By on November 14, 2018

The South Korean automaker has no qualms about upending the status quo – witness the Stinger GT. Kia’s Niro hybrid might not look radical, but it’s a fuel-efficient dart hurled directly at the almighty Toyota Prius. Not everyone wants to loudly advertise their efforts to reduce their carbon footprint, after all.

Fe might stand for iron on the periodic table, but can this FE iron out some traditional hybrid wrinkles? Let’s find out.

For 2019, Kia sticks with the strategy of pricing its most efficient Niro as the entry level offering. This is unique, as historically some other automakers have charged a slight premium for trims with all the fuel economy tricks – the Elantra Eco immediately springs to mind.

The $23,490 Niro FE knocks out a 50 mpg rating from the EPA on a combined cycle, with drivers reporting real-world numbers near 60 mpg if they choose to employ hypermiling techniques in town. Most of those hypermiling habits will reliably enrage roadmates, by the way. Kia is not responsible for the resultant nasty glares and outstretched digits hurled in your general direction.

Sixteen-inch wheels and tires with an eye towards economy are the chief contributors to the FE’s miserly ways. It’s lighter than its stablemates, too, owing to the absence of weight-adding options like a sunroof that appears on more expensive Niro trims. Moving up the food chain to a Touring model kicks fuel economy down to the low 40s, a number which is still head-and-shoulders above most other crossover-esque machines (though I know few people in the Niro’s target market who’d willingly give up nearly 10 mpg for the sake of a set of rims and some options).

So, what does one give up in the FE? Beyond the aforementioned sunroof and 18-inch rims, not a lot. Rear USB ports vanish but there is still a single unit up front. You’ll have to twist a key to alight the 1.6L four-pot rather than just push a button. And rear seat riders go without an armrest.

Other than that, the Niro FE retains automatic dual-zone climate control, tilt/telescope wheel, and infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Color selection remains the same as on higher trims, save for a shade of blue, as do all measured dimensions and the powertrain. The red shown here is a $295 option, though – the only no charge hue is boring silver.

Speaking of which, Niro drivers will be in command of a breathtaking 139 horsepower (you’re sensing my sarcasm here) provided by the tag team of a 104 hp 1.6L mill and 43 hp electric motor. Its 1.56 kWh battery stands by to help keep fuel costs at bay. Our man Tim tested a Touring model, calling it a “bit underpowered,” but most folks in the market for a Niro aren’t likely to be racing Tran for slips any time soon. A six-speed dual clutch puts what power there is to the ground.

Does the Niro FE make the Ace of Base grade? I think so, given it outstrips its trim-level peers in fuel economy (the main mission of a car like this) yet bears the lowest sticker price – nearly ten grand less than Tim’s tester, in fact. That’s quite a wrinkle for the FE to iron out.

[Images: Kia Motors]

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19 Comments on “Ace of Base: 2019 Kia Niro FE...”


  • avatar
    Robbie

    I drove one of these a year ago, and this GTI rider felt that my rental Niro was quite acceptable. It is an SUV, it isn’t meant for canyon carving, and it got my daughter and her friends to the soccer field and behaved decently on the freeway.

    When filling up the car before returning it to the rental counter, the absurdly low fuel cost brought a smile to my face. In a better world, we’d all be driving these things; we’d save the polar bears, the coastal communities, and our grandchildren.. Ah well.. back to my GTI now.

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      No,”these things” aren’t saving any polar bears, or The World. If that was really the goal, this drivetrain would be a three cylinder 1 liter mounted in a Rio.

      • 0 avatar
        Robbie

        Nevertheless; it uses exactly half the amount of gas that my GTI uses. Half the carbon footprint…

        It gives me pause, right there in the split second before putting my GTI into Sports mode and putting the gas down.

        • 0 avatar
          Wheatridger

          Then get thee to a Ford dealer, quick. They might have a C-Max Hybrid left. That’ll give you near 40 MPG overall while 49 more total HP than this Kia. Better yet, find the plug-in Energi model. That gives you 195 combined HP, nearly the same as your GTI. Mileage depends on your driving habits, but my very mixed routine gave me 65 MPG over the first 16,000-mile year.

          I don’t miss my GTI — a Mk V — at all. Much. This just seems smarter.

