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2021 Kia Niro review: Honest and practical

Are you looking to buy your first hybrid but want one that’s practical, easy to park, and styled conventionally? Consider the 2021 Kia Niro a subcompact crossover that promises exceptional fuel economy and space in a package that won’t polarize opinions. After its 2019 refresh, the Niro gained many new tech features and subtle exterior design tweaks.

For 2021, the car should carry over essentially unchanged other than minor packaging tweaks. Can this hybrid utility vehicle still win over buyers as more electrified vehicles hit the market?

2021 Kia Niro exterior

2021 Kia Niro HEV front 01 1
Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

The Kia Niro veers more toward the car end of the crossover spectrum so it’s best to think of it as a slightly raised hatchback. That doesn’t mean it’s bland, though. Even after being in the market for nearly six years, the Niro has aged well thanks to its restrained exterior design. The upright greenhouse and nearly vertical hatch give the car a traditional look. Other than a couple of hybrid badges, there’s nothing else tipping you off of the car’s electrified nature.

2021 Kia Niro interior

2021 Kia Niro HEV interior 01 1
Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Make your way inside and you’ll find that the level of restraint on the exterior carries into the cabin. Everything you interact with looks familiar; there’s no complex-looking dash and center console layout to intimidate you. Considering the Niro’s compact dimensions, there’s plenty of room inside. You have seating for four passengers (or five in a pinch) and there’s a lot of cargo space regardless of whether the rear seats are up or down.

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Long road trips should be a cinch in the Niro thanks to the comfortable seats. The upright greenhouse provides excellent visibility thanks to the expansive glass area. Fit and finish, are solid, too. There’s plenty of soft plastics and padding where your arms would fall and the harder bits don’t feel chintzy. Downsides? Road noise. You get a good bit especially at highway speeds on poorly maintained surfaces.

2021 Kia Niro tech features

2021 Kia Niro HEV main screen 01 1
Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Kia’s infotainment system remains one of the most user-friendly units. Regardless of which version you get, responses to your inputs whether via the buttons and knobs or the main touch screen are quick. The available 10.25-inch unit offers clear graphics, more customizability, and extra real estate for other key information. A split-screen function maximizes the amount of info displayed. Complementing the intuitive interface is an eight-speaker Harman Kardon audio system that’s clear and crisp. Although it’s not a surround sound unit, you still get good coverage throughout the whole cabin.

The version of Kia’s Drive Wise active safety suite found in the Niro is an older one. You don’t get additional steering assist but even without it, the suite works subtly. Lane-keeping assist accurately keeps the car centered without ping-ponging you between the lane lines. Adaptive cruise control’s distancing is also ideal for a vehicle the size of the Niro. In its closest setting, you have enough space for emergency maneuvers but not so much so that someone can cut you off.

2021 Kia Niro driving impressions

2021 Kia Niro HEV rear three quarter 02 1
Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

When you get on the road, it becomes obvious that the Niro is a slightly lifted hatchback. It turns in confidently and doesn’t roll around much. Tight, accurate steering further amplifies the feeling that you’re in a car with body cladding. For the most part, the Niro is comfortable and won’t beat you up on the daily commute. You will notice road imperfections more though due to the slightly stiff suspension.

The Niro’s hybrid powertrain, which is also found in the Hyundai Ioniq and Elantra Hybrid, works fine in most driving situations. With 139 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque combined, there’s enough power for passing and never feels out of breath when you need to accelerate up a hill. Sport mode makes the Niro more energetic thanks to quicker throttle response and the electric motor and gas engine working together as much as possible. Kia’s six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission responds promptly when you put your foot down. However, it can get a little clunky at low speeds because of its eagerness to get to the highest gear.

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You can tell that the Niro was one of Kia’s first hybrid vehicles via the brake feel. Transitions from regenerative to mechanical braking are inconsistent. Luckily, there’s a way around it. In addition to allowing for manual shifting in Sport mode, the paddle shifters adjust between four levels of regenerative braking (0 to 3) in Eco mode. Setting it to level 1or 2 yields smoother handoffs, allowing for more consistent stops. Level 3 can bring the Niro down to 7- to 8 mph, meaning you still need to step on the brakes to get it to a full stop.

2021 Kia Niro pricing

The base Kia Niro starts at $25,865 for the base LX trim. Our tester was an EX Premium model with a couple of accessories and the extra-cost Snow White Pearl exterior color checks in at $34,800.

Final verdict

2021 Kia Niro HEV front three quarters 01 1
Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Nearly six years into its current iteration, the Kia Niro remains a competitive choice among efficiency-focused hybrids. It excels as a practical daily vehicle that drives and looks like your average car. No, the Niro isn’t as smooth as Toyota’s hybrids nor is it eye-catching but it makes up for it with its blend of efficiency, tech features, and practicality. Kia’s electrified crossover-like hatch is honest and doesn’t try to pretend that it’s more than what it is. That’s a good thing because consumers know exactly what they’re getting. With the latest hybrids now becoming no-compromise vehicles, we can’t wait to see what the second-generation Niro has in store.

At a glance

  • Year: 2021
  • Make: Kia
  • Model: Niro
  • Trim: EX Premium
  • Type: 4-door subcompact crossover
  • Combined horsepower: 139 hp
  • MPG ratings (city/highway/combined): 51/36/49 (FE: 53/48/50; Touring and Touring Special Edition: 46/40/43)
  • Pros: Spacious interior, user-friendly tech features
  • Cons: Excessive road noise on unmaintained roads, clunky transmission at low speeds
  • Base: $25,865
  • Price as tested: $34,800
Written by Stefan Ogbac
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