Outside of perhaps its front styling â€“ especially the slightly bug-eyed headlamps and the pinched grille â€“ the Kia Niro doesnâ€™t really stand out in a crowd.
Itâ€™s quiet, thanks to a hybrid powertrain. Itâ€™s compact in length and height. It has a driving experience that isnâ€™t memorable in ways good or bad.
And none of that preceding paragraph is meant as an insult.
Sometimes calling a car â€œboringâ€� is a bit like saying the wrong thing about a barflyâ€™s mother â€“ an invitation to trouble (metaphorical trouble, in this instance, but trouble nonetheless). Not in this case, though. As much as almost everyone who writes about cars wishes everything we drove was sporty and sleek-looking, thatâ€™s not what most buyers want or need. Why else has Toyota sold Camrys and Corollas by the literal boatload, regardless of any criticism from the automotive media?
Yeah, I know, this point has been made before â€“ Iâ€™ve certainly written a variation of that previous paragraph multiple times. Self-plagiarism aside, itâ€™s worth repeating because itâ€™s an obvious premise that nevertheless often gets overlooked.
Sometimes a car just works. It does lots of things well, and it doesnâ€™t matter if itâ€™s entertaining or fun or turns heads. That, in a nutshell, is the Niro.
All trim levels have the same powertrain: A 1.6-liter four-cylinder gas engine that mates to an electric motor for a total system horsepower of 139, with a combined torque figure of 195 lb-ft. That power gets to the wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. Straightforward enough.
Even with almost 200 lb-ft of torque, the Niro feels a bit underpowered, and a 3,000-pound-ish curb weight (it varies by trim) doesnâ€™t help. Plan your passing accordingly.
Kia has been accused in the past of offering poor steering feel, but the company has shown improvement, and thatâ€™s the case here. While there are crossovers out there with better, more dynamic steering, the Niroâ€™s unit is at least engaging enough. Thereâ€™s no numbness or excessive lightness.
Ride is pleasant, and handling is just sporty enough (itâ€™s not all boredom round these here parts). Again, a more engaging personality would be nice, but the Niro doesnâ€™t seem to need it.
Thatâ€™s in part because, personality aside, my test Niro came in Touring trim â€” the model’s top trim level. As such, it arrived with features like heated front seats, heated steering wheel, nav, Bluetooth, UVO infotainment, satellite radio, leather seats â€“ the usual when one asks for â€œthe works.â€� An option package added forward-collision warning, smart cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, and lane-departure warning.
The â€œit just worksâ€� theme carries over to the inside. The radio has volume and tuner knobs in just the right place, the climate controls are simple and straightforward (as well as easily reached), and the touchscreen is intuitive and switches menus quickly. Graphically, itâ€™s easy to read.
The USB port is in a convenient place, just fore of a small storage area and the cupholders. Nothing is fancy here, but everything is in the place where youâ€™d expect it to be.
Rear-seat room is a tad tight, but legroom is class-competitive and headroom is only bested by the Ford C-Max. My tall frame was completely comfortable up front.
A nagging question bugged me during my entire time in the car â€“ is the Niro a crossover or a wagon? The TTAC editorial staff was split. It doesnâ€™t necessarily look like a wagon â€“ the cargo area is too truncated. But in some ways, it feels like one. Thatâ€™s also not an insult, by the way.
Yeah, Kia will market it as a CUV, and as noted, the editorial braintrust is split on whether itâ€™s a wagon or not. To me, it has the same qualities that make small wagons appealing to so many.
Whatever it is, it has a lot going for it. Aside from a lack of punch and so-so steering, itâ€™s not disappointing to drive. Itâ€™s not a looker, per se, but itâ€™s not ugly â€“ and to be fair, my tester came painted in a slightly pedestrian shade of blue. Iâ€™ve seen Niros with the red paint job that have more flair (sorry, Mike Judge).
I know, I know, a well-packaged car isnâ€™t the most exciting thing in the world. But thatâ€™s the point. Thereâ€™s a lot to like about the Niro, including fuel-economy ratings of 46 mpg city/40 mpg highway. Itâ€™s a package that just works.
That said, the sticker price for the Touring trim I tested reached $32,575, and that takes some of the shine off.
If you donâ€™t need all the bells and whistles, you can get a LX or EX trim for a bit less money. That would give you nice value for a fuel-efficient daily driver that does lots of things well.
Not sexy, sure. But it doesnâ€™t matter â€“ youâ€™ll be spending your energy figuring out if you own a wagon or a crossover, and thatâ€™s a debate thatâ€™s sure to never bore you.
[Images:Â Â© 2017 Tim Healey/The Truth About Cars]