KIA IS ATTEMPTING something that no other automaker has done successfully: challenge Toyota in the dedicated-hybrid market. But, unlike the Prius, the 2017 Kia Niro does it without styling that screams “I’m driving a ‘green’ machine.” In fact, there’s only a discreet “ECO/hybrid” badge on the liftgate that gives away the Niro’s true identity. Otherwise, it looks fairly nondescript. The Niro is slightly shorter than the Prius, but it stands two inches taller and boasts an SUV-like profile. Plus, the Niro’s base price is more than $1,700 less than the Prius. We just took delivery of a Niro EX to test.

Driving Impressions
Under the Niro’s hood is a 103-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder matched to a six-speed dualclutch automatic-an unusual choice since most hybrids use a continuously variable transmission. The 43-hp electric motor can allow the car to move at low speeds on electriconly power. Total system output is 139 hp.

Fuel efficiency is a key goal here for Kia, and the EPA estimates the Niro will return 43 to 50 mpg combined, depending on the trim line. So far, we’ve seen around 42 mpg in mixed driving with our EX, well short of the 52 mpg overall in the Prius we tested.

With a light throttle foot, you can glide along on EV power to about 40 mph. All hybrids have some sort of transition between electric and gas-engine power, and the Niro’s is pretty smooth.

The ride is a bit choppy, but not objectionable. Handling, however, is certainly not sporty or engaging. With such a mundane driving experience, we’d suggest looking at the Ford C-Max or Fusion Hybrid if you want to save gas but have some fun doing it.

Inside the Cabin
The Niro is fairly sedate on the inside-which really isn’t a bad thing. There’s a simple and functional design to the Niro that we’ve come to admire from other Kia products, with easy-to-master controls. The standard cloth and partial leather seats are supportive, but we’d spring for the optional power seats to get the two-way power lumbar support. The infotainment system comes with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and offers a slightly bigger eight-inch screen with a navigation system and Harman Kardon audio system. A dualzone automatic climate control system is standard; a heated steering wheel and heated and cooled front seats are optional. Kia offers a full complement of high-tech driver aids, including blind-spot and lanedeparture warning, automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control. But these typically come of high-end versions that ring in well into the $30,000s.

Low gas prices and Toyota’s dominance of the hybrid segment mean the Kia Niro is facing an uphill battle. Still, the Niro looks like it will be a useful and efficient hybrid, offering shoppers an alternative to the ever-popular Prius.