18.2.2020Kia Niro PHEV first drive
Kia has updated its Niro Plug-in Hybrid and Hybrid range, with improved levels of equipment on offer as well as some styling tweaks. The electrified range includes Kia's new connected car app, and a boost in value for money from the efficient crossovers. NGC has headed to Kia's European R&D centre to take a look at the changes.
Review by Chris Lilly
Driven was the Niro Plug-in Hybrid, which uses Kia's 1.6 litre GDi petrol engine, backed up with a 44.5 kW electric motor to produce a combined 139bhp and 265 Nm of torque. Power goes to the front wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, allowing for a 0-60mph time of 10.4 seconds. The powertrain remains unchanged from the pre-upgrade model, and is a useful package for efficient driving. It's not going to set the pulse racing, but the Niro PHEV feels a bit quicker than the figures suggest. Short bursts of acceleration are dealt with quickly thanks to the electric motor. It also benefits from the use of a conventional dual-clutch auto 'box, rather than the CVT transmissions some manufacturers use. Kia has realised that the driving experience might be a fraction less efficient, but will be considerably more enjoyable when accelerating. Where a CVT creates a miserable drone when the right foot goes on the throttle, the automatic gearbox in the Niro behaves just like any other auto. It's changes are quick and there is no din emanating from the front end. The Niro PHEV isn't going to appeal to driving enthusiasts for a back-road blast, but it will deal with day-to-day driving very comfortably. It excels in town conditions, and performs well enough on motorways and open roads.
Like the performance, the Niro PHEV has not been set up for an exhilarating driving experience. Instead, a focus on a balance between comfort and control has been struck, with the Kia doing a good job in every circumstance rather than excelling anywhere. Around town, speed bumps and pot holes are dispatched well. It might not have the refinement of some rivals, but it also handles well when tackling junctions and corners. Again, there are better driving crossovers out there, but the Kia is a Jack-of-all-trades in this respect. On a twisty road, body lean is controlled to a reasonable degree, and the steering is precise if light. On the motorway, the Kia will settle and cruise as well as most other family cars, with enough refinement from the springs to mean long trips are far from dreaded. It’s a well balanced set-up and works nicely with the powertrain to encourage efficient driving, but not while being pious about it.
The Niro is a relatively stylish family-sized SUV. It's not visually stunning, but neither will it put any buyers off. There are some nice design touches from Kia to lighten the appearance a little, including some new features as part of this upgrade. The front fog lights are new, while headlights can be specified as full-LEDs, and the bumper has been tweaked. These, alongside similar changes at the rear of the car bring the Niro PHEV - and Hybrid - closer in line with the pure-electric e-Niro. Dimensions remain the same, which translates to a practical interior for it's class. The Niro has a good level of interior space available for occupants, with head and leg room on a par with what you might expect from a practical family crossover. Boot space is a little compact compared to non-plug-in rivals, but certainly usable enough for most buyers.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
One of the biggest changes to the Kia Niro range is the addition of a new infotainment system and dash design. Kia says that material quality has been improved, and the Niro PHEV certainly feels like a nice cabin to sit in. Fitted to the test car was the new 10.25-inch touchscreen unit with higher quality graphics, and the ability to show multiple displays at the same time. It also allows the addition of Kia’s Uvo connected car systems. It allows updates to charge point mapping, traffic, weather forecasts, fuel prices and other elements. Diagnostic elements are also included, and the system has been designed for use with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity. The driver gets a larger 7-inch instrument display, rather than the standard 4.2-inch screen in the binnacle and 8-inch infotainment set-up. The digital elements are well thought-out, and matched by the switchgear on the centre console. The buttons on the steering wheel might take a little while to get used to, but experienced Kia drivers will settle right in. Overall the cabin is a nice one, with a hint of class about it.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
The official combined fuel economy for the new Niro PHEV is 217.3 MPG - though as always with plug-in hybrids, this is largely redundant. It does indicate that the Kia is one of the more efficient PHEVs on the market, but real-world economy can comfortably be bettered or easily fall below that figure, depending on use. We didn’t have much chance to really test the economy or electric range on the day but were pretty impressed with efficiency in normal driving conditions. A route including a mix of autobahn, country roads, and town streets saw 16km of range used in 16km of driving. As such, the Niro PHEV looks good for a real-world range of 30 miles on a charge comfortably; more with careful driving or increased use of urban work.
The biggest green feature of the Niro PHEV is the electric powertrain which features an 8.9 kWh battery powering the electric motor. This is charged via a Type 2 inlet on the car’s front flank, and allows for an official range of 30 miles. The Niro has been designed to be aerodynamic, and Kia has added Eco mode to the drive settings. There’s the usual brake energy recuperation system to capture energy that would otherwise be lost when slowing down. Kia has included a coasting guide as well, using information from the navigation system to advise the driver when they could lift off and coast to a junction.
There are two trim levels - 2 and 3 - with all models getting 16-inch alloys, automatic headlights and wipers, part leather upholstery, dual-zone air conditioning, electric parking brake, 8-inch touchscreen system with navigation, DAB radio, Bluetooth, USB, and smartphone compatibility, reversing camera and parking sensors front and rear. Trim level 3 adds full leather upholstery, electric driver’s seat, heated front seats and steering wheel, and 10.25-inch infotainment system with Uvo connectivity.
The Niro PHEV was a good plug-in hybrid crossover, with excellent levels of efficiency and a practical interior. The changes improve what was a decent package, and will be welcome to buyers wanting additional value for money.
Model tested: Kia Niro PHEV 1.6 GDi
Engine / CO2: petrol engine and electric motor / 29 g/km
Trim grades: 2 and 3
On-road price: From £30,265
Warranty: Seven years / 100,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.0 Stars