2017 Kia Niro First Look Review: The Small Car With Industry Domination Written All Over It

First Look

"Un-hybrid" is what Kia calls it. We call it a prospective market conqueror.

The subcompact-crossover segment seems to be all the rage these days in the North American car market. The Nissan Juke has swayed buyers with its compact size and only mother-could-love looks, the Jeep Renegade is parked in nearly all high school lots and so forth. Kia has taken notice. In a bid to nearly triple its lineup of "green" cars Kia has birthed the Niro, a subcompact-crossover that is sure to bring the heat to its crossover competitors and also the environmentally conscious buyer.

The Niro is unashamedly not for driving enthusiasts, and that's good a thing. How exactly could that be good? A car that has been ostensibly created for the uninvolved point A to point B driving masses, the reason this is good is Kia is first in delivering the next big-trend in mass-consumer cars. This is a subcompact-crossover, a segment that wasn't around three years ago and now accounts for 21 percent of overall US sales; 389,960 were sold in 2015. Now, couple that knowledge with the fact that this is Kia's first foray into "green-car" territory and that opens up the market for the Prius and other hybrid vehicles. Will cross shopping be an issue of contention?

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Yes, most buyers of subcompact-crossovers are under the age of 45, a demographic the auto industry is desperately marketing too. The other is many are elderly, having traded a larger vehicle for something smaller and more fuel efficient. The market also draws in a substantial amount of women buyers. Chevrolet's Trax, for example, was bought by 60% women, while 54% of subcompact-crossover buyers are female. The major contention here is first time vehicle buyers. Interest in the automobile has been waning in recent years and a vehicle that attracts young buyers is a market slayer. So why is this Kia a game changer? It is essentially the perfect combination of what appeals to the mass-consumer.

It's affordable and fuel efficient, as Kia claims an estimated 50 mpg. Safety features include reinforced steel A and B pillars and all of the standard driver safety electronic nannies; adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring etc. The 106.3-inch wheelbase is perfectly sized for the probable consumer and a raised seating position will enable a sense of size and safety for the driver. Using an "all-new, dedicated eco-car platform" the Niro is just the start, with Kia planning to have a full line up by 2020. Speaking with Artur Martins, Kia’s European Marketing Director, in Geneva last week, it was clear the Korean carmaker has high hopes for the Niro.

“The hybrid market already has futuristic powertrains. While our focus was on taking an innovative approach with this, it was also very important for us to match it with an attractive design.” Power is derived from a 1.6-liter naturally aspirated 4-cylinder that touts up 103 horses, mated to a 43-hp electric motor integrated into the six-speed dual-clutch transmission. Total combined power is 146 with 195 lb-ft of torque. It remains to be seen if the Niro will sell in grand volume. Regardless, this is definitely the formula for future vehicles coming down the pipe from the major automakers. It'll be interesting to see if Kia can carve a large slice of the pie before its competitors catch on.

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