Business Insider will name its 2017 Car of the Year on November 14, based on 15 finalists. For this post, we look at a car that didn’t make the cut, but deserves some recognition.
The Kia Niro Hybrid didn’t make Business Insider’s Car of the Year list.
But I love this car and think it deserves some recognition. The Niro is Kia’s very first shot at a hybrid hatchback-crossover — and Kia did a fantastic job. It checks the boxes for a lot of buyers who want something different and unique without breaking the bank.
Here are the five reasons why I love the Kia Niro hybrid:
I tested the Niro EX in a practical gunmetal grey. At 171.5-inches long, the vehicle is a true compact SUV. I loved its size because it gave the car a very European feel; I didn't feel cramped while I was driving it but enjoyed being in a smaller car than the giant monstrosities you see on the road today.
There aren't any features that make this car stand out from an aesthetic perspective, but I like that -- it's not obnoxious or ugly. The grille and elongated headlights help jazz it up so the Kia isn't totally dull, but overall this is a car for minimalists.
2. It's a hybrid, but not a plug-in hybrid, so you get to save on gas without spending time at an electric charging station.
I don't want to disparage electric vehicles. As battery tech improves, the cars will boast longer ranges. Automakers like Tesla have invested heavily in fast-charging technology so you're not spending hours at a station to re juice the battery.
But, it's still valid to be nervous about electric vehicles until we see battery ranges nearing 400 miles. Most people want to know they can take a four-hour trip without spending 30 minutes at a charging station in the middle of nowhere. All of this stuff is bound to improve, but we're simply not at a great point right now with our national charging infrastructure or battery tech.
The nice thing about the Kia Niro hybrid is it's not a plug-in. You don't have to deal with the uncertainty of finding a charging station, but it still has better fuel economy and helps reduce emissions. Saving gas money is never a bad thing.
The Niro hybrid comes with a 6-speed dual clutch transmission, a 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder engine, and an electric motor capable of producing 43 hp. Combined, it makes 139 hp and 195 lb.-ft. of torque.
It comes equipped with a parallel hybrid system, meaning the gas-powered engine and electric motor run at the same time.
Many hybrids, such as the Prius, use a continuous variable transmission (CVT) that serve up good fuel economy but can result in a buzzy disconnect when accelerating; they effectively have one gear, or an infinite number of gears, depending on how you look at it. The transmission seeks to match itself perfectly to how hard the motor is working.
The Niro bucks this trend by using a dual-clutch transmission that shifts smoothly under the conditions I threw at it (heavy acceleration, climbing up a particularly steep hill). The SUV always caught up to the situation at hand, and I never felt like the transition was wonky or ill-suited to handle my driving needs.
All of this is to say that the Niro is a very smooth and easy drive. If you've had a poor experience driving a hybrid, it's worth giving the Niro hybrid a shot.
4. The car is spacious, the seats are comfy, and the dashboard has everything you could possible need.
That headline really says it all! I wasn't uncomfortable driving this car and definitely felt like there was enough room for my everyday driving needs. If I wanted to take a longer trip, I could certainly fit small adults or kids in the back and still have enough room in the trunk.
The crossover also comes with some nice tech features. For example, it has a digital instrument panel that shows how the battery is performing in real time.
A green EV button will display when the car is only relying on the electric motor. There's also a fuel economy graph to the left, which will show you when you're charging the battery by braking or relying on gas for sheer power.
The infotainment console was very simple and easy to use. It supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so it covers all of the entertainment basics.
If you spend an extra $US2,000 for the advanced tech package, you can get features like smart cruise control. Even if you decide it's not ultimately worth the extra two grand, it's nice to know Kia offers it as an option. You're not settling for a low-budget car; you can get everything you expect in a vehicle in 2017.
5. Lastly, it's a very affordable car. The EX starts at an appealing $US25,700. But the model pictured here is priced at $US28,895 because it comes with a sunroof and the advanced technology package.
At less than $US30,000, this car is the package deal. It's small enough that it can zip through lanes and tuck into tight parking spaces, but large enough to fit kids and cargo if you're going on a road trip.
You don't have to deal with the hassles associated with owning a plug-in hybrid, but you get better fuel economy and the satisfaction that you're making an effort to reduce your emissions output when you drive.
It's also a good-looking car. You don't have to settle for something ugly or cheap-looking if you're sticking to a budget.
For more information, you can read my full review of the Kia Niro hybrid here.
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