The 2021 Kia Niro is a gas-electric subcompact crossover in the vein of the iconic Toyota Prius. Much like the Prius and the Prius Prime, the Niro is offered as both a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid. There’s also an all-electric Niro EV that we review separately. Unlike the Toyota alternatives, the Kia has lower fuel-economy ratings and isn’t available with all-wheel drive like the regular Prius. But it’s objectively better looking and possesses the higher seating position that makes crossovers desirable to many. Behind the wheel, the Niro is neither quick nor engaging, but its impressive fuel economy embarrasses even the thriftiest Mazda CX-30 or Hyundai Kona. Likewise, the only other plug-in hybrid currently in this class is the Subaru Crosstrek, which has all-wheel drive but worse fuel efficiency. This more than anything separates the 2021 Niro from the competition.
What’s New for 2021?
For 2021, the Kia Niro lineup adds more standard equipment and new tech features. Every model now has wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as a rear-seat reminder. All models equipped with passive hands-free entry add remote start. Kia also introduces new navigation features that include 10 years of complimentary map updates and map-based adaptive cruise control. The latter system can recognize safe zones (such as a construction zone) and also slightly reduce the vehicle’s speed when approaching a curved road.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
Kia says the Niro plug-in hybrid is still eligible for a $4543 federal tax credit that drops the starting price of the LXS PHEV below the regular LXS hybrid model. Not only does choosing the plug-in version have added value, it also provides an estimated 26 miles of pure-electric range and more satisfying driving manners. The LXS PHEV comes standard with automatic high-beams, blind-spot monitoring, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, remote start, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
A 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor team up with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission in the regular Niro. The system makes a total of 139 horsepower and motivated the Niro to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds during our testing, placing it in the hunt with much of the competition. The fully loaded EX Premium trim we tested, which was weighed down by all the extra equipment, needed 9.5 seconds to complete the same task. The plug-in-hybrid version uses the same basic powertrain as the standard model, albeit with a larger battery pack for increased EV range. That battery adds up to 26 miles of EV operation, according to the EPA. The Niro easily tackles uneven roads, delivering a controlled, stable ride. However, we noted an unusual level of impact noise coming into the cabin when driving over bump-ridden roads. Steering responses in the Niro are swift and accurate. We also appreciate the available multipurpose steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, which can be used for changing gears or cycling between four different levels of regenerative braking, depending on the selected drive mode.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The thriftiest 2021 Niro hybrid is rated at 53 mpg in the city, 48 mpg on the highway, and 50 mpg combined. The last version we tested returned 46 mpg highway on our 75-mph fuel-economy test. The Niro plug-in hybrid boasts a combined city/highway rating of 105 MPGe, and it also has an estimated all-electric driving range of 26 miles. For more information about the Niro’s fuel economy, visit the EPA’s website.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The base LX features a fuss-free interior that is heavy on plastic and cloth. Leather appointments enter the mix starting on the mid-level Touring trim, but even the fanciest Niro features synthetic upholstery. Also standard across the lineup is two-zone automatic climate control, with controls for the driver and front-seat passenger. There’s even a button to turn the passenger’s climate control off if that seat is empty, which could save energy in hot summer months when hybrids traditionally forfeit efficiency due to the increased load from the air conditioner. The Niro was designed from the outset to be a hybrid, not converted from an existing gasoline-powered vehicle. As a result, cargo space is not reduced by its battery pack. Unfortunately, the rear seats don’t form a flat load floor when folded, and other similarly sized crossovers can accommodate more cargo. We managed to fit six carry-on suitcases behind the rear seats and 18 with the rear seats folded.
Infotainment and Connectivity
The standard infotainment system is an 8.0-inch touchscreen, but a larger 10.3-inch unit is installed on higher trim levels. Both are supplemented by hard buttons that include a physical volume and tuning knob. The systems are intuitive and simple, and Kia earns significant goodwill by providing wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. Base Niros receive few infotainment baubles beyond smartphone connectivity and SiriusXM compatibility. The optional navigation system uses GPS data to predict energy demands, and will, for instance, save up energy in the battery in anticipation of a hill climb.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
While the base model isn’t offered with any of the most common driver-assistance technology, the rest of the lineup comes standard with equipment such as automatic high-beams, lane-keeping assist, and more. For more information about the Niro’s crash-test results, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) websites. Key safety features include:
- Available forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking
- Available adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go technology
- Available blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
Kia and its sister company, Hyundai, offer one of the most comprehensive vehicle warranties available. The 10-year powertrain warranty is the cornerstone, but they beat the competition almost across the board. The only thing that’s missing—for Kia, at least—is complimentary scheduled maintenance.
- Limited warranty covers five years or 60,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers 10 years or 100,000 miles
- No complimentary scheduled maintenance
More Features and Specs