For decades, the Korean brand Kia was an enigma in the United States. During its early history, Kia supplied engines and transmissions to Ford for use in U.S. and European models. When I first married, I bought my then wife a 1988 Ford Festiva, a Kia-powered tiny affair that retailed for $4,995. We drove the Festiva for 54,000 miles with the only problem being a faulty driver-side, rear wheel bearing. The Festiva featured decent performance—it actually was fun to drive—and was roomy inside. I wish YouTube had been established in 1988, as watching me unfold my 6-foot-9, 300-pound body from the Festiva would’ve probably made for a viral hit. But I fit just fine inside the tiny car, and its reliability endeared me to the Kia brand.
Fast forward to the ’90s, when Kia established its first dealerships here in the States. Due to the Asian financial crisis of the late ’90s, Kia filed for bankruptcy and after a bidding war with Ford was acquired by fellow Korean brand Hyundai. Under Hyundai’s tutelage both brands have slowly built their model portfolios into household names. A stroke of marketing genius saw the introduction of the industry’s first 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty for both Kia and Hyundai models.
Now, with this kind of warranty protection you’d better build quality cars, or else expect to go broke very quickly on warranty claims. Yet Kia has responded over the years in a major way. Just a few decades ago, J.D. Power dependability studies pegged Kia models as among the worst in the industry, but now its most recent survey has shown Kia as the best. That’s quite the climb for a brand that started with just two cars in its lineup, the Sephia and Sportage. While the Sportage remains it’s now joined by Rio, Soul, Forte, Optima, Sedona, Sorento, Cadenza, the super luxury K900, and now the 2017 Kia Niro.
The new Niro is a compact hybrid crossover utility vehicle. With handsome styling, 52 city mpg efficiency, and tall wagon utility, it’s the perfect car for those with young families and active lifestyles.
From a style perspective Niro delivers a rugged image; deep-door sculpting, optional 18-inch wheels, a high beltline, and wheel arch cladding contribute to this muscular look. From the front, the traditional Kia grille is flanked by projector beam HID headlights, while aggressive brake cooling ducts and well-integrated LED daytime running lamps fill the lower half of the bumper. At Niro’s rear is a racy roof spoiler, with performance cladding around the rear exhaust. The overall appearance says Niro is comfortable in any road environment, however off-roading is not its “forte”.
Inside the car is a typically well-appointed Kia cabin. Niro’s standard and optional equipment includes dual-zone climate control; pushbutton start; heated seats and steering wheel; 10-way power seats with power lumbar support; an eServices smartphone app; Apple CarPlay or Android Auto; an eco-performance monitor to track and enhance mpg; seven- or eight-inch telematics screen depending on trim level; voice command navigation; Harmon/Kardon premium surround sound; power sunroof; roof rails; leather seat trim; and so much more.
The 2017 Kia Niro offers impressive safety gear as standard equipment, like multiple airbags including a driver’s side knee airbag; a trio of stability control management systems; brake assist aids; and even Hill Start Assist Control, which prevents the Niro from rolling backward on steep hills.
On the road, you’ll be forced to choose from “Economy” (Eco) or “Sport” mode. To achieve max mpg efficiency Niro defaults to Eco mode, which is fine as long as you are not trying to get anywhere in a hurry. In Eco mode, its 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, coupled with a dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission, offers leisurely acceleration to save fuel. “What a dog,” I thought as I tried to enter freeways at a safe speed. Switch to Sport mode and the Niro transforms into the fun vehicle that supports its racy looks. Ride quality is also pleasantly compliant.
I think the whole industry is still trying to figure out how Kia and corporate cousin Hyundai can market their vehicles at such reasonable price points. Priced from $22,890 to $29,650, Niro is impressive at all trim levels.
If you want safety and style, as well as economic and utile efficiency, look no further than the 2017 Kia Niro.
Story credits: Brian Armstead, American Auto Press Photo credits: Kia Copyright: American Auto Press