Is $23,490 a bad, good, or great deal?
The ride of the day was the Kia Niro FE. Kia is under the impression that “Iron” is a good nomenclature for the base models Niro and Optima of a few weeks ago. The Niro presents well inside and out, but if you want fully loaded, you’ll have to shell out $9000+ to get the fully stocked Touring version.
Creature comforts are few and far between in here, but as soon as the cabin warms up and the seat is in the best driver position, it be comes a little more tolerable that the base Niro FE doesn’t have power or heated seats. The empty spaces in the center console and the dash prove without a doubt that this is not a high end Kia, but I’ve seen worse cabin materials in more expensive rides.
Most notably absent is the adaptive cruise control button replaced with a battery reset button. The Kia can automatically detect when the 12V battery is close to being fully depleted and can be disconnected internally to prevent damage. That sounds odd to me since I’d think reset would be done automatically without human intervention when conditions become normal again.
The driver’s seat was reasonably comfortable on my short time with the Niro, but lack of adjustment options could prove troublesome on a multi-state trip. Every gauge and every steering wheel control were very well laid out and easy to learn with very minimal trial and error. The gear shifter was unusually firm and strong. I’ve gotten accustomed to a base model anything having a moneysaving, cheap, and flimsy gear shift that screams of blatant cost savings.
The 1.6L hybrid engine won’t win any races, unless it’s against a Prius or an Insight. The 0-60 time is an expected 8.6 seconds with the 6-speed automatic that is standard across all 5 trim levels. The main draw to the Niro is the stellar fuel economy. I achieved 44mpg without trying, although that’s less than the EPA stated 52 city / 49 highway. Optional for the Niro are 18″ wheels on the Touring trims, but at a cost of a 10% reduction in fuel economy. That’s a high price to pay for 2″ more of wheel and a testament to the fuel economy and balance of the standard issue 16″ wheels. I floored it more than once in the Eco mode and the Sport mode. Unlike most of the ‘sport mode’ transmission settings I’ve tried in the past, the Niro is night and day different when it comes to either setting. When I put the gear shifter in Sport mode, it felt like the engine power was being liberated from a tree hugger.
Trunk space was sufficient on a vehicle of this class, but as pictured above, I don’t think the materials are going to age well. Of course rental cars aren’t pampered like a personal vehicle, but those are extreme scuffs from what is likely just luggage. A hard rubber cargo tray can be had for $114 (specific to this FE trim level) or a thick carpeted mat for $147 both from Kia’s accessory website. The lesser priced cargo tray seems like a no brainer.
The front grille reminds me of a Breathe-Right Strip. The readers that have snoring problems will see it. This is the standard issue grille throughout the Kia lineup from Soul to Sorrento in various sizes, but basically the same shape.
My neighbor has the nearly identical twin Hyundai Kona, although the Kona has extreme separate reverse lights and turn signals placed between the bumper and glass.
The center stack is well done and with good sized buttons that are easy to learn with only a quick glance. Standard issue Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will be welcomed to the advanced tech buyers and renters. The rear defroster was extraordinarily quick at getting rid of the ice coating at 830am this morning. The 7″ touchscreen is standard in the bottom 3 trim levels, but a larger 8″ screen is included with the top level Touring and S Touring trims. The standard issue 6-speaker stereo was a disappointment, but an 8-speaker Harmon Kardon system is the only choice on both Touring trims.
The backseat is very sparse in amenities. Meaning, there’s not even A/C vents, but they are standard in the Touring versions. The 2 cupholders in the fold down armrest are the only extras for 2 rear passengers plus one in each door.
The front door handles illuminate when the key approaches from about 2 feet away. That would be welcomed in poor lighting conditions outdoors or in a garage.
The dashboard is a varying array of fuel and hybrid displays. The distance to empty display within the off/charge/eco/power dial to the far left is always on. Gas station haters will rejoice with the Niro’s tiny 11.9 gallon tank. It’d be nearly impossible to get less than 400 miles per tank on the highway and 600 miles to a tank in the city isn’t impossible. The wiper stalk is nearly identical to the Optima sedan.
I don’t think the Niro would be the car of choice for many typical 12,000 mile per year owners, but with it’s simple and durable interior (except the trunk area) this could be the ideal Uber/Lyft rideshare car. As with any new model, I’m curious to see how well this will hold up after 5 years and/or 120,000 miles. If the hybrid batteries hold up well, this could be the taxi of the future.
In essence, the $23,490 Kia Niro is a great deal for those who want basic roomy transportation will unparalleled fuel economy, bad deal for those who want the latest and greatest safety tech, and a good deal for those parents looking for a safe ride that won’t be prone to speeding tickets.
75 out of 100 –
80 out of 100 – very generic, but every display was useful.
50 out of 100
70 out of 100
99 out of 100 – save that extra point for a Leaf or a Tesla.
60 out of 100 – unforgiving suspension on rough roads.
70 out of 100
RECOMMEND TO RENT:
65 out of 100
RECOMMEND TO BUY:
55 out of 100 – beware of possible hybrid battery issues. Prius has a proven (exceptions are out there of course) stellar track record of 200,000 mile+ battery packs.