14.11.2017Kia Niro PHEV review
Kia's electrified range is growing quickly - and with further models on their way I might add. One of the latest in the line-up is the Niro PHEV, a plug-in hybrid version of the Niro hybrid crossover. With solid hybrid foundations on which to build, hopes are high for the plug-in version. NGC puts it to the test.
Review by Chris Lilly
As you might expect, the Niro PHEV shares the same 1.6 litre GDi petrol engine as its conventional hybrid stable-mate. This produces 104 hp from a four-cylinder unit, with 147 Nm of torque available. The electric side of the powertrain though has been beefed up, with both a larger battery and more powerful motor to support electric only driving. The electric motor now produces 44.5 kW (60 hp) - up from the hybrid's 32 kW - while the battery is much larger at a capacity of 8.9 kWh, compared to the hybrid's 1.56 kWh. All of these (many) numbers combine to produce a 0-62mph time of 10.4 seconds, and a top speed of 107 mph. It's not going to satisfy any sportscar needs then, but it's not too sluggish either. The Niro PHEV never feels particularly nippy, though it is a car with a focus on efficiency. With a decent amount of torque available instantly, the Niro PHEV picks up quickly enough from standstill or low speeds, but there are a number of PHEVs on the market that feel quicker. It's well suited to town work though, with junctions, traffic lights, and slow speed work tackled with aplomb - all situations that suit the strengths of electric motors. On the open road, the electric motor can feel short of power on its own, but that's only at higher speeds really. By this stage the petrol engine will likely be in use, either for support or taking over operations. It's not the most refined engine when used in the Niro PHEV, but at least it is attached to a six-speed double-clutch automatic rather than the CVT used in the rival Toyota Prius Plug-In. This means gear changes feel more normal, and there isn't a loud din without much corresponding pick-up in pace that can be found with the Toyota. There is a Sport setting for sharper responses, but it doesn't deliver a wholesale change to the Niro PHEV's performance prospects. As a practical family car with an eco-focus, the Kia works well. For anyone looking for sportier option would be better served by the likes of the Mini Countryman Cooper S E.
The Niro PHEV's handling reflects the Kia's performance - unsurprisingly. It's not set-up to offer driving thrills, rather to offer a comfortable ride. The Niro PHEV is an effortless car to drive, with suspension that is a little stiffer than you might initially expect. It's not a waft-machine in the same way the Prius Plug-In is, and it also doesn't offer the same dynamism the Mini does. Instead, it sits in a middle ground where body roll is well controlled; just don't expect an exciting driving experience. The stiff-ish springs mean you will feel speed bumps and pot holes more than the Toyota, but it's far from an uncomfortable car, and with greater control comes improved capability in town. Here the light steering and compact footprint - and wheels pushed into each corner - mean that the Niro PHEV is easy to pilot around a multi-storey and park up. In faster situations, the Niro PHEV behaves well on the motorway considering its relatively short length, and the Kia provides what will be a good balance between comfort and agility for many drivers.
As a crossover, the Niro is a practical model despite its compact proportions. It's not bad to look at either, though the truncated rear means it falls behind the larger (and non-electrified) Sportage in Kia's SUV styling stakes. It's a good overall design though, and will certainly not put any buyers off because of quirky looks. It lacks any ruggedness that might hint at off-road potential, but then since very few buyers will venture further off-road than crossing a camping field, that's not an issue. Instead, the taller driving position and easier access to seats in the rear than a conventional hatchback will win buyers over. Passenger space is good with a fair amount of head and leg room for adults in the rear - and lots available for kids. The transmission tunnel is pretty small too, meaning the central rear seat can actually be used when necessary. Boot space is impacted upon though by the larger battery, so you don't get as much as the hybrid model. It lags behind its rivals in the boot space department with the rear seats up, though is ahead of them with the seats down.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
The Niro PHEV offers good levels of comfort for a car in this class. The seats are supportive and long trips will not result in complaints from occupants. There are a decent number of cubby holes dotted about, but there are more practical crossovers available if space and storage is the key buying concern. It's a good overall family car though, and doesn't feel like a budget offering at all, thanks to decent quality materials used throughout the cabin. Plastics are hard lower down for improved resilience from bumps and scrapes, but higher up the feeling of quality improves. Design is reasonable, but not going to win buyers over with a sensationally styled interior. It's practical and ergonomic though, with a good-sized touchscreen system taking centre stage on the dashboard, and a few controls below. The instruments are clear and easy to read, with two main dials and one central screen for alternative information for the driver. Kia's steering wheel design is pretty good too; of a good size and not festooned with buttons, despite being a multi-function wheel. Overall it's a clean design, and one that works well for occupants - just not particularly exciting.
