Reed Berry takes Kia’s hot-selling CUV on a road trip to Sin City. 

Sin City, here I come!

I don’t really need much of a reason for a road trip to Las Vegas. I know that great entertainment and amazing food, barring any unplanned traffic, is only about four hours away. But, at the risk of dating myself a bit, I can remember when the amazing food I speak of was more reasonably priced than it is today. Breakfast buffets for $2.99 or even a prime rib dinner for $4.95 were not uncommon back in the day. Now, many Vegas buffets range from $20 to $50, and there’s even a Sunday brunch buffet that will set you back nearly $100 per person.

So, while many of the bargains once found in Vegas are a thing of the past, my best value on this trip may just be the way I’m getting there. I’m driving a very fuel efficient, spacious, great looking hybrid crossover vehicle – the 2019 Kia Niro Touring. I’m not just saying it’s good looking to be polite. A couple of other drivers, without even realizing it, have helped to prove the point by parking on either side of me as I stopped at a convenience store to grab a beverage. Walking out, I see an SUV on one side and another crossover vehicle on the other.

The best looking of the three – hands down – is the Kia Niro, thanks to its sleek, sculpted body design and low-profile roof rails. This is one handsome ride.

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There’s no real “wow” factor on the inside, however. The interior is quite comfortable but, while not unattractive, it just doesn’t have the eye appeal of some of the other vehicles I’ve driven in the recent past. That being said, it is a very driver-friendly interior. All controls are within easy reach and the power driver seat with lumbar support allows me to position myself as comfortably as possible. This vehicle certainly passes my squirm test, meaning that during this four-hour drive from L.A. to Las Vegas my legs have not gone numb and my back is not the least bit sore. Some vehicles – even pricey luxury cars – have not produced the same positive results, so this is definitely a mark in the plus column for Niro.

Photo courtesy of KIA

The seats in my test vehicle are leather trimmed, and the front seats are both heated and ventilated. Although the weather is quite pleasant on this trip, dual-zone climate control will keep the interior at a comfortable temperature throughout my drive. If the weather cools off later in the day, the steering wheel is heated, as well. But, since it’s such a nice day, I think I’ll avail myself of the power sunroof above. A sunroof, in my opinion, is a must-have in a vehicle of this size and type. It is a feature that makes the drive more relaxing by bringing the outside in, allowing you to enjoy fresh air without the harsh wind-blown feeling one often experiences by rolling down the windows at freeway speeds.

As in many newer vehicles, there is no shortage of entertainment or connectivity in Niro. Ed Sheeran and Alanis Morissette sound amazing on the Harman Kardon premium audio system, standard on this model. Or, if you prefer to stream music from your smartphone, there is Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration. There is a very efficient navigation system with 8-inch touchscreen that allows you to control your entertainment options, as well as serving as a video display for a rear camera provided for safe backing. Power outlets, USB and auxiliary jacks are provided for connecting and charging your electronic devices. A wireless phone charger is standard on this model, as well.

At times, I have been accused of being overly sensitive. I don’t know if that’s true (and I’ll deny it if it is) but I will make that assertion about Niro’s Smart Key. In the short time this test vehicle has been in my possession, I have already activated the panic button on the smart key four times. The first time it sounded, I was looking around for the moron who didn’t turn his car alarm off. Then I realized I was that moron. I wasn’t tossing the smart key around, nor was I handling it aggressively, it just seems to have a super-sensitive panic button that is easily activated under normal use.

As for performance, it certainly does a respectable job. Niro is not the fastest vehicle on the road but it doesn’t really have to be. It seems to provide all the power I need, although a bit sluggish in acceleration at times. Under the hood is a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine and 43-horsepower electric motor for a combined 139-hp. A six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission shifts smoothly and efficiently. The car handles well, but the steering is a bit soft. In a vehicle this well designed, I would have expected firmer, more responsive steering. You’ll hear no complaints about the ride, however. It is smooth and comfortable without any of the jarring suspension issues that have been apparent in other vehicles in the crossover / SUV class.

As for mileage, Kia’s combined city/highway fuel economy is estimated to be 43 mpg. Based on my real-world road test, the fuel economy on my trip is 38.3 mpg. Not bad, considering the size and capabilities of this vehicle. Granted, I drove alone and only brought a couple pieces of luggage. A vehicle fully loaded with people and cargo probably will sacrifice some fuel economy, but still impressive for a spacious, comfortable crossover. Of course, as with any eco hybrid vehicle, the more conservatively you drive, the better your fuel economy will be and you may just be able to hit that 43 mpg estimate.

Speaking of cargo, there’s certainly plenty of room for it. 19.4 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat up, but fold the rear seat down and you’ll have a generous 54.5 cubic feet. There’s a super handy cargo net that is doing an excellent job of keeping my smaller items from being tossed around. The cargo net is a $50 add-on, but well worth the small cost based on its usefulness. My laptop and camera equipment are riding as securely in the back as I am up front.

There are a number of outstanding safety features in this vehicle. They are all standard on this model, and some are available on other Niro models. Blind spot detection, lane keeping assist and a forward collision warning system all provide a feeling of security on the road. My test vehicle is also equipped with AEB (Autonomous Emergency Braking) a system that will engage the brakes should an on-board computer detect an imminent collision. Niro is also equipped with airbags throughout, including a driver’s knee airbag and full-length side curtain airbags.

Overall, I am seriously impressed with this vehicle.

It does what a crossover is designed to do – it combines the comfort and smooth driving characteristics of a passenger car with the practicality of an SUV – and, as a hybrid vehicle, Niro does it very economically. The drive from L.A. to Vegas and back can be a bit boring, but I find myself enjoying the experience and not watching the clock. That says a lot about this, or any vehicle, that doesn’t just transport you to a destination but becomes an important part of the adventure.

Niro is offered in five trim levels: FE, LX, EX, S Touring and Touring. Niro is also available as a plug-in hybrid with three trim levels: LX, EX and EX Premium.

For additional information about Kia products visit the Kia website.

2019 Kia Niro Touring

MSRP: $32,150
As Tested: $33,655

Engine type:
1.6-liter (GDI) 4-cylinder engine with 43-hp electric motor

Horsepower:
130 combined

Transmission type:
Dual clutch 6-speed automatic transmission with Sportmatic

Steering:
Motor-driven power steering

Suspension:
Front: MacPherson struts with stabilizer bar
Rear: Independent, multi-link with stabilizer bar

Brakes:
4-wheel disc with anti-lock braking system

Wheels:
18-inch alloy wheels

Wheelbase:
106.3”

Overall length:
171.5”

Overall width
71.1”

Overall height:
60.8” (with roof rails)

Curb weight:
RWD: 3,287

EPA Fuel Economy Estimates (City / Highway / Combined):
46/40/43

Fuel Capacity:
11.9 gallons