  • avatar
    jh26036

    I like the honesty of a car like this. It has everything you need, nothing you don’t. I expect Kia to put their normal 10-15% on the hood. At $20k, this is a nice buy with a long warranty.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Agreed. I wouldn’t miss the sunroof or 18-inch hoops, and I expect retrofitting a couple USB ports would be pretty easy. Honestly Kia, how much did that save you? Nice little hauler, and if you keep it long term you’ll save a small fortune in gas. My 650cc motorcycle gets about the same MPG, pretty impressive.

  • avatar
    gtem

    As Priuses get increasingly ugly, this Kia certainly looks like a reasonable alternative.

    I wonder how the acceleration and ride/handling of all of the lower-end hybrids compares? I’ve driven a 2nd gen and 3rd gen Prius and found them tolerable but not much more. A Hybrid Camry is a notable upgrade in overall comfort, quietness, ride quality and acceleration, but you lose the useful 5 door liftback form factor. As I understand it the CMax is great at the ride/handling/acceleration bit, but lacks in utility and real world MPG (and reliability seems to be a sore spot, based on ratings).

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      Read some recent reviews. C-Maxes were terrible in their first year, but they seem to have worked the bugs out. Consumer Reports recommends them now, and the fordcmaxhybridforum discussions include very few problems. The fuel efficiency is twice my last car, a GTI. It’s silent, with a big-car ride. You just have to try one and see.

  • avatar
    spookiness

    I like these. Minor annoyances are the black wheel arch cladding and limited drab black or gray interior options. Price seems good.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    Agree, despite the fake “SUV” styling details on what is essentially a fwd hatchback, I like these. They are affordable, practical, and unoffensive, which is more than I can say for the new Prius.

    A neighbor just bought a loaded touring model in this red and she loves it. Bonus, her 18″ wheels use the same sized tires as my recently sold Alfa Giulia so she bought my barely-used Blizzaks off of me for her Niro. Win Win.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I test drove a Niro this year and really liked it. I didn’t realize it had a DCT until later, but it drove very nicely. All the controls were intuitive and fell easily to hand. Power was adequate; I don’t need much.

    By the way, at 6’6″ I can sit behind myself in the Niro. And the car doesn’t scream ‘greenie’.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I’m not a big fan of Hyundai/Kia DCTs – they’re not as bad as the infamous Ford unit, but they’re nowhere near as good as the ones you’ll find in VW/Audi products. I’ve also heard some whispers about long-term shuddering/slipping issues.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I am quite intrigued by these. Like the utility. Wish that the ground clearance was just a ‘touch’ higher. In reality it is closer to a ‘small wagon’ than a CUV/SUV.

    And we have nothing but praise for our Kia ownership experience. Including one dealer who was A-1. However, the dealer closer to our who, who used to have the local Chrysler dealership is a little less than ‘stellar’ in the Service Department.

    However, is this more of a ‘lease’ than a ‘buy’ vehicle? What of battery life/durability?

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Prius batteries seem to be holding up pretty well long-term. Since this is a hybrid, Kia should be managing battery capacity to maximize longevity as opposed to cruising range. One hopes.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Batteries in hybrids live a very happy life since they never fully charge or discharge, generally existing between 25% and 75% capacity. The old NiMH Prius batteries were quite durable, but given the charging constraints on hybrids, I’d have no concerns about a lithium ion hybrid either. My Optima Hybrid battery has been fine after 78k miles.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    It’s a relatively good looking rig and I would not shun it from my driveway.

    I am curious how hybrids’ power numbers are determined though. Above it says 104 hp from the engine with 43 hp from tje electric motor for a combined total of 139 hp. Why is it not additive, or does the motor represent a drag on the engine when in use? I confess to being ignorant of how that works.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      The total power is the sum of the power developed by the gas engine and the electric motor *at a particular RPM*. Peak power from a gas engine is usually close to redline, but at that speed the electric power is lower than peak, so they never add together cleanly on paper.

      Torque output is the opposite, however, with the electric motor winning at low rpms. This is what makes hybrids attractive, because you can launch a car off the line with little demand placed on the ICE, but the ICE provides the push (power) needed at higher speeds where electric motors tend to fall off.

      Getting the two methods of propulsion to blend nicely is a real trick. FWIW, the Niro does a very good job of this – much better than my 13 Optima Hybrid.

  • avatar
    Shankar Subramanyan

    What I would like to know is the warranty on the battery. Some news articles mentioned that Hyundai offers unlimited battery warranty for original owners. Does anyone know if Kia does the same with Niro as well as their other PHEV or hybrid models? TIA.


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