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2020 Kia Niro Review

  • Oh so frugal
  • Comfortable, roomy interior
  • Excellent value
  • SUV-ish looks
  • No AWD option
  • Light on thrills
  • High-trim version uses more fuel
  • Automatic emergency braking should be standard
  • The base Kia Niro lacks collision-avoidance tech that we really think should be standard by now.
The 2020 Kia Niro is a compelling eco-friendly car for those opposed to Prius-like looks.

The 2020 Kia Niro hybrid pairs crossover-like styling and utility with excellent fuel economy in every form. It’s a high-value car ideal for the way most people use their vehicles, and the impressive Niro plug-in hybrid only adds to this lineup’s appeal.  

Overall, we rate the 2020 Niro at 6.0 out of 10.

Some styling updates and a larger infotainment screen mark changes to the refreshed 2020 model, which is available in LX, LXS, Touring, Touring Special Edition, and EX Premium trim levels. 

Most Niros on dealer lots are the traditional hybrid, which uses a 139-horsepower 1.6-liter inline-4 to send power to the front wheels through an electric motor and a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. The Niro Plug-In Hybrid adds a bigger battery that gives it about 26 miles of electric-only range, after which it behaves just like the traditional hybrid. Equipped either way, the Niro performs adequately in typical driving, though it has little power in reserve for passing. Its soft ride and pleasant handling make it a great commuter, though not a thriller on a winding road. 

The Niro EV swaps in an electric motor and a much larger battery pack good for upward of 200 horsepower, nearly 240 miles of electric range, and excellent acceleration. It gives the Chevy Bolt EV a serious run for the money, and we’d look closely at the Niro EV before spending quite a bit more for the Tesla Model 3, but the Niro EV still has availability limited to certain states such as California and other ZEV states. We do a comprehensive review of the 2020 Kia Niro EV separately. 

With its crossover-like looks, the Niro blends in better than the Toyota Prius, which may be part of its appeal. However, don’t look for crossover-like all-wheel drive. Narrow, efficiency-oriented tires mean the Niro is not a great winter ride. 
Inside, the Niro is spacious, with an updated dash this year that houses a bright digital instrument cluster and excellent infotainment software run through either a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen or an optional 10.3-inch touchscreen. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility are standard fare, as are Bluetooth and plenty of USB ports. 

The Niro has done well in crash testing, though automatic emergency braking is disconcertingly not included on the base trim level. For that reason alone, we’d step up to the Niro LXS for $1,400 more. Range-topping Niros have bigger wheels that look good but dent fuel economy considerably.

The 2020 Kia Niro would like you to think it’s a crossover SUV. Spoiler alert: it’s not, but that’s just fine.

REI wouldn’t be such a retail powerhouse if Americans didn’t think that donning a North Face jacket was necessary for a trip to Safeway on a drizzly Thursday morning. So too it goes with crossover SUVs: We like the idea of looking rugged, even if we don’t often deviate from running errands in suburbia.

The 2020 Kia Niro knows this. Instead of wearing its eco credentials on its steel sleeve, it blends in with other crossover-like vehicles. That’s not a bad thing, and for its clean, curvy lines, we award it a point above average for 6 out of 10 on our scale. 

The Niro is plain and simple, with a wide grille accented by the same mustache-like design we’ve grown used to on other Kia models. Its big wheel wells and large rocker panels are adorned with unpainted trim in an attempt to look rugged (and to save some money otherwise spent painting those bits). At the rear, big taillights improve visibility without drawing too much attention to their design. Only the aero wheels, which are designed to cheat the wind rather than win beauty awards, single it out as a fuel miser (or electric car).
Inside, the Niro has a subtly new look this year. The standard 8.0-inch touchscreen is upgradeable to high-resolution 10.3-inch display, and the instrument cluster is a 7.0-inch screen. Controls are easy to sort out. Black with red accents spices up the little car with otherwise uninspiring interior hues. 

You won’t win a drag race in the 2020 Kia Niro—unless your competitor has to stop for a refuel along the way.

The 2020 Kia Niro isn’t a performance machine, but we think that’s a fair tradeoff for its impressive fuel economy.

We rate the lineup at 4 out of 10, dialing back a point for so-so acceleration. Passing may require some planning ahead.

Base Niro and Niro Plug-In Hybrid cars make use of a 1.6-liter inline-4 rated at just 139 horsepower, which delivers power forward via a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Don’t look for an all-wheel-drive version, which is a shame for those who live in snowy climates. 
Most versions of the Niro are said to sprint to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds, according to Kia, but in reality they feel slower than that. Power builds with little enthusiasm, and the automatic gearbox can occasionally stumble in low-speed traffic. 

