For years the Toyota Prius has truly owned the hybrid market. Oh sure, there have been plenty of other hybrids on the streets and they while they may have gotten better mileage than their gas counterparts, they didn’t get killer Prius-like mileage.
It’s time for the Prius to put on a little body armor. The hybrid wars are hearing up. There are now several cars that are delivering mileage in the Prius range.
Take the 2017 Kia Niro. It costs less than a Prius and delivers mileage that is darn close. Let’s start with those mileage numbers. The Niro will get 51 mpg around town and 46 on the highway for a combined number of 49. That’s 3 mpg short of what the Prius will deliver, but it’s definitely in the ball park. (By the way, if you’re after mega mileage in a traditional hybrid, try the Hyundai Ioniq. Its combined number is 58.) My test car was the Niro Touring which is rated a little lower at 43 mpg combined. Still, I averaged about 46 mpg during my week without really trying to save fuel.
Power for the Niro comes from a 1.6 liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 104 horsepower. It also has a 43 horsepower electric motor fitted between the engine and transmission. Working in tandem with the gasoline engine they pump out 139 horsepower. It uses a six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission to get that power to the road.
Most people buying hybrids aren’t worried about 0-60 times. That’s just as well because the Niro is not especially impressive in that department. It gets you to freeway speed, but it’s not going to impress anyone along the way.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the Prius and Niro is the styling. The Prius has that quirky hybrid look, while the Niro is an attractive SUV. To be honest, the Niro’s body is sort of a hybrid as well. It’s taller than a traditional car, but lower than what most folks would expect from an SUV. It’s smaller size also means limited cargo space as well, but then that’s the trade-off for the great mileage.
I love the fact that more and more cars are coming with a wider range of safety features. Depending upon options, the Niro has seven airbags, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Change Assist and Lane Departure Warning. Kia is also touting that the Niro chassis is 53 percent Advanced High Strength Steel, including reinforcing the roof pillars and roof rails which makes it both lighter and safer.
The Niro has a comfortable interior. My touring edition was a little more upscale and included goodies like heated and cooled seats. I liked the instrument panel. On the right hand side is a speedometer, on the left side is the energy status. I liked the status view because it was kind of subtle. It doesn’t beat you over the head with hybrid high-techiness. I’m a fan of the Kia UVO control system. It’s easy to understand and works well. My test car also had Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. I’m convinced that’s the future of the connectable car.
Incidentally, considering its size the Niro has impressive back seat room. It will give you nearly four inches more than the Prius.
The impressive thing about the Niro is the starting price. It begins at $22,890 and works its way up. My test car had the touring package which meant it was fully loaded (including a $1,900 advanced technology package). It stickered at $32,840. If you’re still making Prius comparisons the Niro starts out at nearly $1,800 less.
In the past you’d have to decide whether you wanted an SUV, or killer gas mileage. The Kia Niro gives you the chance to have both.