Kia Niro review
There are two main ways of going about designing a hybrid. You can take the efficiency above all else template which tends to make oddly styled machines that are a triumph of function over form. The Toyota Prius is in this category, but at least the current generation Prius now looks interesting whether the design appeals to you or not. The other method is to take a hybrid powertrain and place it in something rather more normal. This lessens the outright efficiency figures a little, but owners gain from a more practical car usually. Kia's Niro sits firmly in this latter branch of thinking, though unusually it was designed specifically as a hybrid and can only be bought as one. NGC tests the hybrid crossover to see how Kia's approach performs.
Review by Chris Lilly
With a hybrid-only powertrain, the Niro has one engine/motor combination. This sees a four-cylinder 104bhp 1.6 litre GDi petrol engine combine with 32kW (43bhp) electric motor to provide a total 139bhp and 265Nm of torque. Not a bad amount, but as you might have suspected, the Niro is set-up to provide strong economy figures rather than thrills and spills. The acceleration time of 11.5 seconds from 0-62mph bears this out, and although this isn't sluggish, the Niro is hardly sprightly either. Things are helped by the use of a six-speed double-clutch automatic gearbox, which is a far better system than rival Toyota's CVT hybrid transmission. The system of having set ratios might not be as efficient as using a continuously variable transmission, but it makes driving far more enjoyable. There is no high-pitched whining under acceleration with little feeling of actually picking up pace. Instead the Niro uses a conventional DCT set-up, but with a transmission that has been optimised for use with a hybrid powertrain. It's nice and smooth, helping the Kia's performance, though you'll still be wanting a bit more pace when pushing on along your favourite B-road. Elsewhere, the Niro performs well, with the immediate thrust of the electric motor aiding when pulling out of junctions in town. The Kia's powertrain is also nice and quiet at motorway speeds, but feels a little out of puff initially when trying to accelerate from a higher pace.
The Niro is a smooth car to drive, and a large part of that impression is the handling set-up. With soft suspension, the Niro is comfortable around town, ironing out the most pockmarked of roads easily. Light steering allows drivers to thread the Niro through tight junctions and parking spaces easily too. The Kia also settles down very well on the motorway considering it's a family crossover rather than a long luxury saloon. Where normally a soft set-up creates a lot of body roll, the Niro manages to manage this pretty well, taking corners without listing over unduly. Out on the open road, the Niro is no B-road blaster, but the overall handling package provides a decent amount of grip, even if there isn't much feedback. Buyers won't look at the Niro thinking what a hoot it will be along a twisty road though, and as such, the Niro is well tailored for the environments it will find itself most.
With hybrids like the Prius favouring an edgy, stand out design, I've heard some say that the Niro looks a bit bland. I personally like it though, and although the rear end is a little truncated considering the more curvy front, overall I think the Niro is a decent looking family car. The crossover design isn't intended to give drivers confidence in the Niro's off-road prowess, rather it is there to make family life a little easier. The taller driving position gives a greater line-of-sight for drivers, and fixing kids in the back or loading up the boot is made that bit easier by reducing the bending required to carry out these tasks. Because of the clear family focus, one would expect a practical interior, and the Niro doesn't disappoint on the whole. Boot space could be a little larger, but then the battery has to be stored somewhere. It also means there isn't really a lip to heave loads over into the boot. The combination of slanted rear seats and sloping rear window mean that space is quickly squeezed above the parcel shelf line.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
Further forward from the boot, passenger space is very good for those front and back. Head, leg and shoulder space is good all-round, with enough space in the rear for two adults, or three children comfortably. Seats are comfy throughout even for longer trips, and there are a few cubby holes dotted about the cabin to lose bits and pieces in. The Niro isn't the last word in practicality, but then if you want a purely functional family car, pick an MPV. The Niro does however do a good job at fitting in a family and all the trimmings, and can safely be considered a workhorse for the school run or supermarket shop. Interior quality is very good and a huge improvement from Kia's of just a decade or so ago. The materials used are not premium quality, but there is nothing wrong with those used in the cabin. Build quality feels excellent and, although the design doesn't drag you in with its exquisite design, the dashboard and instruments are far from offensive.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
Coming on to the key attribute for a hybrid car, the Niro is reported as being capable of returning 74.3 MPG in test configuration. Go for some specifications and that's reduced to 64.2 MPG. In reality, after a week of mixed driving, the Niro was showing 57.6 MPG, and was improving gradually as I got used to how to drive it properly. With a bit of time and not much trouble, a figure north of 60MPG would be comfortably possible I would say, possibly even into the mid-60s MPG. Linked to that, CO2 figures are low too, despite being unable to match the more efficient Prius. The entry level Niro and one above tested have CO2 emissions figures of 88 g/km, qualifying for VED Band A at £0 a year. The top two specifications see that figure rise to 101 g/km CO2, which sees a yearly rate of £20 for VED Band B.
As you might expect, the Kia packs a lot of green elements into the Niro. The hybrid powertrain switches between electric motor and internal combustion power - or using both - smoothly, almost negating the lack of an EV mode that many rivals have. The 6DCT six-speed double clutch transmission has been developed from Hyundai-Kia's 7DCT, and created specifically for hybrid powertrains. Lightweight and compact, the gearbox has a number of low-friction components to improve efficiency and responsiveness. The Niro's chassis is a new one too, designed specifically for electrified vehicles. Low-rolling resistance tyres also help reduce drag, as does a surprisingly aerodynamic design. According to our calculations, the tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 33.
Available in four trim levels, the Niro's equipment list is good throughout each of them. The main difference externally is the use of 16-inch alloys for the first two trims - conveniently labelled '1' and '2' - with 18-inch alloys used on '3' and . . . no, not '4' but 'First Edition'. This is the reason behind the difference in MPG and emissions above. Starting with the entry level 1 sees automatic headlights, front fog lights, steering wheel mounted controls, DAB radio with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, air conditioning, electric windows and mirrors, and a suite of safety systems. These include lane keep assist, hill-start assist, and cruise control. Moving up to 2 includes a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system with sat-nav, a leather upholstery details, rear privacy glass, reversing sensors, and heated and folding wing mirrors. Trim '3' adds the likes of the aforementioned larger wheels, leather upholstery, front parking sensors, heated front seats and steering wheel, electric adjustable driver's seat, JBL stereo, larger infotainment screen, and wireless mobile phone charger. Finally, First Edition has a special grey leather trim, keyless entry and start, heated rear seats, vented front seats, and electric sunroof. The sweet spot is the middle of the trim range depending on budget. 2 offers everything you might 'need' and a few extra bits, while trim 3 makes the Niro feel like a more upmarket offering with some nice unnecessary but desirable extras.
The Niro certainly deserves its place in Kia's range, with the hybrid crossover a fairly stylish and practical offering. The fact that it's only available as a hybrid puts it in the same green car category as the Prius, but like group stablemate, the Hyundai Ioniq, it doesn't shout about its electrified powertrain to onlookers. And that sums up the car in general really. Kia offers all the benefits of a hybrid car, but packages it as a family crossover - one of the most popular and fastest growing markets in the world. It's a hybrid for those who don't want to be labelled as hybrid drivers - for good or bad connotations - and the Niro does a very good job at just being driven and letting the car return an excellent fuel economy figure.
Model tested: Kia Niro 1.6 GDi HEV ‘2’ DCT 6-speed
Body-style: Family crossover
Engine / CO2: 1.6 litre GDi petrol with electric motor / 88 g/km
Trim grades: 1, 2, 3, First Edition
On-road price: From £21,635. Price as tested £23,135
Warranty: Seven years / 100,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4 stars