2017 Kia Niro
Say hybrid, and the first name that comes to most minds is “Prius”. In truth, Toyota’s original 5-door Prius hatchback has not had a competitor, likewise built on a chassis built specifically to be a hybrid, until now. Enter, the Kia Niro. A small, dedicated hybrid that also plays to the current popularity of crossover utilities. So, let’s see if Niro hits the high notes on both.
This is the 2017 Kia Niro. And, According to Kia, it’s the first of its kind; an Urban Crossover Hybrid Vehicle.
They obviously hope that adding the word crossover will spur some additional sales. But to us, the Niro is more of a squarer rival to the Pruis hatchback, as well as the Prius V, while also being reminiscent of the short-lived Kia Rondo wagon. It had such “cabinosity”, and was quite possibly a vehicle ahead of its time.
Whatever you call it, the Niro is actually a great looking vehicle that has plenty of substance as well. An important note since many subcompact crossovers are more about show than practicality.
The hybrid powertrain is a 32kW electric motor sandwiched between a 1.6-liter I4 gasoline engine and a real 6-speed dual-clutch transmission. Energy is stored in a small 1.6kWh battery beneath the rear seat. Total output is 139-horsepower and 195 lb-ft. of torque.
A plug-in version should arrive this fall.
While a dedicated hybrid, the Niro does share its platform with the Hyundai Ioniq, and the fact that it is front-wheel-drive cast more doubt on the crossover title. But then, so does the very successful Kia Soul.
So hatchback, wagon or whatever, Niro delivers good pickup with no harsh regen braking feel. The DCT operates smoothly, but engine noise can be pronounced at times.
Powertrain transitions are also fairly smooth. The only fault we found was in highway driving with cruise control engaged. Here, the Niro seems to stumble a bit as it manages both power sources as well as selects proper gearing. So, the overall experience is not quite as refined as a Prius.
The interior however, looks fantastic. Not in a flashy way, but with an understated, almost classy quality. Materials look upscale, and feel good to the touch. The seats are also more comfortable than Prius.
A power gauge replaces the tach, and our staff loved the clear TFT info display.
As for luggage space, the Niro has 19.4 cu-ft. Quite easily the rear seats fold almost flat for 54.5 cu-ft.; just short of the Sportage’s 60.1 cu-ft.
Outside, the Niro looks most like a cute yet sporty station wagon; with virtually no indications of it being a hybrid. Compared to the Soul, it is classier, and less aimed at the youngest buyers.
It also has more style than the Prius V and gets better Government Fuel Economy Ratings as well. Our Niro Touring rates 46-City, 40-Highway, and 43-Combined; we found those numbers a tad pessimistic as we averaged 47.2 miles-per-gallon of Regular without trying too hard. Kia also offers a stripped down Niro FE rated at 50-Combined, just shy of the least expensive Prius hatch.
Our Touring’s Energy Impact Score is a very good one, burning just 7.7-barrels of oil yearly with 3.4-tons of CO2 emissions.
We became very aware that fuel economy is the priority at our test track. It took us 10.1-seconds to lumber to 60, with plenty lag time before you feel any rush of power.
It was nice however, to experience real shifts, even if they were a tad slow; we much prefer that over constant CVT droning. We finished the ¼ mile in 17.7-seconds at 80 miles-per-hour.
Niro handled itself quite well through our cone course too. There was just the slightest bit of understeer when things got spirited; but for the most part, it goes where you aim it quickly.
Steering response is brisk, with a light but not over-boosted feel.
Braking from 60 averaged just 112-feet, which is quite good; as was overall stability while stopping. Pedal feel was a bit disconcerting though, as it goes right towards the floor with little resistance.
Four trim levels are available, starting at $23,785 for an FE. Top level Touring stickers for $30,545.
The 2017 Kia Niro is truly a product of its time. Part utility, part hatchback, part marketing strategy; all with a strong emphasis on high fuel economy. It’s another all-around excellent product from Kia, and if we were paying over $4.00 a gallon for gas like we were a few years ago, it would be an instant hit. As it is now, it will probably still get there; it just might take a while longer.
- Engine: 1.6 liter I4
- Horsepower: 139
- Torque: 195 lb-ft.
