Most hybrids get their best gas mileage in city driving, given that their electric motors can power the cars gas-free in the sort of gentle acceleration common to stop-and-go congestion or quiet neighborhood streets. And sensible crossovers and hatchbacks are likewise Northwest staples for their practical body shapes.
Accordingly, expect to see a lot of the Kia Niro, a new gas-electric hybrid model challenging the iconic Toyota Prius’ fuel economy without adopting its quirky design elements. The Niro isn’t instantly recognizable as a hybrid, and Kia has worked to make the driving experience feel more like an ordinary car’s.
The company succeeds on that point, with clean styling, a sensible dashboard layout, sound ride and handling, and ample cargo space. And for an appealing base price of $23,785, the Niro offers EPA fuel economy ratings of up to 50 mpg in mixed driving.
But the Prius more easily exceeds its own EPA ratings of 52 to 55 mpg. The Kia is less willing to accelerate without the engine’s help, even with just the driver on board and no other weight. Moreover, the tested fully loaded model’s extra weight drops its EPA rating to a less dramatic 43 mpg. In a weeklong test, the Niro returned an average of 48 mpg, which is quite impressive — but nothing like the 69 mpg observed in a Prius last year. On the flip side, drivers who aren’t constantly attentive to fuel-saving habits will see that difference shrink.
Think of the Niro as an alternative to an ordinary gas-powered economy car or subcompact crossover, one that trades some peppiness for excellent gas mileage. The Niro is more successful in that niche than as a direct rival to the ultra-thrifty Prius. Meanwhile, Kia’s sister company, Hyundai, is launching the Prius-shaped Ioniq as a more direct assault on the best-selling hybrid.