Kia Niro

What is it?
Winning best hybrid vehicle award in this years Diesel Car & Eco Car Awards, the all-new Kia Niro hybrid crossover is doing rather well for itself.  Launched in August 2016, the Niro is Kia’s first dedicated hybrid vehicle and was a joint design venture between Kia's studios at Namyang in Korea and Irvine, California.

The Niro uses a 43bhp electric motor and battery pack to help boost the performance of its 104bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine rather than being a plug-in, but we’ll get to that later.

On the road
Being honest, performance wise I wasn't expecting anything exciting from the Niro, and in truth I wasn't disappointed.  But when I asked Kia if I could borrow their new hybrid I wasn't looking for a performance car, I had a lot of miles to cover and I wanted a roomy and economical vehicle that wouldn't cost me much to run, and that's definitely what I got, and more.

Keeping up with motorway traffic on a 170mile blast from Lancashire to Millbrook, its onboard computer told me that it was achieving 55.5mpg, which I thought was very good considering the speed I was doing to, ahem, keep up with other motorists.  Driving at a more sensible and economical speed it drank a lot less as consumption jumped towards the high 60’s.

There were quite a number of things that surprised me about the Niro, the first was its quality of ride.  Over undulating country lanes that had the previous press car, the Subaru Outback, throwing me from side to side, the Niro was akin to a Range Rover in waft mode, it was lovely and quite unexpected.  On the subject of country lanes, due to the extra height of the Niro you would expect a degree of body lean (see what I did there?) but there wasn’t, a high speed blast with quick corners and the Niro maintained its composure and remained comfortable, which was quite impressive.

I mentioned earlier that performance-wise it doesn’t really excite, but you can certainly tell the difference when you slot the gear stick from 'Eco' to ‘Sport'.  Although you won't light up the road, it's actually quite handy, with usable 00mph when you want to overtake something, or just in an excitable mood.

Another surprise was the impressive way in which the Niro's petrol engine and electric motor work together through the standard six-speed automatic gearbox.  You’d be hard-pressed to notice when it switches between power sources, it’s so smooth. 

Off the road
Kia are naming the Niro a crossover, but what does that mean?  Well, crossovers generally mix the practicality of a hatchback with SUV styling, in other words, an increase in ride height, better visibility and ease of access, with relatively small and economical engines and a price not much higher than a hatchback. 

Although some crossovers are 4WD, the Niro is only 2WD, and although it has a fair amount of ground clearance its approach angle is dreadful, you won’t be venturing too far off the beaten track, if at all.

Having said that, its traction control handled sand and loose stones quite well on Abergele beach, but I didn’t push it too much.

Interior & specs
In the UK the Niro is available in 4 trim levels; 1, 2, 3 and First Edition.  Our press car was trim level ‘2’ which included features like a 7 inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, roof rails and a reversing camera.

All Niros have a colour touchscreen infotainment system, either 7” or 8”, and both have Bluetooth connectivity and a DAB radio, though sat-nav is optional.  Have I mentioned that you also get Android Auto and Apple CarPlay?  Well you do.  

The dash layout is sharp, clean and informative with proper dials for your heating controls which is sadly lacking in a lot of cars these days.

The front seats and its commanding driving position are great, after a laborious 3-hour drive to Bedfordshire I found the seats to be wide enough, supportive yet squidgy - that's a new journalistic word for comfy, it'll catch on.

The rear seats passed The Mud Life's stringent test - that’s me sat behind the drivers seat positioned for my long legs whilst eating lunch and typing on the laptop, rear passengers will not be disappointed.

Engines and transmissions
Kia only produce the Niro with one engine and gearbox option, and that’s the 43bhp electric motor and 104bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine combo and the 6-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox.  Performance wise you’re looking at:

139bhp - 0-60mph @ 11.1 sec - 101mph top speed - 74.3 average mpg - CO2 g/km between 88 to 101 depending on spec and wheel size.

Conclusion
With a fraction under 600 miles clocked over the week I was more than happy with the Niro, Kia have a again created a good, sound car.  Ok, it may have the SUV styling without the 4wd credentials, but in the end that didn’t matter.

With refinement being such a strong point, the Niro really was a good car to live with, from interminable motorway journeys to driving down to the beach for a quick BBQ, I really did enjoy the experience.

The Niro has the style and room you get from a small SUV without the underpinnings of a 4wd, so if you want a 5-door hybrid that can easily haul a family around whilst achieving decent mpg for around the £24k mark, then I would happily recommend it.