One of the newest additions to the Kia model range is called the Niro. The idea is simple: a hybrid crossover. Take a look around you and you will see that the crossover is becoming the family car of choice. With the practicality of a family hatchback, and a bit of height for road presence, it’s easy to see why. There are also environmental pressures on the modern motorist, but until full-electric cars improve range, they’re not going to appeal to the mass market, which is why Kia has opted for the hybrid system in the Niro. So is it any good? I set about finding out.
Looks – 8/10
On the outside, the Niro generally looks good. I’ll get my grumble out of the way first: the headlights are a bit bug-eyed. They’re a bit too small, and too far apart when looking head on. But the rest of the Niro is nice. The lines are subtle and sculpted, resulting in a rather low, sleek-looking crossover. My test car was finished in signature ‘Ocean Blue’ paint, which is a rather premium blue-green. The ‘First Edition’ gets 18-inch alloys, chrome handles and upper window surround. Black plastic cladding to the lower edges gives a rugged edge to the styling. At the rear there’s a subtle spoiler, shark fin aerial and yet more smooth lines. The overall stance of the car is low, and it’s reasonably aerodynamic thanks to Kia’s focus on reducing drag to improve fuel consumption.
On the inside the ‘First Edition’ gets a unique grey leather trim which is a welcome change from dark, black leather interiors. It seems to be commonplace for “eco” models to have light, airy cabins; one of my favourites was that of the Soul EV. What’s also unique to the ‘First Edition’ is the high gloss white interior finishers, but I wasn’t overly sold on this. The rest of the interior is all standard Kia; reasonably high-quality plastics, plush leather steering wheel and grey and silver trim to break up the gloss white. The dials are crisp and feature a 4.2-inch TFT information screen in the middle. In the centre of the dashboard lies an 8-inch touchscreen, and the starter button is nestled neatly under it.
Handling/Performance – 6/10
Niro is Kia’s first dedicated hybrid, and first ever hybrid in the UK. The engine is a 1.6-litre direct-injection petrol unit that has been engineered specifically for use in hybrid cars. It is coupled to a 32kW (43PS) electric motor. Combined power is 139PS and 265Nm of torque. Unlike most hybrids, which use CVT gearboxes, the Niro uses a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT). This not only gives a more direct response, but is also more refined. There’s a manual sports mode, but I never really felt the urge to use it. 0-62mph is dealt with in 11.1 seconds and the top speed is 101mph. Not blistering by any stretch. That being said, the pick-up around town is quite brisk thanks to the electric motor and its instant torque.
The Niro has fully-independent suspension all round, which has been tuned to develop steering feel. From the driving seat you can tell. Steering response is direct, with a reasonably sharp turn in. There is a little bit of pitch on corner entry, but body roll is well-managed by what is a good chassis. On the motorway the Kia is smooth, comfortable and soft. Yet thanks to the independent suspension it absorbs bumps well, and that’s something we have a lot of on our pothole-ridden highways. Braking feel takes some getting used to, especially if you’ve not driven a car with a regenerative braking system before. For added composure the Niro features Electronic Stabliity Control (ESC) and Vehicle Stabliity Management systems.
Economy – 10/10
The Niro, as a hybrid, has great green credentials. CO2 emissions start at 88g/km, but rise to 101g/km on the ‘3’ and ‘First Edition’ thanks to bigger alloy wheels. That puts the cars in VED band A and B respectively. First year road tax is free for both, with the latter costing a mere £20 a year from then on. Combined fuel consumption is a respectable 64.2mpg on the ‘First Edition’. Because of the nature of the hybrid system in a Niro, you don’t end up with the same skewed economy figures like the hundred-and-odd mpg you see on other hybrids. The Niro will do its claimed figures in the real world.
Practicality – 8/10
As a crossover, practicality is at the heart of the Niro. Kia has been quite clever, stashing the batteries under the rear seats. The result is an uncompromised boot space, which is more than big enough for the shopping, the family dogs, the suitcases and the golf clubs. Sat in the back you wouldn’t know you were perched on a power bank either; there’s plenty of room for taller adults. My test car was a ‘First Edition’ which meant that an 8-inch touchscreen multimedia system, reversing camera, JBL premium sound system, Keyless entry and go, blind-spot monitoring and autonomous emergency braking was standard kit. Where I find the Niro slightly confused is the lack of charging capability. I understand this is purely a hybrid, but to be able to charge at home would make short trips to the village require no fuel at all, making the Niro more appealing.
Fun – 6/10
Overall, I did enjoy driving the Niro. There are a few styling touches I wouldn’t have missed, but on the whole the interior was a nice place to be. It’s always interesting to see exactly what the hybrid system is doing at a given moment, and the Niro always managed to impress at the seamless transition from engine to battery to a combination to both. Admittedly this is not a car for the keen driver, nor will it satisfy a craving for a B-road blast. And catching the reflection of that front end from time to time will soon wipe a smile off your face. The Niro is also fun without being driven anywhere. There is plenty of gadgetry going on, and figuring out what all the buttons and switches do will keep you entertained for a while. One test I sometimes use to assess the fun factor of a car is the “pub test”. If, in a pub with your friends, you tell them you drive a Niro they will, unfortunately, not speak to you for the rest of the night.
That ends my week with the Kia Niro. There’s a lot to like about it. The hybrid powertrain works well, with the petrol engine coming to live seamlessly to work with the electric motor in perfect harmony. As is generally the case with Kia, the Niro comes well-equipped as standard. The styling splits opinion. I rather like the exterior, although those front headlights are a little bit bug-like. Inside some unusual finishers taint what could be a very plush cabin. For people who don’t often drive long journeys, the Niro will make sense, and most likely save you money. If however you spend most of your time on the M6 then perhaps a good diesel will suit you better. Prices for the Niro start at £21,295, up to £26,995 for the ‘First Edition’. To find out more head over to your local dealer or the Kia website. The Kia Niro; crossover by design, hybrid by nature.
Total Score – 38/50