Kia Niro: is this the car to convince you into a hybrid?
Posted: Fri Dec 29, 2017 9:11 pm
Realistic review and I totally enjoyed the layout made for an understandable and easy read
Kia Niro: is this the car to convince you into a hybrid?
2017 Kia Niro hybrid main
2017 Kia Niro hybrid main
20 DECEMBER 2017 • 5:58 AM
The Kia Niro is built on the same platform as the Hyundai Ioniq, but is designed to appear more like an SUV than a Prius-rivalling hybrid. A hybrid is exactly what it is though – there are no conventional petrol or diesel versions offered, but instead a basic hybrid or a more expensive plug-in version with a superior electric-only range.
In addition to the Ioniq and Prius, rivals include the Toyota C-HR and plug-in hybrids such as the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and Mini Countryman PHEV.
Standard model is more spacious than the plug-in version
There’s a useful amount of storage in the front of the Niro, although be warned that the tray ahead of the gear lever containing the optional wireless phone charger doubles as a chocolate-melting device. Just saying.
The batteries are packaged under the rear seats, so boot space is good in the standard model, although the wheel arches do intrude noticeably. The plug-in hybrid Niro PHEV sacrifices a fair chunk more boot space for its larger batteries. What’s more, Kia’s solution for carrying the charging cables around - in two large bags that live in the boot - is rather inelegant.
We do however like the low loading lip, and seats that fold flat in a 60/40 split make it possible to carry larger loads. Space for passengers in the rear is also more generous than in the Hyundai Ioniq; there’s enough room to fit one six-footer behind another and the flat floor helps with carrying a third person in the middle seat. The outer rear seats come with Isofix, but the way the seat belts are mounted slightly further forward than in other cars can make it slightly awkward to fit some child seats.
Stick with the smaller wheels
The standard hybrid Niro has a marginally more comfortable ride than the heavier plug-in version, although both are beaten in this regard by the Hyundai Ioniq. If you do opt for a Niro we’d recommend sticking with 16-inch wheels for the best ride quality, particularly around town.
Being a hybrid, the Niro is impressively quiet when in electric vehicle mode. For the PHEV version this can be for up to 38 miles in ideal conditions (more like 20-25 in normal driving), after which a charge of around two hours will replenish the battery.
Both the standard hybrid and PHEV version combine their electric power with a 1.6-litre petrol engine, plus a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox rather than an e-CVT system like that in the Toyota Prius. However, demand a burst of acceleration from the Niro and it actually takes on some of the character of a CVT, sending the engine revs soaring before any appreciable gain in speed can be felt.
Road and wind noise are ever-present partners on the motorway, but the seats are comfortable and the driving position fundamentally good.
Dashboard layout 6/10
Highly functional, if a bit bland
The Niro’s dashboard is as smart and as simple to use as that of any other Kia. That’s no mean feat considering the amount of information that can be conveyed about the hybrid system, but a combination of the neat dial setup and responsive central touchscreen do a good job. That screen measures 7 inches on ‘2’ spec models, or 8 inches higher up in the range. All but the entry-level Niro comes with Android Auto and Apply Carplay smartphone connectivity, and the touchscreen itself is very user friendly, helped by the presence of shortcut buttons underneath the screen.
There are perhaps a few too many buttons on the steering wheel for ultimate ease of use, but the hybrid system itself is easy to control. You either leave it in HEV hybrid mode, or manually select EV electric vehicle mode, assuming the battery has sufficient charge.
Build quality feels good in terms of there being no squeaks or rattles, but the vast expanses of black plastic make the Niro feel a little cheap inside.
Easy to drive 7/10
Inconsistent brake feel lets it down
Although fairly sluggish in terms of performance, the way the Niro juggles petrol and electric power is impressive. Of course you can hear when the petrol engine kicks in, but there’s no judders or jolts to unsettle progress.
The brakes are another matter and have a tendency to grab when you least expect it. The PHEV version of the Niro also has a pre-emptive coasting function, whereby it uses data from the satnav to determine when you can lift off the accelerator to coast up to a turning or junction, harvesting energy for the battery in the process. It works reasonably well, although any following drivers are unlikely to appreciate your painstakingly gradual deceleration.