- 0-60 mph: 10.1 seconds
- 1/4 mile: 17.7 seconds @ 80 mph
- EPA: 46 mpg city /40 mpg highway
- Energy Impact: 7.7 barrels of oil/yr
- CO2 Emissions: 3.4 tons/yr
2024 Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT
It’s An SUV On A Track, Deal With It
When we started testing cars 43-years ago, hot rod SUVs like this Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT were not on our radar. Back in those days, utility vehicles were trucks and Porsches were cars. But times have changed, and the only place to make sense of it all is at a racetrack, so hop in and join us for some high-performance haulin’.
Now, most would say the high-performance SUV is a relatively new phenomenon, but we’ve been testing them for over 30-years now, going back to the GMC Typhoon. If you don’t remember that one, we’d suggest Googling it, purely for the nostalgia of it, as this 2024 Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT is on a totally different level.
This SUV is an SUV in shape only, as a lot of its hardware as well as the driving experience are much more akin to a pure sports car… ah la the 911.
Starting with the Coupe version of Porsche’s largest SUV, which benefits from a mid-cycle styling refresh for ’24, the Turbo GT adds a carbon-fiber roof, big wing with side planes, rear diffuser, and a sport exhaust system with titanium tailpipes.
Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control is also included, making body-roll almost non-existent; and with the help of a new two-valve air suspension setup it was all traction all the time through the high-speed turns of Savannah’s Roebling Road Raceway. Though unlike last gen, if you’re aggressive enough with the throttle, you can get the rear to step out on you a little. Rear-axle steering is also included and the best praise we could heap on steering feel and feedback through corners is that it feels like a Porsche.
Tires are also wider than before: 315/35 Pirelli P Zeros in back, mounted on 22-inch GT Design wheels. The brakes behind are comprised of enormous carbon-ceramic composite discs with monster yellow calipers…
…and they truly were impressive on track, hauling this 5,000-pound, luxury-minded performance utility down from triple-digit speeds lap after lap without wavering.
This SUV is an SUV in shape only, as a lot of its hardware as well as the driving experience are much more akin to a pure sports car... ah la the 911.
Equally impressive is the powerplant that initiates those high speeds, Porsche’s 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 which cranks out 19 horsepower over last year for a total of 650; torque output remains the same, at 626 lb-ft. All-wheel drive is standard, as is an 8-speed automatic trans, which helps the Turbo GT get up to speed in a hurry; 3.1-seconds to 60, to be exact. That’s a couple of tenths slower than the first-gen Turbo GT we tested 2 years ago, but we’ll chalk that up to testing that one on a well-prepped drag strip versus this trip down Roebling Road’s slippery front straightaway on a 40-degree day. And it gained time back quickly, as our 11.3-second quarter-mile time was only a tenth slower, finishing at 124 mph.
Other notable changes for ’24 include a new dash and control layout for the interior. The highlight is a new 12.6-inch curved digital gauge display; it’s joined by a central touchscreen that sits higher up and is nestled into the dash more than before.
No more actual shifter in the console, as it’s been replaced with Porsche’s toggle switch gear sector which resides on the dash to the left of the touchscreen. That means a new console layout with additional storage space and new controls. While none of that helps lower lap times, it all provides a much more useful and better overall environment than before, for that time spent behind the wheel commuting or just sitting in traffic.
Front and rear seats are comfortable yet sporty feeling; and while it does do a lot of SUV-like things pretty well, the coupe body shape does limit rear cargo capacity to 20.3 cubic feet, expanding to 52.4 with rear seatbacks folded; and the central-mounted exhaust does negate adding a tow hitch.
No matter how you look at it, the Cayenne Turbo GT is an insane vehicle, but it also comes with an insane price tag, starting at $197,950. So essentially, that’s six-figures worth of high-performance hardware jammed into an already impressively capable standard Cayenne… an SUV made much better with comprehensive updates front to back for all ’24 Porsche Cayennes.
It easily remains the standard bearer for luxury-minded utility vehicles, evidenced by recently earning our Drivers’ Choice Award for Best Luxury Utility. But it’s this 2024 Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT that really impresses the most as the ultimate track-focused SUV money can buy. You may not need it, but you know you want it!
- Engine: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8
- Horsepower: 650
- 0-60 mph: 3.1-seconds
- Starting Price: $197,950
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Torque: 625 lb-ft.
- 1/4 Mile: 11.3-seconds at 124 mph
2024 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Bringing Supercar Performance To The Street…American Style
What happens when you let enthusiasts and engineers worry less about tradition and allow them to do what they do best? You get cars like this Chevrolet Corvette Z06. What happens when GM let’s us borrow one for a few days? That’s what we’re about to find out!