Eco and Sport modes are on offer, but the latter is notable mostly for the way it slightly increases steering heft. No Niro is a thriller on a winding road, though the cars have a well-tuned ride with acceptable amounts of lean when pushed. Their narrow, economy-oriented tires may prove troublesome in rain or snow, though, so plan accordingly.

The Plug-In Hybrid version features a larger battery that gives it around 26 miles of electric-only driving, which should be enough for most shorter commutes. 

No matter the version, braking is just so-so. The car stops in a reasonable distance, but the transition between traditional friction braking and battery regeneration—a necessity for the car’s impressive fuel economy—can result in a lurching sensation. Try to modulate the brakes on your test drive to see if it’s acceptable to you.
Comfort & Quality
Though far from premium inside, the 2020 Kia Niro is spacious and versatile.

The 2020 Kia Niro benefits from its crossover-like shape compared to sedan rivals. Its interior offers decent room for passengers and great space for their gear. For its versatile and spacious cargo capacity, the 2020 Niro earns a point for a 6 out of 10 for comfort and quality.

Our taller editors have had no problem getting comfortable up front, though the driver’s seat isn’t as all-day comfortable as those in more expensive cars. Rear-seat leg room runs about 37.4 inches, which is good for a car of this size. The seats come covered in cloth on most versions, while synthetic leather can be had on higher-trim Niros. 

Cargo space is good at just shy of 20 cubic feet with the rear seat upright and an impressive 54.5 cubes with the second row folded down. The cargo floor is fairly low, too, thanks to the fact that there is no all-wheel-drive components below the body. It's an easy jump even for smaller dogs. 
The materials in the 2020 Niro are durable but hardly dressy. This year’s version has more detail to its dash and door panels, but hard plastics with a pleasant matte finish adorn almost every surface. At least the Niro is a quiet, relaxing cruiser, which is something we can’t say about many cars priced this reasonably.

The 2020 Kia Niro has had mixed results in crash tests, but not all versions have collision-avoidance tech.

In what crash tests have been performed, the latest Kia Niro has earned mixed marks. The NHTSA gave it a four-star rating, and the IIHS has yet to test it with the stricter testing criteria enacted for 2020. 

All versions have the expected slew of airbags and antilock brakes, but don’t look for automatic emergency braking until you step up to the Niro LXS trim. The base Niro LX lacks this important safety tech, and for that we’d skip the entry-level model. Active lane control is also standard on the LXS, while EX and higher trims add adaptive cruise control.

The NHTSA found the overall crash protection of the 2019 Niro to be lacking, especially on the front passenger side. It gave it a low three-star rating on that side due to a higher likelihood of chest injury for a front passenger. 
The IIHS rated last year’s Niro a Top Safety Pick+ when fitted with the available HID headlights. However, the 2020 Kia Niro has not been tested with the higher standards for headlights and automatic emergency braking instituted by the IIHS this year. 

The 2020 Kia Niro wants for little in most trims, as long as you skip the sparse base version.

The 2020 Kia Niro is a good value for an eco-friendly small hybrid car, starting at $25,710, including $1,120 destination. 

We rate it at 6 out of 10 with a point awarded to its standard 8.0-inch touchscreen, and another point awarded for its 5-year/60,000-mile limited basic warranty. But we have to deduct a point for the lack of automatic emergency braking.  

The 2020 Niro comes in LX, LXS, Touring, Touring Special Edition, and EX Premium trims. The EX Premium tops out at $33,910. The 2020 Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid starts just over $30,000, but still qualifies for federal and state EV incentives. 
The base LX comes with an 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, Bluetooth, a digital instrument cluster, dual-zone automatic air conditioning, and power features. It’s almost the one to have, except it lacks collision-avoidance tech. For that, you’ll have to step up to the LXS, which includes keyless ignition, automatic emergency braking, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a few other features.

At the top of the lineup, the EX Premium adds synthetic leather upholstery, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, a 10.3-inch touchscreen with navigation and upgraded Harman Kardon audio, and a few other features. 

Fuel Economy
Few new cars match the 2020 Kia Niro when it comes to frugality.

The 2020 Kia Niro won’t be a common sight at gas stations. In its most popular form—as a hybrid—it’s rated at a heady 51 mpg city, 46 highway, 49 combined. The lighter LX base model gets 52/49/50 mpg.

That’s good enough for 8 out of 10 on our scale. The fully electric version would rate a 10 if scored alone.

The 2020 Niro Touring has bigger 18-inch alloy wheels (instead of the standard 16-inch wheels) that look good but are a big price to pay at the pump. It’s rated at a comparatively pedestrian 46/40/43 mpg. Shop wisely.
The plug-in hybrid version is rated at 46 mpg combined and has a 26-mile estimated electric-only range.
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