Gareth Butterfield tests Kia’s eco-conscious Niro Hybrid
DESPITE its arguably dull looks, the Niro, Kia’s dumpy small SUV, seems to have become a showcase for the Korean firm’s technological advances.
It’s a bit of a stand-out model for Kia, as it’s available with a range of eco-friendly drivetrains, but none of them rely solely on fossil fuel.
Instead, you can pick from a conventional hybrid, with an electric motor mated to a 1.6-litre petrol engine that takes on the heaviest loads, a plug-in hybrid with a bigger set of motors and batteries that can be charged up to go for longer periods on electric-only power and then the e-Niro which does away with petrol altogether but delivers an impressive 282 miles of range.
The cheapest of the trinity is, predictably enough, the basic hybrid. And that’s the one I’ve been testing.
It works a lot like Toyota and Lexus’s familiar setup in as much as a 1.6-litre petrol engine works seamlessly alongside a fairly beefy electric motor to propel you as efficiently as possible.
When the two units combine, there’s a healthy 139bhp on offer and 265Nm of torque and, because it starts off in its eco setting by default, you’ll set off on your journey silently and the engine will only cut in if you need to hurry along or in a few miles after the batteries run out of puff.
These standard hybrid setups are geared to “self-charge” and the batteries can be topped up by the momentum of the car. So after a jaunt on the dual carriageway, or along a stretch of B-road, it should be ready to serve up a few more silent miles on the motor when you reach your next town.
The standard hybrid and plug-in hybrid were treated to a bit of a refresh late last year, and the styling on both is now a little sharper with new LED daytime running lights and updated rear light clusters.
Inside the changes are a little less subtle. The entry-level “2” model gets the standard eight-inch infotainment screen, but hop up to the plusher “3” version and you’ll be treated to a much better 10.25-inch touchscreen.
Kia continues to surprise and delight us in its interior fit and finish and this intuitive new screen, along with a seven-inch digital instrument cluster, gives it a premium feel you’d not normally expect in this sector – or at this price-point.
Out on the road you’ll mostly be propelled by that 1.6-litre engine – the electric motor is there to relieve it when conditions suit. But it’s a nice, quiet and economical engine. A standard CVT automatic gearbox hampers progress somewhat, but it’s the price you always seem to pay in a hybrid these days.
The Niro handles neatly enough and hides its weight well, but there are sharper SUVs on the market and while the interior is comfortable and spacious, you don’t sit as high as you would in some of its rivals – and that’s often the reason people choose an SUV in the first place.
Not that there’s much else to put you off buying a Niro, if a hybrid is your preferred choice. Prices start below £25,000 and Kia’s seven-year warranty is all present and correct.
And then there’s the fuel economy, which just had to be its trump card. On paper its claimed 58.9MPG wouldn’t be enough to trouble a Toyota Prius, but in the real world the Niro fares pretty well. I’d imagine if you ran the two side by side you might just find the Niro coming out on top.
So the Niro family is Kia’s most eco-friendly model range and, although it’s not short on rivals these days, it makes a strong case for itself with its keen pricing, generous spec and Kia’s class-leading warranty.
It might not be the most exciting car on the road, but for plenty of people that really doesn’t matter. These people are the Niro’s target audience. And I think they’ll be impressed.