While the Z06 package first became an option for the Chevrolet Corvette back in 1963, it wasn’t until the C5 that it describe the ultimate track-focused ‘Vette. And while since then every Z06 has gotten more extreme, if we were plotting things out on a graph, this is where the line of performance progression goes from a steady incline to almost vertical. Yes, the latest C8 Z06 is all that.
It starts with a brand new LT6 5.5-liter DOHC V8 that outputs 670-horsepower and delivers 460 lb-ft. of torque. It sounds great too, the very aggressive nature of its flat-plane crank design has it sounding, and feeling like it’s trying to shake its way out of the engine bay unless you unleash some of its furry.
This dual-cammer featured a dry-sump design from the get-go and is more racing engine than souped-up small block, being developed originally for the C8.R race car.
It made short work of Roebling Road Raceway’s long front straight, able to reach 160 by the end of it. With Hellcats no longer rolling off the assembly line, this is easily our new favorite V8.
But, as you can imagine, Chevy has done much more than just plop a bigger motor into its rear-midship engine bay, which was easier to do since they didn’t have to worry about anyone seeing over it. They’ve addressed just about every part of the car to ensure it puts that power to best use for coming out of corners like few other cars on the street.
That includes upgrades for the short/long arm double wishbone suspension setup that can be further enhanced with an available Z07 Performance Package that adds more aggressive tuning for Magnetic Ride Control, and Michelin Sport Cup 2R tires. Which can be mounted on 20 and 21-inch carbon fiber wheels with carbon ceramic brakes nestled behind.
It all translated into more grip than a semi’s worth of industrial strength Velcro through Roebling’s 9-turns.
With Hellcats no longer rolling off the assembly line, this is easily our new favorite V8.
Like most Corvettes, the Z06 can be as wild or mild of an experience as you care to make it but will most likely be the fastest car to show up at most track days. Yet, the same magnetic dampers that void all body roll on the track, provide an almost plush ride quality for the drive home, though not quite as plush as the standard Corvette.
We’re struggling to find something non-fan boy to say; sure the 8-speed dual-clutch gearbox doesn’t deliver shifts with the brutality of some exotics, but really, they’re just as fast, and the shifts are much smoother.
Believe it or not, almost all the body is unique. So, rather than just tacking on some fender flares, Chevy made the entire car wider to cover the 345 rear tires, yet keep the same uniform look in place.
The optional Carbon Fiber Aero Package adds a front splitter, rocker extensions, front dive planes, and a huge rear wing. We’re not sure if the multi-level nature of that rear wing was done for functional or aesthetic reasons, but it doesn’t block your rearview, and that is much appreciated.
We always talk about torque being more important than horsepower when it comes to acceleration, and the Z06 works with almost 200 fewer lb-ft. of torque than horsepower, but you sure wouldn’t know it when you mash the throttle.
Easy to use programmable launch control allows you to dial in your preferred RPM for launching; we found 4,500 was just about perfect for Roebling’s front straight, allowing for just a tiny bit of slip before rocketing us to 60 on a 40 degree day in just 2.6-seconds.
Power continues to pour on hard as the engine quickly hits its 8,600 RPM redline, and gear changes happen often. The sound inside the cabin in intense, and when the ¼-mile came to an end in 10.7-seconds at 130 miles-per-hour, it felt like it was just getting started.
Government Fuel Economy Ratings are a low 12-City, 19-Highway, and 14-Combined.
For the Z06 there are 3 LZ pricing points to land on, starting at $114,395; but you can go with the top-of-the-line Z06, add 50-grand worth of options, and still come out half the price of anything you can compare it to.
Call us home teamers all you want, but America’s only exotic does it yet again, not only is it the best Corvette ever, but it is also easily one of the greatest American cars of all time, arriving at a particularly poignant time culturally as we mourn the potential loss of internal combustion engines altogether. So, come for the spectacular engine and stay for the complete performance package, and experience, that is the Chevrolet Corvette Z06.
- Engine: 5.5-liter V8
- Horsepower: 670
- 0-60 mph: 2.6 seconds
- EPA: 12 City | 19 Highway | 14 Combined
- Transmission: 8-speed dual clutch auto
- Torque: 460 lb-ft.
- 1/4 Mile: 10.7-seconds at 130 mph