about $500 less than the base Prius.

The two cars are similarly equipped, with two key exceptions: the Toyota gets a large, tablet-style touchscreen in top trims and every Prius gets automatic emergency braking.

We can live without the former, but the latter is literally life-saving stuff.

The Niro’s base touchscreen is nice, but it’s the only feature that’s worth a point above average. We land at a 6 for features. 

The Niro is offered in FE, LX, EX, S Touring, and Touring trim levels. The Niro Plug-In Hybrid is available in LX, EX, and EX Premium trim levels that largely mirror the regular hybrid version.

The base 2019 Niro FE gets 16-inch wheels with hub caps, cloth upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, one USB plug and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The base Niro costs $24,430, including destination.

Without automatic emergency braking, it’s hard to recommend that as a good value—particularly for a family-sized hatchback.

Instead, we see the EX as the better value for shoppers. The 2019 Niro EX gets largely the same equipment as the FE but adds upgraded cloth upholstery, heated seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, rear climate vents, a rear USB charger, and blind-spot monitors for $27,240. A $1,950 safety package adds forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, active lane control, adaptive cruise control, and power-adjustable driver’s seat. A $5,300 premium package goes further with leather upholstery, sunroof, upgraded audio, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, navigation, wireless phone charger, cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, and parking sensors. At less than the price of an average new car, a fully loaded Niro EX is a compelling value.

Touring trims add bigger wheels that ask for a sizable fuel economy compromise, which we cover below.

The 2019 Niro Plug-In Hybrid is largely similar in its trim levels, but offers automatic emergency braking on every model. The plug-in LX costs $4,200 more than a similarly equipped hybrid LX, the plug-in EX adds $5,500 to the cost of a hybrid version.

Top-of-the-line Niro Plug-In Hybrid EX Premium versions cost $35,840 for all the goodies: 8.0-inch touchscreen, navigation, leather, heated and cooled seats, and a 7.0-inch digital cluster for the driver.

Niro Plug-In Hybrids are eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $4,500 and applicable state incentives.

Fuel Economy
The 2019 Kia Niro is among the most fuel-efficient cars on the road.
Fuel efficiency is the 2019 Kia Niro’s ace.

Every version of the hybrid hatchback rates at more than 40 mpg combined, some do much, much better.

We give the Niro an 8 on our fuel-economy scale because to do any better would require a bigger battery. That hasn’t happened—yet. 

Most versions of the Niro will manage combined fuel economy around 50 mpg, according to the EPA. The most common models rate 51 mpg city, 46 highway, 49 combined. Touring trims extract a steep penalty for their wheels: 46/40/43 mpg.

The most fuel-efficient Niro sold without a plug is the Niro FE, which rates 52/49/50 mpg.

The Niro Plug-In Hybrid has an all-electric range of 26 miles and is rated at 46 mpg combined, when operating as a hybrid. With full tanks of electrons and gasoline, the Niro PHEV manages more than 550 miles of range.

An all-electric Niro is available in other parts of the world, but not yet confirmed for the U.S.

Other hybrids fare slightly better: the Toyota Prius rates at least 52 mpg combined, the Hyundai Ioniq manages 55 mpg or better.


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