This year Kia is celebrating 25 years in the UK – a period that has seen a meteoric rise for the South Korean car maker.
Kia’s constantly evolving range has gained a reputation for its stylish, well-made range of cars offering great value for money, and – of course – backed up by that unbeatable seven-year warranty.
Just a few months after the launch of the latest Sportage SUV, which is already selling like hot cakes, comes the all-new Niro – not only Kia’s first hybrid crossover, but also occupying a fairly unique position.
The Niro is yet another example of Kia’s ability to surprise. Slotting in just below the Sportage, it’s a pioneering car, carving out a new niche.
In one fell swoop Kia now has a challenger in the compact crossover segment, competing with the likes of the Nissan Qashqai and Renault Kadjar, plus established hybrids such as the Toyota Prius.
It’s also worth remembering that, unlike some competitors, the Niro has been built on a special platform, which allows for future plug-in hybrid and all-electric versions.
The Niro range starts at £21,295, giving families and fleet buyers access to a well-equipped, stylish state-of-the-art hybrid for a great price.
On paper the most frugal Niro is capable of a claimed 74.4mpg and CO2 emissions of just 88g/km. I couldn’t match that, but on varied test routes I found that 50-60mpg is quite possible.
The design teams in South Korea and California have managed to create a slippery car (with a low drag coefficient of 0.29 Cd) that doesn’t look weird like some hybrids and yet can seat five people in comfort with ample luggage space.
I tested the flagship ‘First Edition’ model, plus the cheaper ‘2’ version, priced at £26,995 and £22,795 respectively.
Both look good, but the First Edition comes with all the kit thrown in. Crucially, if economy is a priority, it has bigger wheels (18″ instead of 16″) which surprisingly results in a slightly lower potential economy of 64.2mpg.
Well proportioned, the Niro is also cleanly designed inside and has a quality feel. The centre console is dominated by an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system (standard in the First Edition), resulting in mercifully few buttons, while the dashboard is clear and simple. It also includes essential hybrid charging info.
The Niro isn’t quite as high as some of its rivals, but there’s still a commanding driving position in an otherwise comfortable and spacious cabin, front and rear.
A whole host of driver aids and safety kit are available, including Autonomous Emergency Braking, Blind Spot detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Adaptive Cruise Control, helping the Niro onto a maximum five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating.
You don’t so much fire up the Niro and press the start button (in high spec models) because it will simply switch on in electric mode. Then simply select D on the six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and you’re off.
Thankfully, Kia hasn’t opted for an annoying CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) system like many of manufacturers of hybrids, and there’s also an option for select gear manually in ‘Manual Sports’ mode.
Unless you put your foot down, it will also glide away silently at low speeds. Go a little faster and the 1.6-litre petrol engine kicks in pretty seamlessly. In theory, the combination of 102bhp petrol engine and 42bhp electric motor, boosts output to 139bhp.
For general driving the gearbox and engine are fine, though more spirited drivers may yearn for more power, but the fact is that you don’t buy a five-door hybrid to drive it like a sports car, so most will be more than happy with the performance on offer. For the record, it’s capable of a top speed of 101mph and can reach 60mph from standstill in 11.1 seconds.
What also sets the Niro apart is that the engineers have done a great job at creating a refined driving experience – not just in terms of cabin noise, but ride too, which is surprisingly smooth.
I wouldn’t say the Niro was exciting to drive, but it’s certainly very capable and compares well with the opposition. Roadholding is decent and there’s a little body roll if it’s pushed, but ultimately the Niro is all about economy and if driven sensibly it will deliver.
And if you’re new to hybrids, it’s worth getting a few driving tips so that you can make the most of your Niro. For instance, braking gently and early helps the regenerative braking harvest more energy, which means the car can boost the petrol engine more and operate in electric mode for longer periods.
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