What is it? Compact crossover, Kia’s first production hybrid in the UK.
Key features: Hybrid drivetrain, bespoke platform, lots of interior space.
Our View: We see the Kia Niro appealing to families looking for something practical and efficient; a bit different form the norm, but not that different.
Type of review: First UK drive
Kia is on a mission – the Korean manufacturer has set itself the goal of cutting 25 per cent from average CO2 emissions across its model range by 2020. By that time the brand’s global range will include 22 models with either mild hybrid, plug-in hybrid or full electric powertrains.
We saw the first of these in the UK in 2015, with the arrival of the electric version of the Soul supermini crossover. Now the brand moves into more mainstream hybrid territory with the Niro, a crossover going on sale in mild-hybrid form now, and set to add a plug-in version in 2017.
The Niro gains its own bespoke platform, which Kia says has been engineered especially to suit the hybrid installation – we won’t see pure petrol or diesel versions of this model. It’s a platform designed to suit Kia’s growing electric line-up, accommodating the necessary components under the floor without using up cabin or luggage space. And as is typical of today’s architecture, it employs a 53 per cent high-strength steel and a lot of aluminium to improve safety without adding weight.
Kia is making much of the Niro’s looks, stating that it does not have the traditional aerodynamic-limited profile of a hybrid – “We don’t do elevator music,” proudly states the press material.
The Kia Niro is described as a crossover, appealing to today’s most active market, but in truth it’s a very family-hatch like crossover, distinctly smaller than the Sportage SUV for example, low and reasonably slippery.
Boasting Kia’s latest design language with the signature ‘tiger-nose’ grille, the Niro is attractive visually from whichever angle one views it, heightened by well-placed chrome detailing on the front and rear bumpers, and it certainly does not look out of place alongside non-hybrid rivals in the car park.
This, in truth, is totally in aim with the brand’s marketing for the Kia Niro – it is being presented as a car for the family, oh and by the way it has a hybrid powertrain so you’ll save money on fuel and taxes…
On slipping inside the car the driver’s environment is familiar to anyone who has driven a recent Kia Sportage or Optima. The major difference is the energy flow-meter occupying the dial usually reserved for the rev counter.
Trim is generally black and dark grey plastic and cloth, though the range-topping ‘First Edition’ variant gets white door inserts and stone-grey leather upholstery.
It’s all very well put together, as is the norm with today’s Kia models, and there is a good amount of space too. Kia claims the 1018mm front-seat headroom as class leading, many more traditional compact SUVs (including the Sportage, incidentally) unable to match this and the rear headroom of 993mm. The battery pack sits under the rear seat so luggage space is a very reasonable 427 litres, 373 if you use the neat undertray and extending to a maximum of 1,425 litres with the rear seats folded.
The single powertrain of the Niro combines the latest version of Kia’s 1.6-litre direct-injection ‘Kappa’ petrol engine, producing 104bhp, with a 32kW electric motor offering 43bhp of its own. Combined power is 139bhp with 185lbft of torque, all of which is available for a smart getaway from rest.
Other hybrids use a CVT gearbox but Kia goes for a six-speed version of its 7DCT auto transmission available in other models. Combined with a Transmission-Mounted Electric Device (TMED) which transfers engine and motor power to the wheels in parallel, it is said to be more direct at higher speed with far less energy loss compared to a CVT.
The Kia Niro is not claimed to be as efficient as the standard-bearer Toyota Prius (its best combined fuel consumption figure of 74.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 88g/km compare to 86mpg and 76g/km on the Toyota), and the difference is evident as soon as one pulls away, as the petrol engine appears to come to life almost immediately the car is moving. Only under the gentlest of acceleration, braking or coasting down a slope does the little green EV light up on the dash.
It’s all very smooth and unfussy, however, and the Niro accelerates reasonably quickly, 62mph coming up in just over 11 seconds. Cruising is a refined process but to accelerate past another vehicle, for example, one needs a lot of revs and only then does the drone-like engine note of a typical CVT-transmission hybrid become noticeable, if hardly intrusive.
The Kia Niro boasts fully independent suspension all round, combining MacPherson struts up front with a multi-link rear end, and generally it rides in comfort. On the launch event The Car Expert drove both a car in the second ‘2’ trim level and the range-topping First Edition, and we preferred the cheaper model. The only major chassis difference are the two-inch larger diameter alloy wheels, a change made for buyers of 3 trim upwards. This seems, however, to produce a firmer, if not uncomfortably so, ride and also more noticeable road roar and wind noise around the doors.
The Niro is a reasonably heavy car but its steering quite light – as a result it’s not something to attack a challenging series of S bends in, though perfectly adequate for the kind of use it will find in its target market.
Four trim levels will be available to UK Niro customers, with standard equipment on entry 1 models including 16-inch alloy wheels, dual automatic air conditioning with an auto windscreen defogger, LED daytime running and tail lights, electric windows all round and DAB radio. The standard safety package includes lane-departure warning, hill-start assist and cruise control.
Among noticeable additions to level 2 cars are satellite navigation on a seven-inch screen with Kia’s connected services including traffic alerts, a reversing camera and sensors, leather on the steering wheel and gearshift surround, black cloth and leather upholstery, roof rails, privacy glass and electric mirrors.
At 3 one gets the 18-inch alloys, the navigation grows to an eight-inch touchscreen, while black leather upholstery, front parking sensors, heated front seats and steering wheel, powered front seats, a better audio and wireless mobile phone charging are added.
Finally the First Edition gains as mentioned a bespoke grey leather trim with white interior inserts, a smart key with push-button engine starting, heating in the outer rear seats and venting in the fronts and an electric tilting and sliding sunroof, along with significant upgrades to the safety package – autonomous emergency braking, blind spot detection with a rear cross traffic alert and smart cruise control are all included.
The Niro suits its billing – it’s not as efficient as a Prius, but it feels rather more ‘normal’ to drive and look at than does the Toyota. We’d go for the 2 grade, which is priced at £22,795, this price including Kia’s much-admired seven-year warranty.
Overall we can see the Kia Niro appealing to families looking for something practical and efficient, a bit different form the norm, but not that different.
Kia Niro – key specifications
Models Tested: Kia Niro 2, First Edition
On Sale: August 2016
Engines: Hybrid petrol 1.6-litre, 32kW electric motor.
Power (bhp): 104/43 (139 combined).
Torque (lb/ft):108/125 (195 combined).
Top speed (mph): 101.
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 74.3 (18in wheels 64.2).
CO2 emissions (g/km): 88 (101).
Key rivals: Nissan Qashqai, Toyota Prius, Toyota Auris hybrid.
Test Date: August 2016.