TEST DRIVE REVIEW: Keeping Up With the Kias, Hybrid Edition

By Michele Spencer

2017 Kia Niro and 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid

In the past ten years, Kia’s product lineup has come a very long way.  Every time I mention that I’m test driving a Kia, the response is always the same:  they are sooo much better now than they used to be.  The brand was known for its inexpensive and boring-styled econo-boxes when they first hit the US market. While Kias are still a great bargain, it’s been said that the Kias being produced now have sophistication beyond their price tags.  Let’s take a look at two of their hybrids, the Niro and the Optima.

Kia Niro Hybrid2

2017 Kia Niro

Sure, Kia says it’s a Sport Utility Vehicle, but it’s really a pretty cool station wagon. There are those of us who think station wagons are overdue for a comeback in a big way, but the powers that be in the automotive world don’t agree, and so there aren’t too many mass-produced today.  In the meantime, Kia makes a perfect station wagon that’s being peddled to the masses as an SUV.  Whatever, Kia! If it’s 60 inches high, it’s a station wagon!  For reference, the widely-accepted-as-a-station wagon Volvo V60 and V90 models are both 61 inches high, and the Subaru Outback, also considered a station wagon, is 66 inches high.  Neener, neener, neenerI win this round, Kia.

Now that we have that out of the way, here’s the take-home message: Do you need to have that “sitting high” feeling?  If you do, look elsewhere, because a Niro is not going to work for you. And while we’re at it, if you need a luxury or refined interior, another station wagon or SUV is going to work a lot better for you. If you are looking for a no-frills people mover with high MPG, then the Kia Niro should be on your short list.

In my week of testing, the Niro got rock star gas mileage. I took two road trips from Orange County to San Diego.  On both trips, there was a blend of lousy stop and go traffic and free-flow highway driving. The Niro got 51-52 mpg on one trip and 53-54 mpg on the other.

A word on how the power system works:  It’s a gas/electric hybrid, but it doesn’t exhaust the battery first and then switch to gas, as you might think.  Rather, the Niro electronically decides which way to most efficiently send power to the wheels.  The driver can monitor in real time on the display exactly what is happening and where things stand with the range, the remaining battery power, and the amount of gas in the tank.  There’s absolutely no reason to worry about running out of battery.  (Range anxiety, what’s that?!?)

In general, the Niro chose to use gas power when traveling at higher and consistent rates of speed and electric power in stop and go and slow traffic conditions.

The Niro comes in five trim levels: Base, LX, EX, Touring Launch, and Touring.  The base version MSRP is $22,890.00. For that you get a no-frills interior (although the excellent UVO Infotainment and Connectivity system is included, so at least you’ll have that for the base price), 139 horses and 195 pound-feet of torque. This is not a car for speed demons and powerholics.  The available power works just fine for the everyday driver looking for a hybrid that is wallet-friendly, basic transportation.

The back seat passenger space is very roomy, at 97.1 SAE and 102 EPA.  The cargo area is a decent 19.4 cubic feet, and 54.5 cubic feet with the rear seats down.

The upper trim levels have all the extras, including a sunroof, Harman Kardon sound, heated steering, leather interior, and heated and ventilated seats, as well as technology extras like blind spot detection, lane departure warning, and a wireless smartphone charging pad.

Even without all the bells and whistles, it’s easy to understand why the Niro was chosen as one of the “Best Cars of 2017” by US News & World Report and was scored 4/5 by Car & Driver.

Kia Niro hybrid
Kia Niro is marketed as a small crossover sport utility vehicle.

2017 Kia Niro Details

  • Power: 1.5 liter 4 cylinder engine with 43 hop electric motor; 1.56 kwh lithium-ion polymer battery
  • Transmission: 6 speed dual clutch, automatic
  • Brakes: 4 wheel disc with ABS; and Regenerative braking system
  • Idle stop and go system
  • Wheels: 16 inch alloy (FE, basic trim); 18 inch (Touring Launch trim)
  • Warranty: 10 year/100K limited powertrain and limited battery; 5 year/60K limited basic; 5 year/60K mile free roadside assistance
  • Fuel economy, FE trim (best of all trim levels): 52 city MPG, 49 hwy, 50 combined. Touring Launch trim level: 46/40/43 MPG.
  • Price (as tested, FE trim): MRSP $22,890.  LX trim: $23,200.  EX trim: $25,700. Touring Launch trim: $28,000. Touring trim: $29,650. Add $895.00 for shipping from Korea.
  • Interior and Infotainment (FE trim): Cloth seats, UVO Infotainment and Connectivity platform, dual zone climate control, power windows, door locks, and outside windows, 7-inch touchscreen, back-up camera, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Sirius XM radio, Bluetooth, USB jack, 12 volt outlet, 60/40 folding rear seats.
  • Available on upper trim levels: leather seats, Harman Kardon sound with 8 speakers, sunroof, sunshade, leather seat trim, heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, 18 inch wheels, push button start/stop, blind spot detection, lane departure warning, wireless smartphone charging pad, driver seat position memory, power adjustable driver’s seat, smart key, parking assist.

