2019 Kia Niro

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
65 out of 100
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.

624 points


2018 in Review

Proud of New Opinions

Before I started this blog, I had rented a few cars here and there and driven many other cars belonging to friends.  My first solo rental was a Mitsubishi Galant in (gulp!) 1994 with a friend in Las Vegas while we were job hunting.  My only memory was that the A/C could not keep up with the blaring July sun of the desert southwest and we were sweating at every single stop before and after we got in the car.  It didn’t take long after moving there to figure out why a vast majority of cars have tinted windows!

Besides the people that just view all cars as something to go from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’, everyone has their automotive favorites and . . . not-so-favorites.  I consider myself an ‘import guy’ and have had many reasons to make fun of the Big Three in my lifetime, but the Ford Fusion Hybrid, Chevy Impala, and Chrysler Pacifica are making waves to change my mind.

Lincoln Continental was a close 2nd


LEAST EXPENSIVE:  Hyundai Accent


MOST FUEL EFFICIENT:  Ford Fusion Hybrid



FASTEST: Dodge Challenger


SLOWEST:  Hyundai i10


Should have been the Lincoln Continental except                                                                         for the unsettling electronic door handles.


BEST SEATS:  Lincoln Continental






BEST COLOR:  Audi A4 – couldn’t get enough of that Scuba Blue
Subara Legacy – close 2nd in Twilight Blue Metallic


BEST INTERIOR:   Chevy Impala


MOST LIKELY TO BUY:  Nissan Maxima


MOST COMFORTABLE:  So many choices, but the Chrysler Pacifica can make 7 comfy.


LEAST COMFORTABLE:  Chevy Camaro – The driver’s comfort was only ok, but both                                                                                       passengers were miserable throughout


BEST AND WORST on the  scale from 1-100:
Buy it new –  60 – (tie) Ford Fusion Hybrid and Volvo S90
I was very impressed with both, but I think the maintenance costs for the Fusion will be a lot less on the way to 200,000 miles even with an untimely hybrid battery replacement.
Buy it later at half the sticker price – 85 – (tie) Kia Optima and Nissan Maxima
The Maxima was my favorite car overall for the year, but the Optima would be an incredible value at half price.
F.E.D. (Fun, Efficiency & Desirability) – 85 (tie) Dodge Challenger and Audi A4
I’d rent either the Challenger (if no one had to get in the backseat) or the A4 again in a heartbeat, but no way I’d buy either one.  The Challenger drank gas like a semi and the A4 will undoubtedly be expensive to maintain and repair.
Oooh and ahhh factor – 75 – Volvo S90
No one can convince me this car isn’t beautiful.  It looks great from any angle and is distinguishable from the rest of the Volvo line-up (take note Acura) PLUS it has no comparable twin in the world.
Recommended – 90 – (tie) Dodge Challenger and Nissan Maxima
These were the 2 runaway winners in this category and I’d love to rent them again anytime.  The Mazda CX-5, Chrysler Pacifica, and 2018 Camry were close behind with a score of 85.  A 300hp V6 Camry XSE would have probably joined and possibly surpassed the Challenger and Maxima in the 90 club.

I’m also looking to revamp the blog for 2019.  Any ideas or suggestions are great appreciated and welcomed!  What do YOU look for in a rental car?


2018 Subaru Legacy

Safety 1st

This was another surprise rental as I didn’t know we had any Subaru’s in the fleet at all until this arrived.   I figured I’d better snag it before it vanished on a 1-way rental never to be seen again.


This is covered in Twilight Blue Metallic paint and a fabric interior.   I feel like I’ve seen this color on other Subies in the past and that’s perfectly ok.  This shade of blue hides dirt very well.  I can attest to that personally since our 2-month old(!) car wash is already having issues and the blow dryers are currently inoperable.  Ferrari Red has been around for decades and why not make this Subaru Blue?


The front fascia looks great although the 6-starred Subaru logo seems a little oversized for the grille.  Just remember how far the Legacy has come in the past 30 years!



The taillights remind me of a Toyota Camry / Infiniti Q70 mix.  The bumper looks designed for dual exhaust, but only 1 pipe on this trim level.


