Hybrid power, wrapped up in an SUV body
- Spacious and practical
- Quiet engine and smooth running
- Excellent real-world fuel economy
- CO2 emissions as low as 88g/km
- Uninspired exterior design
- Interior design lacks homogeny
- Motorway performance lacklustre
- No switchable EV drive mode
On an all-new platform with a completely new powertrain, this new small hybrid SUV, the Niro, does two important jobs for Kia.
Firstly, it gives the company a much-needed rival to the likes of the Mazda CX-3, Nissan Juke and Renault's Captur; and, secondly, with both the hybrid and SUV segments growing strongly (the former, Kia anticipates, at the expense of diesel power) it provides eco-friendly competition for a growing raft of hybrids including Toyota's Prius.
How big is the Kia Niro?
Size-wise, the Niro's a little harder to pigeonhole, falling somewhere between Ford Focus-sized hatchbacks and SUVs. So, within its own Kia stable, it's a bit bigger than a Ceed and both shorter and lower than a Sportage. It does, however, have a longer wheelbase than the latter, hence the boast of class-leading seating space.
Within a shape that many will find striking only for its aerodynamic efficiency lurks an all-new hybrid powertrain that combines a 1.6-litre, turbocharged petrol engine, an electric motor and an expensive lithium-ion battery compact enough to fit under the rear seats, thus safeguarding a loadspace volume of between 427 and 1,425 litres.
How does it drive?
Jostling power delivery between the engine and electric motor, or combining both, the system develops 139bhp, powering the front wheels via a six-speed, twin-clutch automatic gearbox. Thus armed, the Niro hardly qualifies for boy-racer status, but as a hybrid, it works rather well.
The first thing you'll notice is the absence of the CVT transmission that gently blights so many hybrids; heftier throttle applications inevitably rewarded by the engine promptly racing to revs for peak power while the car then catches up to the accompaniment of an episode of Bonanza being filmed under the bonnet.
Thanks to its deliciously smooth twin-clutch automatic gearbox, progress in the Niro - with engine speed building to match vehicle velocity - sounds far more natural. Quiet too, and remarkably refined if you don't push things along too hard.
Excellent fuel economy
The Niro lacks the dedicated, switchable EV drive mode that allows some hybrids to whisper a couple of kilometres under electric motor power only. However, the motor and petrol engine interchange roles so smoothly and quietly in the urban environment that we don't consider this an issue.
Particularly since, over an hour and a half of mixed driving, we were rewarded with average fuel consumption of well over 60mpg; far closer to the quoted fuel figure than many hybrids appear to muster in the real world.
On board all is standard latest-generation Kia fare, the replacement of the rev counter by a power meter the only clue as to the presence of a hybrid drive system. Kia interior quality has improved out of all recognition of late, with soft-touch materials wherever your fingers are likely to land, and respectable quality switchgear.
Will come well-equipped for the cash
Trim levels follow the standard 1, 2, 3 and First Edition grade strategy with the usual enticingly high standard equipment levels.
You get a seven- or eight-inch multimedia touchscreen boasting 3D sat-nav, DAB radio, Apple CarPlay, Kia's first use of Android Auto, wireless mobile phone charging and TomTom Live services, free for seven years to match the firm’s industry-leading warranty.
A spanking eight-speaker JBL audio system powerful enough to blow the wax from your ears is also available as standard on higher grades and optional elsewhere.
Priced to compete
The Kia Niro starts at £21,295 and presents as an entirely companionable proposition. It's quiet, practical and undeniably spacious, drives smoothly and handles reasonably tidily.
Ride quality on 18-inch wheels is a little harsher than on the smaller wheels, the appeal of the squishier, 16-inch alternatives being a little more give, and CO2 emissions down to just 88g/km.