Kia’s first dedicated petrol-electric hybrid crossover has all the right ingredients to be a sure-fire hit
Let’s start this long-term report on the Kia Niro by talking about the Nissan Qashqai. That’s a great car to live with, a really practical and good to drive crossover. The only thing that could potentially have made it even better, by turning it a really brilliant combination of practicality and low running costs, would have been a hybrid powertrain.
Which brings us to this new Kia Niro HEV hybrid crossover. Hybrids are a new thing for Kia, but with its sister brand Hyundai recently launching the Ioniq, the idea of putting a spacious crossover body onto the Ioniq’s low-mpg regular hybrid platform was hardly rocket science.
The Niro’s starting price of £21,295 is on the high side for cars in this class, and quite a bit higher than the Qashqai’s entry price. On the positive side, it’s £2,300 less than a Prius and there’s plenty of standard equipment included in that: dual-zone climate control, automatic lights, cruise control and a lane keeping system are all part of the across-the-board package.
Partly because of that, a relatively small portion of the Niro market is likely to plump for our upper-range 3 version, but it’s a good chance for us to try out the toys you’d get if you did. So, our car has heated seats and steering wheel, an eightinch touchscreen infotainment system with sat-nav, black leather seats, all-round parking sensors, a reversing camera and a wireless phone charger. The only option on our car is the metallic paint.
Powering the HEV is a 1.6-litre petrol engine and a small electric motor. The petrol engine does the lion’s share of the work, with the electric motor chipping in to provide instant thrust from low speeds or backup at higher speeds.
Conventionally for hybrids, the Niro stores its electricity in a lithium ion battery pack, but this one differs from many in that it’s sufficiently energy-dense to be compact enough to sit under the back seats rather than robbing space in the boot. That frees up a very handy 427 litres with the rear bench up and 1425 litres with it down. The brilliant Qashqai still provides slightly more in both instances, but you rarely feel shortchanged by the room on offer in the Niro.
Early driving impressions have left us feeling a little ambivalent. There’s no noticeable transition between electric and engine power, and we prefer the six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission to the noisy CVTs that hobble most other hybrids, but there’s a disconnected feeling about the throttle and not many obvious signs of the fun driving experience that heralded the Niro’s arrival on the market.
The other disappointment has been in another area of great promise, namely fuel consumption. Our car had just 195 miles on the clock when it arrived, so some loosening up may improve matters, but right now we’re recording around 42mpg, a long way off the official 64.2mpg combined claim. Our earlier road test of the HEV also revealed less than sparkling real-world fuel economy and driving manners, so we’re hoping that our long termer will somehow improve in at least one of these areas. As it stands, the average SUV buyer might still be tempted to go diesel for the familiar mix of fuel efficiency and pulling power.
The Qashqai that we ran on our fleet the best part of four years ago jumped over every hurdle we put in front of it. On paper, the Niro has the tools it needs to do the same. The trouble is, people don’t drive on paper. Let’s see how it goes.