Kia’s first purpose-built hybrid is a five-door crossover but can it mix it with rivals like the Hyundai Ioniq and Toyota Prius? We’ve lived with it for a week to find out
What do we have here?
Kia has launched its first-ever dedicated hybrid-only vehicle called the Niro.
It’s a stylish five-door crossover with Sportage styling cues, is built on an all-new platform, has an all-new drivetrain and is the sister car to Hyundai Ionic hatchback.
Unlike Hyundai’s approach of matching up directly with the Toyota Prius, Kia has chosen the popular crossover-SUV body shape approach, although the Niro is only available in front-wheel drive.
Measuring in it at 4,355mm long, 1,805mm wide and 1,535mm tall, it sits between the Ceed and Sportage in terms of size.
Powering the Niro is a 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine in combination with an electric motor and a 1.56kWh lithium-ion battery. Jointly they develop 139bhp and 195lb ft of torque, enough to move the Niro from standstill to 62mph in 11.5 seconds. A plug-in hybrid version (PHEV) will be added in 2017.
The powertrain is completed with a standard fit six-speed automatic gearbox with sport function and manual override.
There are four trim levels consisting of 1, 2, 3 and First Edition with prices starting from £21,295. Even the entry-level is packed with gadgets including 16in alloy wheels, Bluetooth, DAB radio, dual-zone automatic air conditioning, a 3.5in TFT screen, lane keep assist and cruise control.
As you climb the trim levels you get larger alloys, leather seats, sat nav, reversing camera, electrically heated and cooled seats, a heated steering wheel, electric sunroof, autonomous emergency braking, lane steering assist, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert and adaptive cruise control.
We’re testing the range-topping First Edition that tips the scales at £26,995.
How does it drive?
You usually pull away in whisper electric-only ‘milk float’ mode. Leave it in automatic mode and the engine does it’s best to conserve fuel, meaning it’ll run in high gears for as long as possible and when forced to shift down, won’t shift down too far.
The result is a quiet and composed engine that majors in refinement. The transition between electric only and the petrol engine is seamless and is only noticeable by a slight increase in noise. The Niro makes decent progress at most speeds without being hurried.
However, if you do want to hurry it along, the engine becomes strained and wheezy and lacks substantial performance, at least when left in automatic mode. Shift the gears manually and find the torque band, particularly in 2nd and 3rd gears, and the Niro can really get a move on.
Adding to the relaxed and quiet powertrain, the Niro has a comfortable ride. It’s neither sloppy nor bouncy but there is an element of firmness. It manages to compress most road imperfections in the way that both Mercedes and BMW do, while the Niro’s damping is excellent.
It handles neatly as well, with an initial movement of the body as you enter a bend, which is limited thereafter. The problem is that you will rarely be able to exploit it, as, particularly on mildly damp roads, the Niro suffers from too much understeer. It’s controllable if you back off, the accelerator but keep pushing and it’ll want to swap to oversteer as the weight from the rear pendulums around.
It steers well with a light and consistent feel, making it easy to navigate around town and get in and out of parking spaces, which is helped by good all-round visibility.
Due to the quiet engine, you do hear a bit more than you might in other cars, such as road noise as speeds increase and wind noise on the motorway, however, it’s barely enough to require the level of conversation to rise above a whisper.
The Niro is stuffed with technology and the driver aids are some of the most intuitive to use. The adaptive cruise control has a good range of settings and reacts quickly to changes in speeds ahead, taking you from your desired maximum speed to almost a stop. The active steering keeps the car in the centre of the lane with smooth and progressive steering inputs rather than sharp snappy ones.
What's it like inside?
The interior of the Niro is a mix of restrained and mature styling, supplemented by cues that give a nod to the car’s advanced technology. Take for instance the instrument dials which are surrounded by a pure white glow and the drive mode indicator that replaces the rev counter and shows whether you are recharging or using the battery power, or using all its available power.
The trim on the doors and centre console on this model get a gloss white Apple iPhones like finish which is very stylish, while the rest of the controls and dials are nice to touch, well-damped with a classy feel and look.
A useful fuel-saving feature is the driver-only setting on the dual-zone climate control, should you be driving on you own.
Materials on the top of the dash are soft to touch, as they are on the door panels, which also get leather with contrasting stitching, which is repeated on the central armrest.
The leather seats are electrically controlled and slide backwards when you turn the car off, making it easier to climb in and out, before automatically resetting when you start the ignition. They are also comfortable and offer lots of adjustment including tilt and lumbar support.
Getting comfortable is helped by a steering wheel that adjusts for reach and tilt, is wrapped in leather and is heated. Head room is good even with the sunroof there, as is shoulder room.
Storage up front is decent as the door takes a bottle and some nic nacks, there’s a reasonable central storage bin, two cupholders between the seats and a place for your phone on an anti slip mat ahead of the gear lever.
In the rear, there’s more white gloss trim and comfortable heated seats. Head and knee room is good and due to a low transmission tunnel, three adults can fit in, at least for shorter journeys.
A fold down central armrest contains two cupholders while the door bins have space for a small bottle and a few loose items.
To open the boot, you locate an electronic switch at the bottom of the boot door, which feels quite low down, however once open, there’s a large opening, small lip and flat boot floor. It’s not quite square and feels a little shallow for the height of the car but under the floor, there are some storage compartments and a tyre inflator kit.
For additional space, the rear seats split and fold 60/40 leaving the smallest of thresholds to the boot floor and nearly lie flat.
The official economy figures for the Niro are 74.3mpg (trim 1 and 2) and 64.2 (trim 3 and above) on a combined cycle, however on the highest trim model we managed 52mpg over 374 miles, which is pretty impressive.
CO2 also differs depending on the trim level and ranges from 88g/km of CO2 to 101g/km of CO2. That means that one-year road tax will cost either £0 or £20 while company car drivers will face either a 15% or 20% tax banding.
Insurance groups range from group 12 to 14, so should prove affordable to insure.
Kia offers a standard seven-year 100,000-mile warranty or a three-year unlimited mileage warranty as standard.
The Kia Niro is a comfortable, quiet, economical and well-priced hybrid crossover that’ll seat four adults in comfort. It feels classy inside with some great design cues and will munch up long distances, leaving you calm and relaxed when you arrive.
There’s little against this car other than a shallower than expected boot, too much understeer and an engine that needs to be worked really hard to get the most out of it.
From a private purchase and company car user point of view, the Niro ticks the majority of boxes, emphatically.