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2019 Kia Niro review: A frugal and functional hybrid crossover

Kia's subcompact Niro is a compelling alternative to your traditional hybrid hatchback.

Manuel Carrillo III Automotive Reviews Editor
A Porsche 911 S brought Manuel Carrillo III home from the hospital after he was born, so it's no surprise his lifelong trajectory has centered on cars, leading him to a robust career creating rich automotive media for publications prior to joining CNET.

The Southern California native briefly lived in Sydney, and is proud to have developed a barely passable Aussie accent. He also serves on the board of directors of the Motor Press Guild. When not reviewing cars or nerding out on OEM premium audio, you can find manual-labor-averse Manuel doing his best to convince his closest friends to fix the very Porsche that delivered him home.
Manuel Carrillo III
3 min read

Even in the crowded compact crossover class, the stands alone. Why? It's the only one that comes standard with electrification. And in addition to the hybrid model tested here, Kia offers its Niro with plug-in power, or as a fully electric vehicle with an estimated 239 miles of range.


2019 Kia Niro

The Good

The 2019 Kia Niro combines capacious crossover cargo capacity and terrific fuel economy in a handsome, comfortable package.

The Bad

It needs quite a bit more highway-passing power, especially on inclines.

The Bottom Line

The Niro represents the best of many worlds with little money required to reap its benefits.

The Niro shares its underpinnings with the Hyundai Ioniq, which is a more traditional fighter. But thanks to its crossover shape and extra cargo space, the Niro presents itself to be a much more compelling hybrid package.

2019 Kia Niro is a multifaceted fuel-miser

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Slow and steady

The Niro is powered by a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine that works in concert with a 1.56-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery to produce 139 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. In a subcompact crossover that weighs about 3,300 pounds, that's simply not enough. Driving up steep sections of the Grapevine on Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles, I had to dig deep into the throttle in order to keep pace in traffic.

The silver lining to that sluggishness, however, is fuel economy. The most efficient Niro FE is EPA-rated for 52 miles per gallon in the city and 49 mpg highway. My top-of-the-range Niro Touring tester's 2-inch-larger wheels and nearly 200-pound-heavier curb weight reduce fuel economy quite a bit, though, to 46/40 city/highway mpg. After 12 days and 1,209 miles, most of which were spent on the highway, I averaged 41 mpg.

2019 Kia Niro
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2019 Kia Niro

The Niro's hybrid powertrain is anemic on the highway.

Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

The lack of power isn't quite as noticeable off the highway, the electric assist offering short bursts of torque for off-the-line acceleration. The six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission is good at fading into the background, but takeoffs can sometimes be jerky, and the shifts lack the characteristic quickness you'll find in dual-clutch units from other automakers.

The rest of the Niro's driving qualities are well-sorted, just as they are in the Ioniq I recently tested. On twisty back roads, the direct steering helps the hybrid feel nimble. The suspension expertly keeps body roll in check, while soaking up bumps with aplomb, and the brakes bring everything smoothly back to rest, free from the maligned regenerative lurch sometimes found in other hybrids.

Curiously, the Niro is a front-wheel-drive-only affair, so if you're looking for something a little more all-weather-capable, you may have to look elsewhere.

2019 Kia Niro
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2019 Kia Niro

Decent-quality materials and supportive seats make for a well-sorted cabin.

Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

Nice digs

Although the Kia Niro shares a platform with the Hyundai Ioniq hatchback, the Niro has a more interesting-looking interior with higher-quality materials. On a six-hour drive from LA to San Francisco, the Niro's seats offer plenty of comfort. With a generous (for a subcompact crossover) 106.3-inch wheelbase, there's plenty of room to stretch out, whether you're seated up front or in back. There's also plenty of breathing room for cargo with 19.4 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats, and 54.5 cubic feet with the back seats folded.

The spacious, comfortable and quiet cabin is complemented by plenty of standard tech. The Niro is equipped right out of the gates with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on a 7-inch touchscreen. Satellite radio and a six-speaker stereo also come standard. In fully stocked Touring trim, you get an 8-inch touchscreen with embedded navigation that's simple to use though Kia's voice-command system. The Touring also bundles an eight-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system, HD radio and wireless phone charging.

When it comes to safety tech, no advanced driver-assistance systems come standard, but with a starting price of $23,490 (plus $995 for destination), I'm not mad about that. My fully loaded ($33,245 including destination) Touring, however, comes with adaptive cruise control that works above 5 mph, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, plus parking sensors front and rear.

2019 Kia Niro
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2019 Kia Niro

Just like its Hyundai Ioniq sibling, fully loaded is the way to go with the Niro.

Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

How I'd spec it

My Niro tester's Deep Cerulean paint got several compliments, but I'd opt for the Runway Red instead, which costs an extra $295. That's the only change I'd make. Otherwise, the Niro Touring has all the equipment I like in a car, such as HID headlights, keyless access, a sunroof, auto-dimming mirror, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, driver's seat memory and a heated steering wheel. All in, we're looking at $33,540 out the door.

After a couple of years on the market, the Kia Niro still offers a compelling package. But with all-wheel-drive rivals like the and the Toyota Prius AWD-e entering the market, the Niro might have to step up its game just a little to keep buyers interested.


2019 Kia Niro

Score Breakdown

Performance 6.5Features 8Design 8Media 8.5