Driven: 2017 Kia Niro

Driven: 2017 Kia Niro

O.K., so the television commercials featuring Melissa McCarthy saving the whales, the ice cap, the rhinos, and hugging the trees are hilariously entertaining

2017 Kia Niro is a compact hybrid crossover | Larry Edsall photos

2017 Kia Niro is a compact hybrid crossover | Larry Edsall photos

O.K., so the television commercials featuring Melissa McCarthy saving the whales, the ice cap, the rhinos, and hugging the trees are hilariously entertaining, and the background music — Bonnie Tyler’s I Need a Hero — adds a dramatic pulse to the production.

And I know that Kia spells the name of its new hybrid crossover Niro, not Nero, but it sure sounds like it rhymes not only with Tyler’s Hero lyric but is pronounced just like the name of the last-in-his-line emperor who had his own mother executed and who supposedly fiddled while Rome burned?

Perhaps I’m overstating things but then I think Kia is as well when it claims that its 2017 Niro is “a new kind of crossover (that) defines the segment with a long list of desirable attributes, crossover utility and hybrid technology.”

Front-end design has a definite edginess

Front-end design has a definite edginess

And maybe I’ve spent too much time in various Souls, but I’ve come to expect Kias to be economically priced and fun-to-drive vehicles. Yet the base price of the 2017 Kia Niro Touring I’ve been driving this week is a whopping $29,650, and the as-tested sticker reads $32,840.

First of all, despite Kia’s claims, I find the Niro to be just another hybrid-powered crossover. Yes, it does get excellent fuel economy — I’ve been averaging in the high 40s — but the powertrain is unimpressive, unless you like that squirrel-in-a-wheel acceleration and love to hear the sound of the gasoline engine as it roars into action when it’s 109 horsepower is needed to help keep you from being run over when the stop light changes from red to green.

There is a solution, however. All you have to do is to remember every time you start the engine and pull back on the gear-selector lever to slip it over into the Sport mode, which apparently bumps up the engine revs (there’s no tachometer in the car so we can’t be sure) or maybe ignites the four-banger sooner or changes shift points or all of the above. Regardless, it enables this vehicle to drive more like a car.

For a compact crossover, Niro is very well equipped

For a compact crossover, Niro is very well equipped

Kia also claims the Niro is “well-equipped,” and I cannot dispute that statement, what with standard Harman Kardon premium audio, power sunroof, navigation, UVO connectivity, leather seating (with heated and ventilated front seats, and power-adjustable lumbar support for the driver), plus a heated steering wheel, blind-spot exterior mirrors, front- and rear-parking assist, and rear cross-traffic alert. All that and Kia’s 10-year warranty.

The Niro I’ve been driving also has the Advanced Technology package that includes HID headlamps, autonomous emergency braking, forward collision and lane-departure warning, smart cruise control, a 115-volt inverter and wireless phone charger.

Nonetheless, I found the Niro to be a huge disappointment, and for $33K, I’m sure I could find not only a car with the features I want, but also with a fuel-efficient but also reasonably powerful drivetrain.
As Ms. Tyler sings, I need a hero, which Niro is not.

2017 Kia Niro Touring

Vehicle type: 5-passenger crossover, front-wheel drive
Base price: $29,650Price as tested: $32,840
Engine: Hybrid 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and 1.56 kWh electric motor combine for 139 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches Overall length/width: 171.5 inches / 71.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,161 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 46 city / 40 highway / 43 combined
Assembled in: Hwaseong, South Korea

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