RANGE & RUNNING COSTS
The hybrid Niro is a bit of a champion in this section, and the Niro PHEV is even more so. Kia's plug-in hybrids offer some of the longest ranges on the market, and as such the Niro PHEV has an official electric-only range of 36 miles on a single charge. Even allowing for the optimistic figures produced by the test cycles, this still translates to a real-world electric range of 25-28 miles - more than enough for a large number of trips. The official combined fuel economy is 217.3 MPG, though as with all PHEVs, this means very little in the real world. Stick to short trips and you'll use a tiny amount of fuel - if any - but go on long motorway runs regularly, and you won't see anything like that figure. I regularly had figures of more than 100 MPG for trips around the 50 mile mark or so, and the worst I saw was 53 MPG - after a 45 mile trip starting without any charge. The best figure shown for a 50 mile journey was 129 MPG, and I ended my time with the Kia with a fuel economy figure a little over 100 MPG. That's after a variety of driving styles and route types. In short, the Niro PHEV is extremely efficient. Running costs will be very low thanks to Kia's market leading seven-year / 100,000 mile warranty. Car tax is almost as cheap as it gets too thanks to CO2 emissions of just 29 g/km. That means the first year cost (included in the car's OTR) is zero, and then the standard rate minus Â£10 Alternative Fuel Discount at Â£130 per year.
The Niro PHEV is bristling with green technology to help make it extremely efficient. The engine and gearbox have been designed to include low-friction components, and the 1.6 litre petrol unit will officially return almost 70 MPG even without factoring in the electric powertrain. The model is built on a new platform designed specifically for electrified powertrains, with a number of lightweight elements to keep weight low. The larger battery means the Niro PHEV can travel for a good distance on electric power only, and there is brake energy recuperation to help top-up the batter under deceleration. There's a button to switch between electric and hybrid power too, so you can hold the Niro PHEV in EV mode when required. The Kia starts in EV mode by default. There are a large number of screens to help provide eco driver coaching, including fuel economy breakdowns, an eco driving score, and gauges showing electric/petrol use. There's a driving style score too, which splits up driving time between Economical, Normal, and Aggressive. The driver can select between Eco and Normal settings, or knock the gear select over to Sport too. Kia has a Coasting Guide Control which takes information from the navigation system to advise as to the best roads to reduce energy use and coast or top-up the battery. Charging is carried out with a Type 2 cable, which plugs into an inlet found on the near-side front flank. According to our calculations, the model tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 34.
There is only one trim for the Niro PHEV, based on the '3' grade used for the rest of the Niro range. As such, equipment levels are easy to understand, and the Niro PHEV is well stocked with kit. Special aerodynamic 16-inch alloys are fitted, as are air conditioning, parking sensors front and rear with reversing camera, 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation, DAB, Bluetooth, and USB connectivity, leather trim, electric driver's seat, and automatic wipers. Navigation comes from TomTom, and smartphone connectivity in the shape of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is included, along with wireless phone charging.
Sitting in what is one of the fastest growing market segments currently, the Niro is one of only two conventional hybrid options in the crossover market. Considering that alongside compact SUVs, plug-in hybrid sales are also increasing rapidly, Kia's decision to build the Niro PHEV makes perfect sense. Unlike the conventional hybrid Niro, which has the C-HR as a rival in the crossover sector, the Niro PHEV has no such competitors in terms of powertrain. It's the only model in the class that has a plug-in option, and as such, currently has two of the key market trends covered. It's a practical and fairly stylish model, with a decent driving experience. What will sway buyers most often though I suspect are the exceptional fuel costs presented by the Niro PHEV. It's a good car made better because of the plug-in powertrain.
Model tested: Kia Niro PHEV
Engine / CO2: 1.6 litre GDi petrol engine and 44.5 kW electric motor / 29 g/km
Trim grades: Just one
On-road price: From £27,995 (inc. Cat 2 PiCG)
Warranty: Seven year / unlimited mileage
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.0 Stars