Is the Kia Niro worth the price premium?

The Kia Niro is a new subcompact crossover with a class leading up to 51mpg average fuel economy. But it also costs more than other subcompact crossovers – leading to the obvious question of is the Niro worth paying more for?

Niro Overview

The Niro is a stealth hybrid – a hybrid that looks and drives like a normal crossover. If you’ve driven a Prius, you’ll get what I mean – the older models drive like a washing machine and they all look weird. Kia’s choice to make the Niro a crossover certainly will broaden the appeal.

Perhaps Kia’s best engineering decision was to ditch the common fuel saving CVT for a more conventional dual clutch transmission, making the car drive and sound more like a normal car.

Inside you’ll find a well appointed cabin with a 7″ touchscreen ready for Android Auto and Apple Carplay – even on the base model. The Niro can be loaded up with goodies galore including leather, heated and cooled seats, premium sound, active safety features, etc.

The Competition

If you’re looking at a subcompact crossover your shopping list probably includes the Mazda CX-3, Honda H-RV, Nissan Juke, and the Chevy Trax.

While it’s hard to compare apples to apples on vehicle trims, I think it’s fair to say the Niro does come with an MSRP around $1000-2000 higher than these vehicles.

Fuel Cost

The Honda and Mazda do the best of the conventional CUVs with an average 31mpg, the Nissan and Chevy 29mpg. But the Nissan takes premium fuel so it’s actually more costly to run than the Chevy – so the Nissan gets the honor of being the worst case cost example – we’ll add 30 cents to the fuel cost per gallon on the Nissan to account for premium.

Best case let’s assume gas prices stay low ($2.75/gallon), you drive 12,000 miles a year, and you keep your car the American average 6 years. Fueling a Niro will cost about $2350 less than the CX-3 or H-RV in that case.

Worst case let’s assume gas goes back to $4 a gallon, you drive 15,000 miles a year, and still keep your car the American average of six years. In this case fueling a Niro would cost about $6000 less than the Juke.

Even with today’s low gas prices the cost premium for the Niro will be easily made back in fuel cost savings – and it helps protect you against gas price increases.

What About All-Wheel Drive?

The Niro doesn’t offer all-wheel drive. While some reviews are making a fuss over that, you should ignore that concern in most cases.

A dirty little secret about all wheel drive is it only helps with acceleration but not handling or braking. Being able to get moving in the snow and ice is great, but if you can’t hold your lane or stop – you’ll find your AWD crossover in the ditch.

The answer is studless snow tires with front wheel drive…and practice. Snow tires improve traction for acceleration, handling, and braking – helping keep you in control and on the road. Best of all snow tires cost less than AWD.

Don’t believe me? How about Consumer Reports and Popular Mechanics?

But it’s a Kia…

For anyone who remembers early Korean cars, it can be hard to accept they’re a totally different beast now. Kia is JD Powers top brand for initial quality – beating out even premium brands like BMW and Porsche. Their interiors lead the class in quality and design – KBB said “Kia is making some of our favorite interiors right now.” Not to forget the 8 year 100k warranty is unmatched.

Bottom Line

While I’m a huge fan of EVs, they aren’t for everyone yet. The Niro is a vehicle with lots of room for people and stuff, great amenities, and very affordable to fuel. It certainly deserves a look when shopping for crossovers.

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