What the experts say about the 2017 Kia Niro

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In this ongoing series, Boston.com talks with automotive authorities about why you should consider driving — or avoiding — a specific model.

2017 Kia Niro

New for 2017, the Kia Niro is a station wagon-like hybrid built to compete with the segment’s perennial leader: the Toyota Prius.

The Niro is Kia’s first hybrid-only model, and though its body resembles a wagon, the Korean automaker has positioned the Niro as a subcompact crossover to emphasize its ample cargo space and roomy cabin. However, unlike most SUVs, the Niro is not available with all-wheel drive.

The five-passenger Niro delivers 139 horsepower using a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and an electric motor mated to a dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission. It comes in five trims: FE, LX, EX, Touring Launch Edition, and Touring. Cloth upholstery is standard, but buyers can splash out on cabin luxuries such as leather-upholstered heated and ventilated front seats and a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel. The base model comes equipped with Kia’s straightforward UVO infotainment system with a responsive 7-inch touch screen and smartphone integration. An upgraded version of UVO with an 8-inch touch screen is available, along with a Harman Kardon surround-sound eight-speaker audio system and a rear USB port.

The 2017 Kia Niro has not yet been evaluated by the country’s two preeminent ratings agencies, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Niro comes standard with a rearview camera. Other advanced driver assistance functions, such as rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control, are available as part of Kia’s supplemental advanced technology packages.

The Kia Niro delivers an estimated 52 miles to the gallon around town and 49 on the highway. It starts at $22,890.

What the experts are saying

SUV-like utility

“Kia has designed the Niro as a crossover utility vehicle for people who want to drive a great-looking hybrid with SUV-like features and don’t want their hybrid to look like some kind of spaceship. The interior is beautifully laid out and extremely functional. With the rear seat down, cargo spaces measures 54.5 cubic feet, and the cabin even has a hidden storage compartment for extra security. Most times when customers choose the hybrid route they tend to feel that they have to give up some of the options that they had in previous vehicles like a sunroof or heated and ventilated seats. But you can get the Niro equipped with all the latest safety features and luxuries like any other vehicle. The Niro offers a utility vehicle for the masses, great fuel economy that nearly has a 600-mile range, and cargo capacity that can easily fit any weekend warrior gear you can think of.” – Senee O’Connell, general manager for Herb Chambers Kia of Burlington

Practical and fuel-efficient

“The 2017 Kia Niro is a five-door hybrid that the company calls a crossover but we think is more of a wagon, since it doesn’t offer all-wheel drive. We liked its conventional but handsome looks, the intuitive controls on the dashboard, and the driving experience. We’re not convinced the Niro will always live up to its EPA ratings of 43 to 50 mpg combined (depending on the model), but that’s not uncommon among hybrids. It should at least give you real-world numbers in the high 30s. And you still get the pleasure of driving a practical normal-looking car that uses far, far less gasoline than other cars its size. The Niro is a ‘dedicated’ hybrid, meaning there’s no gasoline-only version—but there will be all-electric and plug-in hybrid models added late this year. Think of it as green, greener, and greenest—without the polarizing looks of the Toyota Prius.” — John Voelcker, editor of Green Car Reports

Value-oriented hybrid

“Each trim of the Niro seems to offers better-than-average value. The EX will probably be the biggest seller, and we believe it offers the best value. It provides the same standard driver-assist safety features and options as the Touring. Although we really like the Harman Kardon audio system in the Touring, we can live without it. If you’ve decided on a crossover and have thought about owning a hybrid, here’s a great chance to check both boxes.” – Brian Moody, executive editor, Autotrader