Crossover & Midsize

Why the Kia Niro Might Not Deserve to Be Called an SUV

Year after year, SUVs continue to be popular because of their ruggedness and versatility. Even so, one downside to owning an SUV is fuel economy. As Edmunds notes, a hybrid SUV or crossover is a little more challenging for automakers to develop. Even so, that hasn’t stopped the Kia Niro from positioning itself as one.

Despite the fact that Kia markets the Niro as a crossover SUV, the truth is that it may not actually qualify. If you are considering a 2020 Niro, here are some features you should be aware of.  

Low ground clearance

The average SUV sits anywhere from 65.9 to 70.5 inches off the ground. The 2020 Kia Niro, on the other hand, sits significantly lower. Edmunds notes that a traditional SUV that sits higher off the ground will “create more aerodynamic drag than sleek hybrid hatchbacks.” Accordingly, they refer to it as something of a taller hatchback rather than a crossover or SUV.

No all-wheel drive option

Unlike most other SUVs, the Kia Niro does not offer all-wheel drive in any configuration. This is actually no surprise as finding a location for the battery pack in an SUV that also offers all-wheel drive is extremely difficult for automakers. With the Kia Niro, the battery pack is located securely between the axles.

Edmunds claims the lack of all-wheel drive may not be a problem if you do not require four-wheel traction and instead are looking only for a hatchback. For those seriously wanting an SUV, they recommend the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid or Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid instead.

The Kia Niro’s body style

KIA Niro  EV all electric subcompact crossover on display at Brussels Expo
The Kia Niro | Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images

The body style is another area in which the Kia Niro does not quite make the grade. SUV bodies tend to be boxier in appearance; however, the Niro has more rounded features. In particular, its sloping roofline and angled side panels give it the look of a hatchback sedan more so than a compact SUV.

Kia has refreshed their Niro for the 2020 model year. Some of the changes include a more industrial-looking bumper with mesh inserts along with LED running lights and enhanced taillights. While these do provide the Niro with an upgraded appearance, it still falls short of having the look of a traditional Sport Utility Vehicle. This is true despite the fact that Kia claims the vehicle actually sits on a crossover body frame.

Common features and similarities

Although it doesn’t fully meet the definition of an SUV, the Kia Niro does have some features that would commonly be found in a utility vehicle. One involves cargo-hauling capability, which is enhanced through the vehicle’s 60/40 split-folding rear seats. Its 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder engine is surprisingly powerful as well.

Despite its lack of all-wheel drive, the 2020 Niro contains a number of features that make it easy to handle under a variety of conditions. This includes cruise control, a tilt and telescopic steering column, dual-zone automatic temperature controls, automatic windshield defog, and a day/night interior rearview mirror.

The refreshed model now features an upgraded 8-inch touchscreen, mood lighting, and an optional paddle shifter that doubles as a controller for the vehicle’s active regenerative braking system. An improved instrument cluster and enhanced safety features such as lane-keeping assist are available as well.

The Kia Niro’s isn’t really an SUV, but it’s still a great hybrid

Kia claims that the “Niro packs the efficiency of a hybrid into a fun-to-drive, flexible crossover…” However, consumer opinions differ as to whether or not this vehicle actually qualifies as an SUV. Although it comes up short in many areas, it is nonetheless a great choice for those who want a stylish hatchback with excellent fuel economy.