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Affordable, attractive Kia Niro crossover joins hybrid bandwagon charge

PUBLISHED: 09:41 05 November 2016

The crossover-inspired Niro is Kia's first hybrid in the UK and was purpose built for electric power.

The crossover-inspired Niro is Kia's first hybrid in the UK and was purpose built for electric power.

Kia

Kia makes a strong debut in the blossoming hybrid market with the Niro crossover which is attractive, affordable alternative to the traditional family wagon, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

Hybrids are still seen by many as drivetrain technology of the future but chances are you’re going to end up driving one as motoring gets cleaner and greener.

With hybrid sales doubling in five years in the UK and mainland Europe, and expected to reach 700,000 a year by the end of the decade, Kia is the latest to get on the hybrid bandwagon with the all-new Niro.

Looks and image

Kia Niro

Price: Kia Niro First Edition £26,995 (range from £21,295)

Powertrain: 1,580cc, 104bhp, four-cylinder, petrol engine and 43.5bhp electric motor, giving combined 139bhp, mated to six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission

Performance: 0-60mph 11.1 seconds; top speed 101mph

MPG: 18in wheels, urban 64.2; extra urban 62.8; combined 64.2 (16in wheels 74.3, 72.4, 74.3)

CO2 emissions: 101g/km (16in wheels 88g/km)

Benefit-in-kind tax rate: 17% (16in wheels 15%)

Insurance group: 12 (out of 50)

Warranty: Seven years or 100,000 miles

Will it fit in the garage? L 4,355mm; W (excluding door mirrors) 1,805mm; H 1,545mm

The Niro crossover is smart-looking family transport and a practical alternative to a boxy hatchback or small estate car.

It’s well proportioned and, riding on a new platform dedicated for electrified vehicles (there’s a plug-in version on the way) there’s none of the compromises of adapting an existing vehicle.

Under the bonnet

Kia’s first UK hybrid combines a specially-designed 104bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine with a 43.5bhp electric motor, both driving the front wheels through a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox rather than the more conventional hybrid choice of a continuously-variable transmission (CVT).

As a parallel hybrid, the engine and electric motor mostly work with no dedicated electric vehicle (EV) mode but the Niro pulls away on electric power and manages short distances on battery alone with a featherlight foot on the throttle. It all works seamlessly with the battery charging via the engine and under braking and when slowing down.

The automatic gearbox means kicking down for acceleration isn’t accompanied by a big rev surge and engine roar and you can also shift manually using paddles on the steering wheel while a sport mode gives it useful urgency.

If economy and low emissions are your priority go for the 16in-wheeled ‘1’ and ‘2’ trim levels with 74.3mpg combined and 88g/km compared to 64.2mpg and 101g/km for the higher-spec ‘3’ and range-topping First Edition with 18in wheels.

The worst I saw in my First Edition test car was 45mpg on a fast motorway haul but regularly nudged 60mpg driven carefully and into the 70s in urban driving.

How it drives

With a platform specifically for electric vehicles, suspension has been specially tuned so there’s no compromise when it comes to ride and handling.

It’s more about being eco friendly than exciting and the firm suspension means it corners flatly so you can maintain speed to avoid using fuel to pick up progress again. Steering lacks real feel at speed but makes light work of slotting in and out of parking spaces.

The downside of the firm suspension and high tyre pressures to reduce friction and save energy is over-sensitive to road defects which makes the ride rather restless and the larger 18in wheels with lower-profile tyres create road roar on rough surfaces – another reason to go for 16in wheel models.

Space and comfort

Another benefit of being designed purely as an electric vehicle is that it is had no impact on accommodation with the drive battery out of the way under the back seat. Decent headroom, enough rear legroom for most adults – although tall people might find it at premium with the front seats pushed well back – and a higher than normal seating position will appeal to families.

The boot offers up to 427 litres of space including a 54-litre undertray where you can hide away small items – it’s quite shallow with a high floor but at least it’s at sill level so relatively easy to slide large, heavy items in and out with no load lip to contend with. Rear seat backs split 60/40 and fold flat on to the cushion for a maximum 1,425 litres.

At the wheel

Apart from an charge, eco and power gauge in place of a rev counter, and one showing battery capacity, the fascia is straightforward and sensibly laid out, not flash but not fussy or fiddly.

You soon find your way round the high-level touch screen and when showing eco driving information you’ll enjoy the challenge of lighting up a tree to show how green you are.

I also like the range-topping First Edition test car’s gloss white trim panels which gave it a clean, clinical look and added to the hi-tech feel.

But it’s odd this hi-tech hybrid has a foot-operated parking brake rather than a self-releasing electronic brake.

Final say

The Niro is a welcome addition to the hybrid market and attractive too given its no-compromise design and space for a family. It’s also affordable and, being a Kia, comes with plenty of kit and that seven-year warranty.

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