The 2020 model year debuts a mid-cycle refresh for the Kia Niro. However, there isn’t much that’s different about the hybrid subcompact crossover. This could also mean that the Kia Niro already had plenty to offer, so why mess with a good thing. The 2020 Kia Niro is a solid hybrid option. While it’s worth consideration from buyers, its sales numbers aren’t even close to those of the Toyota Prius.
What’s great about the 2020 Kia Niro
Car and Driver describes the Niro as a “handsome hatch that stands just tall enough to plausibly claim crossover status.” The new model year has a different grille up front, double-chevron fog lights, and a revised fascia in the rear. One of the bigger changes for 2020 is that it now includes steering-wheel-mounted paddles that control the brake regeneration when in Eco mode and shift the six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission when in Sport mode. With uneven deceleration, the Eco mode is more for efficiency than for fun. The Sport mode reveals some of the power the Niro can have available.
There is also a reorganization of the trim levels for 2020. The top EX Premium trim includes some nice standard luxury features, including a heated steering wheel, climate-controlled front seats, wireless phone charging, and adaptive cruise control. The interior sports glossy black accents, which help break up the plastics but also invite fingerprints. The infotainment screen is quite large at 10.3 inches, but when Android Auto is in use, it only fills two-thirds of the available screen space.
The Niro’s fuel efficiency is great. There’s plenty of reliance on the electric motor, and the throttle is a bit sluggish, helping produce excellent numbers. The 2020 Niro is rated for 46 MPG in the city, 51 MPG on the highway, and 49 MPG combined.
What’s not so great about the 2020 Kia Niro
Car and Driver points out that the Kia Niro has sacrificed some power for efficiency. It has a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, which generates 104 hp and 109 lb-ft of torque. That’s matched with an electric motor, which produces 43 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque. Together they create 139 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. Car and Driver found this enables the Niro to go from 0 to 60 MPH in 9.5 seconds. Car and Driver found the powertrain to be a little noisy, with odd sounds at both low speed and highway speeds.
Somewhat offsetting its nice interior features, the 2020 Niro also has what Car and Driver calls “odd programming choices.” The seats are comfortable but have short bolsters. The digital speedometer is tough to see clearly behind the edge of the steering wheel and can’t be moved to the center of the seven-inch digital gauge cluster. That center space does, however, allow for a compass.
How it compares to the Toyota Prius
The Toyota Prius has been available in Japan since 1997 and in the United States since 2000, where it became one of the first successful modern hybrid vehicles. The Kia Niro has worked to be different from the Prius. However, not even the Prius has the huge sales that it used to. Prius sales are down by two-thirds since 2012 when it sold 236,555 units. In 2019, 69,718 Prius models were sold.
For comparison, the Niro sold 24,467 units in 2019, including hybrid, plug-in PHEV, and full EV styles. That’s after a 13 percent decline from 2018 sales. It is tough for the Niro to compete though. What Car and Driver calls “the best Niro, the 201-hp EV,” isn’t available in all states in the U.S. Plus, the Honda Accord Hybrid is bigger and faster with about the same fuel efficiency, all with a starting price of just a few thousand more.
The Niro has a dual-clutch transmission to use, which is something not available in the Toyota Prius. The Prius only has a CVT. Car and Driver found the 2020 Niro more fun to drive when it was in Sport mode.
While the 2020 Kia Niro may not be destined to be a star in the hybrid world, it’s still a great choice for buyers looking for a crossover-style vehicle with great fuel efficiency. It has a long way to go, though, to catch up to the well-established Toyota Prius.