kia.com/us/en/vehicle/niro/2017

Kia optima-hybrid_2017_snowy white pearl
Optima Hybrid in Snow White Pearl

 

2017 Kia Optima Hybrid

The Optima is a five-person, four door midsize sedan which is available in conventional gasoline engine and hybrid versions. The tester was a regular hybrid (as opposed to a Plug-In). The Optima Hybrid comes in two trim levels, Premium and EX. This week’s tester was the Premium (base) trim level, with the Hybrid Convenience Package of additional features (listed below) added in.

The Premium trim level got 44.9 mpg on average in a mix of both slow traffic and open highway driving, beating the EPA estimate of 42 combined.  (In comparison, the Accord Hybrid’s combined EPA rating is 49 MPG – but the MSRP starts at $29,605.)

The interior is nicely appointed, with knobs and push buttons for volume and air controls, in addition to a 7-inch touchscreen and a tilting/telescoping steering wheel.  Like the Niro, the base trim model features the excellent UVO Infotainment and Connectivity system (said to be better than most of its mid-size sedan competitors), but the Optima has even more standard features that kick up its competitiveness, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, standard leather-wrapped steering wheel, standard multi-adjustable driver’s seat, and standard dual zone climate controls.

The rear parking assist system (a Hybrid Convenience Package item on tester) alerts the driver with a chime if an object is detected within 47 inches of the rear of the car at under 3 miles per hour, which is exactly what is needed when backing up out of the driveway or a parking space.

Two drive modes are available, Eco and Sport.  While eco is the default, and allows the car to maximize fuel economy, the car really picks up power in Sport mode.

At 192 horse power, the Optima certainly gets the job done as far as keeping up with traffic on the freeway, but it’s not going to win you a trophy at the drag strip.  Like the Niro, this isn’t a car for those who need a powerful engine.  It’s for a different customer, a smart one.

As far as some objective analysis of the Optima Hybrid, US News & World Report gave it a score of 8.3/10; and Kelley Blue Book rated it at 9/10.

Smart people buy Kias. Really smart people buy Kia hybrids.

Kia Optima Hybrid side
Optima Hybrid in Gravity Blue
Kia Optima Hybrid side2
Optima Hybrid in Aluminum Silver

2017 Kia Optima Hybrid details:

  • Power: 2.0 liter 4 cylinder hybrid engine, 270 volt lithium polymer battery, 1.62 kwh
  • DOHC 16 valve engine, CVVT; Interior-Permanent Magnet Synchronous Electric motor
  • Transmission: 6 speed automatic
  • Brakes: 4 wheel disc with ABS – Anti-lock braking system
  • Trim Levels: Premium (base trim) and EX.
  • Safety: Dual front airbags, front seat side airbags, driver’s knee airbag, and side curtain airbags; 5 star government safety ratings (out of 5 stars)
  • Wheels: 16 inch alloy
  • Optional “Hybrid Convenience Package” on tester: Laminated front door windows, heated power outside mirrors, power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, driver’s seat memory, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, rear parking assist, and rear center console USB and 12 volt outlet. (Add $1,795 to MSRP.)
  • Trunk space: 4 cubic feet
  • Available options at higher trim level (EX): Panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, wireless smartphone charging pad, surround view monitoring camera
  • Warranty: 10 year/100K limited powertrain and limited battery; 5 year/60K limited basic; 5 year/60K mile free roadside assistance
  • Fuel economy, Premium trim: 39 city MPG, 46 highway, 42 combined.
  • Price (as tested, base trim): MSRP $25,995. EX trim: $30,990. Add $895.00 for shipping from Korea.
  • Interior and Infotainment: Dual-zone climate controls, 7-inch touchscreen, UVO Infotainment and Connectivity System, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Sirius XM radio, Bluetooth, front seat area USB port and 12 volt outlet, cloth seat trim, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, leather wrapped steering wheel, supervision meter cluster with LCD display.

kia.com/us/en/vehicle/optima-hybrid/2017

 

 

 

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