The Other Practical Hybrid

Photos by Randy Stern
Photos by Randy Stern

For 23 years, our idea of a practical hybrid vehicle has been the Toyota Prius. 

It’s true. The past three generations of the hybrid hatchback were our default. Practical? Yes. Roomy? Yes. Efficient? Absolutely!

For the past few years, the Prius had some company. Not just from its own Toyota lineup, but from its competitors. One of them has slowly sunk into our own consciousness.

We’re talking about the Kia Niro.

Compared to the Prius, the Niro was developed as a crossover, first. It was more practical, more spacious, and more versatile. Performance was on par with the Prius, but the Niro fell short in fuel economy expectations and looked even humbler compared the Toyota,

Now, there is a new Niro for 2023. In this case, Kia decided to shake a few things up. It no longer looks like a humble hybrid crossover anymore. 

What we get is a future-forward exterior design that takes inspiration from Kia’s latest models. It is a clean sheet design overall. The headlamp units are now lower on the front clip, combined with the lightning units, daytime running lights, and turn signals. It is a clean design before you get to the roofline.

The profile is upright, but not as wagon-esque as in the last generation model. Instead of a pane of glass on the C-pillar, our SX Touring tester sports a contrasting paint scheme that offsets the main paint job. The taillights frame the upper part of the rear pillar, framing with the liftgate’s glass. 

For a sporting look, our SX Touring tester adds 18-inch alloy wheels for an extra cool factor. That is the essence of the new Niro – it is now a cool looking vehicle. 

Interior-wise, the Niro takes on elements from its more recent models. The dashboard and center console gave us EV6 vibes – the battery-electric vehicle. The same vibes are found in recent Sportage models as well. The full screen digital instrument cluster is shared on the same piano black panel with our model’s 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen. The center console is also in piano black with the ignition switch located on it. Instead of a knob to control the transmission, you get an actual shifter. The steering wheel is also influenced by the EV6, as well. 

There is seating for up to five people. The SynTex front seats are rather comfortable and offer plenty of adjustments, along with heating and cooling. Rear seat room is good for two adults or three children. Behind the rear seats, you can load up to 22.8 cubic feet space. By folding down the rear seatbacks, that space expands to 63.7 cubic feet.

For our tester, we got the hybrid driveline. That starts with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with an electric motor. Total combined performance is rated at 139 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. This is attached to a six-speed dual-clutch transmission, driving only the front wheels. 

This driveline is pretty decent. Not a barn burner, but it is motivated to get you around town with ease. It is also pretty good on the highway, We also observed a fuel consumption average of 45.6 MPG, which is quite efficient. 

We found the Niro’s ride quality just fine. Rougher road surfaces put the Niro’s suspension system at work by absorbing ruts and potholes. Handling was very good, a bit the softer side at times. The Niro manages tight maneuvers quite easily due to its smaller size. 

In turn, the Niro’s steering system has a nice turning radius. On-center feel is also quite good, but there is a somewhat lighter feeling overall. The brakes were also very good overall. We liked the solid pedal feel, which returned good stops in normal, panic, and winter situations. 

Pricing for the new 2023 Kia Niro starts at $26,590. Our SX Touring Hybrid tester came with a sticker price of $36,435. You have a choice of five hybrid, two plug-in hybrid and two battery-electric trim levels to choose from.

Before you call the Kia Niro the “alternative” to your Toyota Prius, understand your needs. If you need a much more boxier cargo hold, a roomier space for four to five people, and the design that actually stands out a bit more, this new Niro might just be it. It is certainly a standout among other affordable electrified vehicles in its class.

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