The Niro’s slightly elevated ride height helps give a good view out the front, while the reversing camera on 2 spec and above is useful for guiding you into spaces.
Fun to drive 2/10
Bland rather than brilliant
As with any hybrid there’s some enjoyment to be derived from trying to extract the best economy possible out of your Niro, but that’s where the fun stops. True, you can put the automatic gearbox into a Sport mode, but all that does is increase throttle response and cause the engine to hold on to gears for an unnecessarily long time, neither of which really add to the fun factor.
Add in steering that’s slow to respond, some body lean when cornering and front tyres that release their grip on the road a little earlier than expected and you have a recipe for blandness.
Kia’s track record is superb
While being an all-new car makes it a little hard to say exactly how reliable the Niro is likely to be, Kia’s track record is superb.
It finished joint first (along with Volvo) in the 2017 JD Power Vehicle Dependability Study, and its seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty is market-leading. All of which means we’d be very surprised if the Niro didn’t turn out to be a completely dependable car.
Fuel economy 9/10
Still want that diesel?
The standard Niro hybrid returned up to 74mpg in EU fuel economy tests, matching the Hyundai Ioniq and Toyota C-HR, but still someway behind the 90mpg+ Prius. In normal driving you’re likely to see between 50 and 55mpg, putting it in roughly the same territory as a diesel car of a similar size. The difference is that a hybrid such as the Niro is at its most efficient around town, whereas diesels excel on the motorway.
The plug-in hybrid Niro grabs the headlines with an official combined economy of 217.3mpg. However, in order to get that you’ll need to charge it every 25 miles or so. Use the Niro PHEV for longer journeys with a depleted battery and economy of around 50mpg is still possible, but a Toyota Prius Plug-in is ultimately more economical.
More expensive than its Hyundai sibling
The entry point to the Niro range is a few hundred pounds more expensive than you’d pay for an equivalent Hyundai Ioniq, but a couple of thousand less than a Toyota C-HR hybrid. It’s also about £50 per month more expensive than the Hyundai to lease.
The PHEV’s electric-only range and CO2 emissions of just 29g/km mean it qualifies for a £2,500 Government plug-in car grant as well as making it an attractive option for company car drivers. However, the same can be said of the 49g/km Mini Countryman PHEV, which is about £1,000 more expensive to buy but oozes kerb appeal compared with the Kia.
If you do opt for the Kia, taking out its fixed-price servicing plan for the first three or five years of ownership makes a lot of sense.
Worth having the safety pack
In its standard guise the Niro scored four out of five stars in Euro NCAP’s crash tests. However, adding the optional Advanced Driver Assistance Systems safety pack boosts it to a maximum five stars. Consisting of autonomous emergency braking and adaptive cruise control, the pack comes as standard on 3 spec and above, or as an inexpensive option on cheaper models.
All Niros come with hill hold assist and lane keeping assist, while blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert, which warns if a vehicle is about to cross your path as you reverse out of a parking space, are available as options.
Standard spec 7/10
Worth upgrading to 2 specification
With climate control, a DAB radio and 16-inch alloy wheels the entry-level 1 spec Niro is better equipped than you might expect, although you still get a plastic steering wheel.
To add leather to the rim (and the gear lever) means upgrading to a 2 model, which also adds a 7-inch touchscreen with satnav, part-leather seats, rear parking sensors, power folding wing mirrors and rain sensing windscreen wipers.
Moving up to 3 spec gives you an 8-inch touchscreen, 18-inch alloy wheels, heated leather seats, front parking sensors, an upgraded JBL stereo and wireless phone charger. This is also the spec the PHEV is based on, albeit with smaller 16-inch wheels to reduce rolling resistance and thus increase fuel economy.
At the top of the range is the Niro First Edition complete with grey leather, heated rear seats and keyless entry.
Our favourite version
1.6 GDi 2 hybrid, list price £23,485
Options you should add: Metallic paint (£545), ADAP safety pack (£350)
The Kia Niro is a tempting option for those looking to switch from diesel into a hybrid car. Company car drivers might well be tempted by the plug-in version, but for private buyers the standard model is both cheaper and more pleasant to drive.
Either way, we’d advise you also test drive the similarly priced Toyota C-HR and the cheaper Hyundai Ioniq before signing on the dotted line.
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