If you are a bearded, rugby playing, concert pianist choosing a car that reflected your diverse interests used to be an impossible task. I say it used to be impossible because, thanks to Kia you can now get your hands on the perfect vehicle in the shape of the new Niro. Of course, if you aren’t a bearded, rugby playing, concert pianist – or you haven’t seen the TV advert and have no idea what I’m waffling on about – you can still get your hands on one.
The Niro is Kia’s first foray into the world of hybrid vehicles and as first attempts go it’s pretty darned good. Actually, that’s not fair. It’s pretty darned good regardless of how many attempts have been made previously. I suspect the Niro stands an excellent chance of making serious inroads into the 700,000 vehicles the European hybrid market is expected to account for by the end of the decade.
The Niro is based on a brand new platform designed exclusively for electrified cars and offers a five-door, five-seat, crossover\SUV that slots into a highly desirable segment of the market. The Niro is slightly different from the rest though. Most drawing boards are covered with hybrid cars that have been designed around the aerodynamic requirements of the hybrid system but that approach wasn’t good enough for Kia. Instead, they reverse designed a car that looked good, carried 5 people plus luggage in comfort, and then fine-tuned the aerodynamics to fit the system. The result is a car that is practical, comfortable, spacious and much more attractive than some of the other hybrids on the road.
The Niro has a rugged look – I presume that’s the rugby player part of the advert covered – without appearing to be overly large. The front end has the the same chiselled features you normally expect to find on David Coulthard’s chin, the black wheel arch mouldings seem to lift the car off the ground giving it a “go-anywhere” sense of adventure, while the chrome touches on the handles and roof rails add a touch of elegance. Despite the looks the Niro is actually quite a compact car and isn’t that much bigger than the Cee’d hatchback. It also has a much better name.
Inside the Niro you are confronted with a clean and simple layout with loads of storage. The seats have been redesigned to reduce weight and offer all-round support and the soft touch materials and trim details exude an air of quality that belies the Niro’s eminently reasonable price tag. If I have one complaint, petty though it may be, it’s that the indicator noise is reminiscent of a dripping tap. No problem under normal conditions but I wouldn’t like to be making lots of turns whilst under the influence of a full bladder.
In the back there is ample room for adults to sit without banging knees against the front seat or bumping heads on the roof. My yardstick in terms of rear space is whether I can sit behind myself and with the drivers seat set to “tall mode” I could sit comfortably despite the fact the batteries for the hybrid system are hidden under the back seat. I wouldn’t be swinging any cats but twirling slightly smaller animals wouldn’t be an issue. Speaking of batteries, hiding them under the back seats not only lowers the centre of gravity to improve handling but it also frees up a significant chunk of space in the boot which is always useful.
Under the bonnet the bulk of the power comes from a 1.6litre, direct injection, petrol engine generating 104bhp. This is supplemented by the 32kW (43bhp) electric motor giving a combined power output of 139bhp. It’s a parallel hybrid system which means the engine and motor work together although it will run on electricity alone for short distances. The Niro also boasts a brake energy recovery system so it doesn’t rely solely on the engine to recharge the batteries. As well as saving on fuel consumption this allows you to brag to your friends that your humble Kia shares similarities with the KERS systems on an F1 car – if you’re so inclined.
All of this adds up to a car that is rather pleasing to drive. The Niro picks up well thanks to the big chunks of torque from the electric motors, the dual-clutch, six-speed, automatic gearbox is smooth and the steering is reassuringly precise and responsive. According to the computer I was getting a healthy 55mpg at 70mph and while Kia claim a combined figure of up to 74.3mpg depending on wheel and tyre combination, I’m confident the real world figure would be well into the 60’s. Either way it’s safe to assume the Niro is not going to be expensive to run and with CO2 emissions around 88g\km it won’t cost much in tax either.
Speaking of cost – because that’s usually what these decisions hinge on – you may be wondering how many of your hard-earned pounds you will be expected to part with to own a Kia Niro. There are four options to choose and the only difference is the trim level. I drove the Niro ‘2’ which adds a touch of leather to the interior, privacy glass, reversing sensors and camera, automatic wipers and a fantastically simple SatNav to the already generous specifications and the whole package is just £22,795 on the road. See, I told you it was eminently reasonable so what are you waiting for?