Prius Fighter Plus: The 2017 Kia Niro Touring

Front 3/4 view of the 2017 Kia Niro Touring
The 2017 Kia Niro Touring.
It was just over a month ago that we reviewed the 2017 Kia Niro FE, the base trim level for Kia's new hybrid...and our take was that, at 52 miles per gallon city/49 highway and $23,785 including delivery, the Toyota Prius has reason to worry.

Now, we've just finished a week in the top-level 2017 Kia Niro Touring and we're still very, very impressed.

Rear 3/4 view of 2017 Kia Niro Touring
2017 Kia Niro Touring.
Things do change as you move up the five-model ladder of Kia Niros.  The FE stands for "Fuel Economy"...and the aforementioned 52 city/49 highway is the best of the bunch.  The mid-level LX and EX models are EPA estimated at 51 city/46 highway and the Touring Launch Edition and Touring (separated by leather seating, a power sunroof, a heated steering wheel and ventilated front seats in the Touring) are estimated at 46 and 40.

Why the differences?  Generally the EPA will average out the fuel economy of several trim levels (which can vary because of the weight of standard equipment or other factors) for simplicity's sake, but Kia wanted the biggest number possible for the FE, so it submitted the trims for testing separately.

Interior view of 2017 Kia Niro Touring
2017 Kia Niro Touring interior.
Still, even 46 city/40 highway is remarkable fuel economy for what is essentially a crossover (though, as we noted with the FE, you could also call it a hatchback or a wagon and not be wrong).  The closest true competitor to the Niro is not the standard Prius with its 54 city/50 highway EPA estimate, but the Prius V, which trails the Niro Touring in fuel economy with an estimated 43 city/39 highway.

And then there's price.  A loaded Prius V Five has a base price of $30,935.  The Kia Niro Touring is everything (18-inch wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control with rear vents, Harmon Kardon premium audio system, navigation with eight-inch touchscreen and a rear camera, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, the aforementioned leather seat trim, heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats and power sunroof,  pushbutton start, blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear parking assist, projector beam headlights with LED positioning lamps, LED daytime running lights, power-folding heated outside mirrors with turn signals, roof rails, rear spoiler and rear privacy glass) for one price: $29,650.  With $895 inland freight and handling, it's $30,545.  And there's always Kia's 10 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty to consider.

The only question (as we've said before) is whether a hybrid has to look different to sell. Arguably, the Prius has taken that a bridge too far in its latest generation and is paying a price in slumping sales.  If people will embrace a highly useful hybrid that doesn't scream "I'm a hybrid", Kia's got a winner in the Niro.