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First drive: Kia Niro

Friday 05 August 2016

First drive: Kia Niro
Summary

The all-new Niro sits just below the Sportage in Kia’s SUV range, but the crossover is more of a pioneer than it looks. It’s the first Kia ever to be designed with the sole intention of using hybrid power.

As a result, there’s very little that’s been stolen from other cars in the South Korean company’s stable. There’s a new chassis supporting a new powertrain, and the whole lot is covered by a completely new body. Only a few interior parts, such as the satellite navigation system and steering wheel, have been pinched from sister cars.

Kia is promising that a plug-in hybrid will join the normal hybrid for 2017, but when the car arrives in dealerships on August 8, the only engine on offer will be a 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol, mated to an electric motor.

Looks & Image

A glance is all you need to tell you that the Niro is a Kia – that tiger-nose grille and the slanting lights are trademarks of the brand – but it would be easy to mistake it for some new kind of Sportage, or perhaps a new off-road version of the Cee’d.

It’s certainly not unattractive, but bodywork that awkwardly merges aspects of all the Niro’s Kia-badged brethren does not feature in a classic recipe for automotive character.

The same problem rears its ugly head inside, where some important parts, such as the infotainment system, have been nabbed from elsewhere. That said, it’s very well put together. Beware of the cheap plastics lurking below knee-level, though.

Space & Practicality

One of the Niro’s closest rivals is the Fiat 500X, but the Niro’s marginally larger dimensions make it slightly more capacious. The 373-litre boot, for example, is 23 litres larger than the Fiat’s. Take the underfloor tray out, however, and you can add another 48 litres to that total.

There’s more space for those travelling in the rear seats, too. Transporting four adults in relative comfort shouldn’t be a problem, because the Niro has bags of rear headroom.

Behind the Wheel

The Niro’s combination of 1.6-litre petrol engine and electric motor produces a total of 139bhp, which is enough for an unremarkable 0-62mph time of 11.1 seconds. More importantly, though, it provides an official fuel economy figure of 74.3mpg and 88g/km CO2 emissions. Diesel engines might manage that level of efficiency, but they’ll struggle to compete with the all-important CO2 figures.

Despite its hybrid powertrain, the Niro isn’t actually all that refined. On inner-city roads it’s as quiet as a church mouse, but there’s a lot of tyre roar on the motorway and the four-cylinder engine drones at speed.

It does handle relatively well, though, with little in the way of body roll and more than enough grip to corner at sensible speeds. Unfortunately, there isn’t much feedback or accuracy from the steering, which doesn’t really give you the confidence to push all that hard.

On the plus side, the Niro is reasonably comfortable, even if it does become a little fidgety over pitted road surfaces.

Value for Money

Let’s face it, £21,295 is a lot of money to pay for a crossover, especially when that’s the price of the basic car. It’s £7,000 more than the equivalent 500X, and that’s a big old difference.

Still, the Niro is a little more spacious and a lot more efficient than its rival, which can only return 44.1mpg when fitted with the basic 1.6-litre petrol engine. Even a diesel 500X can’t match the Niro’s efficiency, with the 88g/km CO2 emissions proving practically unassailable for diesel-powered crossovers.

The sweet spot in the Niro range, though, is the ‘2’ model, which will cost about £23,000, but you get part-leather seats, two-zone climate control and satellite navigation. Yes, it’s expensive, but getting a 500X with comparable kit and efficiency will cost more than £21,000 anyway.

Who would buy one ?

Yes, it’s well equipped, but the Niro’s lofty price tag will probably alienate many private buyers. Company car drivers, on the other hand, will likely find the low CO2 emissions and the cheap company car tax enticing.

Facts at a Glance

Model: Kia Niro ‘2’ 1.6 GDi HEV

Price: £22,795

Engine: 1.6-litre petrol and electric motor

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Performance: 0-62mph in 11.1 seconds, 101mph top speed

Economy: 74.3mpg

Emissions: 88g/km

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