The driver’s cockpit was very well done and the seats were awesome from headrests to thigh support.  I had a passenger for a brief time and she said they were the most comfortable seats yet in a rental.  She test drove an Outback and Forrester before buying her 2nd Lexus RX, but was disappointed in the limited power from the engine.


The 2.5 liter 4-cylinder was one of the slowest cars I’ve rented, if not THE slowest.  Not a label a carmaker would want after driving the much less expensive Nissan Sentra just a few weeks ago.  The 0-60 time listed is about 9 seconds and it felt every bit of that 9 seconds or more.  For a point of reference, the 1979 Buick Century, 2015 Chevy Trax, 1993 Infiniti J30, and 2009 Nissan Cube all are in the 9.0 to 9.2 second range in the 0-60mph sprint.


The 7-speed automatic was silky smooth in both upshifting and downshifting.  Pictured below the parking brake is 1 of only 2 blank buttons in the entire car.  That’s rather impressive considering this is one of the lower trimmed Legacy’s available.  The steering wheel paddle shifters were fun only briefly since the underpowered engine couldn’t support any sort of spirited driving.


I had some friends visiting from Las Vegas and we all immediately noticed how abnormally huge the trunk was for a car of this class.  This space could easily swallow luggage for 4 for a long weekend trip.

20181012_182452The backseat was surprisingly spacious also.  I had the driver’s seat in my usual position (almost all the way back) and it was still roomy for four 6′ tall passengers.  Comfort being more than adequate, I wonder what a hilly terrain road trip would be like for a 3500lb car with 200 lbs of bags, and 800 lbs of passengers for the not-so-capable 175hp engine.


As with most late model steering wheels, the Legacy is covered with 13 buttons and the up and down volume switch as well as the resume and set cruise control switch.  I always like to view the fuel economy display and it took a minute to figure out the two recessed buttons below the phone connect/disconnect control the center dash display.  Subaru has the right idea about the trip odometer, it’s easy to see in plain sight right below the temperature gauge!


Volvo could take a lesson from Subaru about the simplistic way to defeat the “Big Brother” safety features with simple buttons on the lower left dash.  (From L to R) The traction control, blind-spot detection, lane departure warning, and EyeSight, respectively.  The lane change assist on/off button is on the steering wheel that displays status on the center dash below the distance to empty.  Another first on a car I’ve ever driven is when traffic ahead is moving and you aren’t, the dash lights and alarm let you know.  A subtle hint to put down the phone and pay attention again.20181013_152401

Things of note:
Sticker price new about $24,000 as shown.
Most dealers don’t budge on the sticker price.
30 mpg on my local trip is in line with the EPA stated 25CITY/34HWY.
Starting in 2019, the 7-speed automatic goes away and it’s CVT or nothing.  Bummer.
The rear view camera is the clearest I’ve come across to date.

Buy it? Rent it? Avoid it?
No way I’d buy the underpowered 4-cyl Legacy that would struggle to go up a mountainous highway when fully loaded with bags and people.  At the same time, if I lived in an area that required driving in all types of weather, the flawless AWD would warrant a serious look if equipped with the optional 256hp 6-cyl, but all of them sticker well over $32,000.  I would rent a Legacy again if I was driving solo, but would look for more horsepower options if I was hauling anything more than myself and a bag or two.  Well maintained Subaru’s are famous for longevity and have unbelievably high resale value.  I’d recommend it to others if they aren’t into acceleration and performance.

Subaru if you’re listening . . .
Every other vehicle in this class would leave a Legacy in the dust by 2 seconds or more.  Even a de-tuned version of the V6 would be better than the standard 4-cylinder.

AND. . .

picture from Toyota of New Bern.  New Bern, NC

*N*E*V*E*R* go back to this.  The 1979 version looks like a buck-toothed caveman.

On a scale from 1-100: (1-party like it’s 1979 / 100- party like it snows year round )
Buy it now – 15
Buy it later at half the current price – 20
F.E.D. (Fun, Efficiency & Desirability) – 50
Oooh and ahhh factor – 55
Recommended – 70

In your opinion, what’s the best looking Subaru?