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Don't let this vehicle fool you; it might look like a stylistic SUV, but it is actually a fuel-efficient hybrid model! Per the EPA's estimates, it gets somewhere around 50 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving. For someone who has only ever driven a gas-only vehicle, this might seem like a good deal. But is it? 50 mpg combined is actually pretty low for a hybrid, and real-world estimates put the Niro - especially its higher trim levels, which consume more fuel - toward the bottom of the pack.
The Niro has some advantages though. It provides you with a more nimble-than-average handling performance, a more advanced cruise control system that is linked to the vehicle's navigation, and wireless smartphone app integration for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. However, the Niro has some tough competition, so before you decide on whether or not this is the hybrid for you, consider its pros and cons.
What's New for 2021?
As we briefly touched on in the intro, the 2021 Kia Niro benefits from a brand-new, more advanced cruise control system that is directly linked with the Niro's GPS navigation system. It comes on the Touring Special Edition and the line-topping EX Premium. This feature is unique in that it comes with the ability to read traffic signs as well as setting a safe driving speed. The EX Premium also comes with the new wireless smartphone app integration set-up for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Standard across the line-up is the rear occupant alert. While an overhauled Niro should come in the next few years (and probably feature some styling cues from Kia's HabaNiro concept car), the only updates being made right now revolve around the tech features.
Top 10 Reasons to Buy a 2021 Kia Niro – The Pros
1. Smooth Sailing From the Steering
The 2021 Kia Niro gets a smooth performance from its steering system. The Niro is a vehicle that is easy to maneuver thanks in part to its well weighted and very direct steering. While it might not give as much road feedback as gas-powered vehicles, it feels light and easy for cruising around town and bulks up when you need it to.
2. Handles With Ease
Handling is one of the driving elements that feels enjoyable on the Niro. It is not exactly engaging because of that disconnect between the driver and the road, but the vehicle clearly handles well regardless of that. This vehicle is a lot more nimble than you might expect from just looking at it and does move around corners more easily than other hybrids in its segment.
3. Comfortable Seats Fore and Aft
Kia makes the Niro an overall comfortable vehicle to ride around in. The seats are especially pleasant, as they are given just the right amount of padding for lateral and lumbar support. The front seats even give you the option of adding both heating and ventilation, which is still something of a rarity in this class. Even the rear seats offer a respectable amount of comfort for long trips.
4. A Pleasant Ride Quality
The Niro's ride quality is also quite pleasing. As a daily commuter, the Niro makes for a hassle-free vehicle, gliding smoothly over small road imperfections. The cabin remains quiet at just about every speed, although you will hear an appropriate amount of grunting from the engine when pushed to full throttle.
5. A Functional, User-friendly Design
Kia almost always does well at presenting buyers with a straightforward design that is easy for them to figure out. This is certainly the case with the 2021 Kia Niro. The driver's seat has a good range of adjustability, and controls are all adequately labeled and placed within the driver's reach. Relatively little in the way of guesswork is involved in the short learning curve you have with the Niro's technology. The cabin is spacious, too, which makes it easy for a total of five occupants to find comfortable positions.
6. Relatively Clear Outward Visibility
Aside from the rear window bordering on the smaller side, outward visibility is clear. A back-up camera and blind spot monitoring system can help you negate that awkward rear window, and the blind spots themselves are somewhat small. Generally speaking, drivers should have clear lines of view fore, aft, and to the sides.
7. The Optional 10.25-inch Touchscreen Interface
While the standard infotainment touchscreen does okay, we prefer the 10.25-inch touchscreen interface that can come with the higher trim levels. This bigger screen offers high-resolution graphic readouts that are easy to see and comprehend. The system works well without experiencing undue crashes or glitches. Overall, it is user-oriented and provides excellent visibility without casting glare like a lot of bigger screens do.
8. An Optional Harman Kardon Premium Sound System
While we are on the topic of tech options, the 8-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system is another reason to upgrade to the Touring Special Edition or EX Premium. Its sound quality is on point with no noticeable distortion when you crank up the volume. The bass sounds robust too. It is a system that speaks to Harman Kardon's superior skills in crafting audio technology.
