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There is a newer version of this car Read the latest Kia Niro SUV review here

Kia Niro SUV engines, drive and performance

2016 - 2022 (change model)
Performance rating: 4 out of 54.0

Written by Anthony ffrench-Constant Published: 11 July 2022 Updated: 28 September 2023

  • Trio of powertrain options
  • Electric impresses, hybrid not so much
  • We’ve yet to try the plug-in hybrid Niro

There are three versions of the Niro currently on sale: the E-Niro electric car, the hybrid and the plug-in hybrid.

Kia Niro hybrid performance

The Kia Niro hybrid makes use of a 1,580cc four-cylinder turbo petrol engine coupled to a 32kW electric motor for a total hybrid system power of 137hp available at 5,700rpm, and 264Nm of torque between 1,000 and 2,400rpm. Performance figures show 0-62mph is achieved in 11.5 seconds, while top speed is 120mph.

It feels pretty lively round town, and good off the line at traffic lights thanks to the electric motor’s assistance. However, it tends to have to work rather hard to maintain impetus on motorways.

Its gearbox, instead of the CVT type we’re used to in hybrid cars, is a six-speed twin-clutch automatic that performs far better on the road, with quick and smooth gearchanges instead of increasing engine speed without noticeably accelerating the car.

Also unlike other hybrids, there’s no switchable, all-electric EV drive mode, but average fuel consumption of over 60mpg on our test drive suggests excellent real-world mpg.

Not yet fitted to our early test car but set to join the Niro range, Predictive Energy Control works with the sat-nav to optimise hybrid system performance. For instance, boosting electric motor power on inclines and charging the battery on downhill sections.

Kia Niro: which engines does it have?

Kia Niro plug-in hybrid performance

We’ve yet to sample the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) Niro, but we can tell you it has power of 137hp, just like the normal hybrid above, and 147Nm of torque. Its 0-62mph time is 10.8 seconds, while top speed is 107mph.

It has a six-speed twin-clutch automatic gearbox.

Kia E-Niro performance

The E-Niro is a much better car to drive than the hybrid. Its 150kW motor has the equivalent of 198hp, with 395Nm of torque, and it’ll cover 0-62mph in 7.5 seconds. That might not seem fast at a time when a Tesla will do the same dash in less than 4.0 seconds, but it’s the immediacy with which the E-Niro accelerates that surprises most. That torque is available at all times, meaning the car surges forwards whenever you hit the accelerator pedal with no delay.

It makes the E-Niro feel faster than it is, actually. This is a genuinely fun car to drive, but it’s easy too. The transmission is a simple rotary selector that you twist to select D, and that’s all you need to do.

There are some paddles behind the steering wheel that look like they’re for changing gears, but alas this car only has one. They’re actually for modulating the amount of deceleration the car achieves when you lift of the accelerator – it uses an energy recovery system that sends charge back to the battery, and you’re able to adjust the effect this has. It’s got four ‘levels’, confusingly labelled 0-3.

But once you get used to it, this system is very easy to use and you’re able in some circumstances to drive on one pedal, not using the brakes for long periods of time as the car slows down enough itself. On the motorway you’d probably want to dial resistance back to maintain the flow of traffic, but around town we found one pedal was all we needed.

Read more in our standalone Kia e-Niro review

  • Again, E-Niro leads the pack here
  • Easy to drive and park
  • Not meant to be a good off-roader
Kia Niro: how does it drive?

Kia E-Niro handling

Because a lot of the E-Niro’s weight is in its batteries, and these are situated low down in the car, it’s a more entertaining car to drive than you may expect. Sharp, direct steering helps it feel nimble in bends, while there isn’t as much bodyroll as we’d feared given the SUV looks.

Don’t expect it to be particularly good off road, though – despite its chunky appearance the E-Niro isn’t really meant for tackling the toughest terrains.

It is easy to drive, and to park, with loads of kit on board to help out such as acoustic sensors and a rear-view camera.

Kia Niro hybrid handling

We found the hybrid Niro very easy to drive around town; it’s got light steering and good low-speed manoeuvrability – a lot of it under electric power alone.

It handles quite tidily through the corners, with accurate yet numb steering and well-controlled body roll.

The power density of lithium-ion batteries means the pack is small enough to fit under the rear seats, so the Niro doesn’t suffer from the tail-heavy behaviour of some rival hybrids. But, even though the battery pack is inside the wheelbase, you can still feel the weight while driving.

Its low rolling-resistance 16-inch tyres are better for economy and low CO2 emissions (and hence lower tax), but it’s not the grippiest rubber and squealing front tyres are quite easy to provoke if you push too hard.

Drive to the strengths of the powertrain, however, and it handles very much like a notably quiet, conventionally powered SUV.