2017 Honda Civic Vs. 2017 Kia Niro: Hatchback Comeback
Though popular overseas, compact hatchbacks are mostly bit players in the U.S., where the sedan is king among car shoppers. However, give a hatchback a few extra inches of ground clearance, all-wheel drive and a different name, and voila! You have a subcompact or compact SUV, which are quite popular right now.
That irony aside, the traditional hatch is experiencing something of a comeback, with new and redesigned models hitting the market. Two of the most recent ones are the 2017 Honda Civic hatchback and 2017 Kia Niro hybrid, which prioritize different attributes to woo hatchback buyers.
Last offered for model-year 2000, the hatchback body style returns to the Civic lineup for 2017 with an emphasis on sportiness — both in how it drives and how it looks. Our test model was a top-of-the-line Sport Touring trim level with EPA-estimated gas mileage of 30/36/32 mpg city/highway/combined. A built-in navigation system and the Honda Sensing suite of active safety features were included in the as-tested price of $29,175 (including destination).
The all-new Niro, meanwhile, has more conventional hatchback styling and puts the focus squarely on gas mileage with EPA-estimated fuel economy as high as 52/49/50 mpg. Estimated gas mileage was considerably lower — 46/40/43 mpg — for our top-of-the-line Touring trim level, which had an as-tested price of $32,575 (including destination).
To judge these cars, we spent a day evaluating their various features and driving them in the city and on the highway. Check out how they fared in the different categories below to see which was the overall winner.
Both cars had black interiors, which gave them a bit of a drab appearance, but they also had soft-touch surfaces on the upper portions of the front doors and low-gloss surfaces overall. Kia, however, cheapened the Niro's cabin in a few places, like the papery headliner, where Honda did not.
The Civic's seats are a home run, with a degree of support and comfort that the Niro can't match. Everything else, however, strikes out: You squat to get into the car and sit low in a driver's seat that needs more vertical travel. There's also a mammoth center console that reduces passenger space. The Niro has softer seats that are positioned higher, like a crossover SUV's.
The Civic's backseat is much bigger than the car's swoopy styling might lead you to believe. Taller adults have legroom to spare and good foot space under the front seats, but the seat cushion is too close to the floor and there's a big center floor hump, too. The Niro's bench seat is higher, yet headroom is excellent.
The Civic's wide windshield provides good forward views, but the car's sleek styling magnifies the blind spot over your right shoulder (the Civic doesn't have rear-quarter windows like the Niro does). The Civic's rear head restraints block more of your view out the rear window, which is a bit cluttered by the rear spoiler. The Civic's LaneWatch camera is a nice feature — especially in the city or other places where bicyclists are common — but the Niro had front parking sensors, an important driver aid in close quarters.
Controls and Multimedia
The similar-looking rocker switches on the Niro's steering wheel can be confused, but the dashboard controls are easy to use and sensibly arranged. Plus, the multimedia system has the right kind of controls — knobs for volume and tuning, for instance — and a responsive touchscreen. The Civic's Display Audio multimedia system is its single worst feature, with a touch-sensitive volume slider and touchscreen tuning controls that are frustrating to use.
Cargo Versatility and In-Cabin Storage
The Civic's raked liftgate lops off cargo space the higher you go, but the cargo area is deeper than the Niro's whether the backseat is up or folded. The Civic's cargo opening is bigger than the Niro's, too, and its lower liftover height is another plus. The storage bin between the Civic's front seats is enormous and can be configured to hold whatever you may have with you, whether that's smaller items or a Big Gulp cup.
The Niro's hybrid drivetrain gets the hatchback up to speed well enough, and it seamlessly transitions from electric to gas power, but highway passing power is modest and the system can't match the punchy midrange power from the Civic's turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The Civic's drivetrain responds with more immediacy and feels a little stronger on the highway, too.
Both cars handle bumps well, but the Civic's firmer suspension tuning and low-profile tires made for a brittle ride on rough pavement. The Niro's ride quality lacked polish at times — we observed some floatiness over rapid elevation changes — but it's clearly the more comfort-oriented of the two.
The Niro doesn't have the wonky steering feel that some Kias do, but the system's high level of power assistance doesn't make for a particularly engaging driving experience, either. The Civic, on the other hand, is a blast to drive as front-wheel-drive cars go; it feels low and planted, and its ultra-quick steering and limited body roll made corners all kinds of fun. The Niro's brake-pedal feel is quite good for a hybrid, but it comes up short against the Civic's impressively linear and firm brake pedal.
Worth the Money?
As tested, our Civic Sport Touring was about 10 percent cheaper than the Niro Touring, but the Kia was packed with upscale features like a heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats and power-folding side mirrors — features the Civic doesn't offer. The Niro also has an exceptional warranty and considerably better EPA-estimated gas mileage, but its advanced collision prevention features are options that raised the price, while similar technology is included in the price of all Civic Sport Tourings. That, along with its superior driving experience, put the Civic in front.
This was a close one. The Civic and Niro both won five categories, and out of a possible 200 points, the Civic squeaked out the win with 135 to the Niro's 129.
Many of the things that impressed us about the Civic hatchback helped propel the Civic sedan to victory in our recent 2017 Compact Sedan Challenge. It's a premium, fun-to-drive car whether you choose the sedan, hatchback or coupe body style — and right now, it's the class benchmark.