9. Plenty of Advanced Driver Aids Come Standard
Plenty of advanced driver aids get packed into Kia's bundle. You do have to upgrade one trim level to the LXS to be able to get them. Blind spot monitoring comes with a rear cross-traffic alert function that warns you if someone is in your blind spot while you have the Niro in reverse. If the Niro senses you getting too drowsy or distracted, the driver alert warning will go off. Forward collision warning can help you avoid a potential front-end crash, and lane keep assist will gently guide the Niro back into its intended driving lane when straying is detected. On the Touring, you get the additions of the entire lane keep assist system and adaptive cruise control. The Touring Special Edition has that awesome new nav-linked adaptive cruise control that can read traffic signs as well as set the speed. Going up to the EX Premium adds rear parking sensors onto the Niro.
10. The Generous Warranty Coverage
One of the most attractive things about the Niro is Kia's generous warranty coverage. Its five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranties are above industry average. Also, the hybrid battery comes with a lengthy 10-year/100,000-mile warranty. Five years/60,000 miles of roadside assistance comes standard as well.
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Reasons Not to Buy a 2021 Kia Niro – The Cons
1. The Unconventional Use of a Dual-Clutch Automatic Transmission
Most hybrids utilize a CVT rather than a dual-clutch. CVTs make for more efficiency and tend to pair pretty well with hybrid powertrain components for smooth power delivery to the wheels. The dual-clutch on the Niro? Not so much. While it is smooth in its shifting, it is slow to do so - much slower than most CVTs. And that lack of immediate power delivery is something you will feel as you try to get the vehicle to shift between gears.
2. Panic Braking Takes Some Effort
While the brakes are easy to control in everyday braking scenarios, making a panic stop from 60 mph takes some distance. A little too much distance, perhaps. It leads to a lackluster performance and a lack of confidence from the driver.
3. Not As Much Cargo Space As Some Rivals
Other hybrids offer more cargo space. Even the Toyota Prius has more than the Niro's 19.4 cubic feet of cargo space located behind its rear seats. This is not necessarily a bad number, but in a fiercely competitive segment, every fraction of a cube matters. At least the rear seats fold down flat for extra space to accommodate bulkier items.
4. A Bottom-of-the-barrel Fuel Economy
50 miles per gallon in combined driving looks good on paper when you are used to a gas-only engine. Realistically, though, the Niro does not stack up against the Honda Insight or the Prius. The Touring trim level drops all the way down to 43 mpg combined, and these numbers do not even hold up in real-world estimates. If it is top-of-the-line hybrid fuel efficiency you want, then this might not be the vehicle for you.
How it Stacks Up to the Competition:
2021 Kia Niro vs. 2021 Toyota Prius
The Toyota Prius has become the gold standard for hybrid vehicles. The 2021 model returns well over 50 mpg in combined driving, and real-world tests uphold these EPA estimates. The Prius is easy to see out of and just as easy to maneuver due to its size. All-wheel drive is available on it, and even when you have the gas engine running, the cabin remains nice and quiet. The downsides? The instrument panel is awkwardly placed off to the side, out of the driver's line-of-sight. Acceleration is somewhat slow for the segment, and the ride quality feels jittery on some road surfaces. On top of that, the infotainment system is in dire need of an upgrade.
2021 Kia Niro vs. 2021 Honda Insight
The 2021 Honda Insight is one of the stand-out hybrids for the model year. Despite having a gas engine that can sound a little rough at times, the cabin is otherwise well-muted and should feel very familiar to anyone who has driven an Accord or Civic before. Spacious and refined, Honda knows how to design a cozy cabin. You also get a swift acceleration that beats the Niro and the Prius.
The 2021 Kia Niro might be a good stepping-stone vehicle if you are new to the world of hybrids. However, there are better hybrid vehicles on the market this year. While we certainly admire Kia's warranty coverage and abundance of user-friendly tech, the hybrid technology itself could use more refinement before we would place it closer to the top of the pack.
• Why buy a 2020 Kia Niro? w/ pros vs cons