Kia’s hybrid commitment realised in hero Niro

Until true eco-friendly transport starts to make its mark in the UK, opines Iain Robertson, petrol-electric hybrids are not just a sop but provide a genuine means to a frugal and flexible end solution and the Niro fits in well.

The demand for personal transportation, according to the very politicians and their supporting bodies that might like to ‘ban’ it, continues to grow. For what remains of my lifetime and that of my children, possibly even theirs too, there is only one viable motive solution: hybrid. Whether of a plug-in, or not, variety, the reality of an efficiency-enhanced fossil fuel powered family car, complete with on-board electricity generator that extends mileage potential, carries huge merits.

Hybrids have been with us for over twenty years, although their impact has only increased exponentially over the past five of them. Yet, they provide an elegant and liveable solution to the age-old issue of eking out some vital Miles Per Gallon. Kia, which launched its Niro model in late-2016, falls into that latter classification. Kia was the first of the Far Eastern makes to engage with reality and take the more affordable end of hybrid transport into orbit. 

Keenly price-tagged from £23,135 in ‘2’ trim, or £25,135 in ‘3’, the test example, in ‘4’ trim, weighs in at £27,385 (not including FCD discount), Niro is another stage completed in a comprehensive normalcy campaign. It is exceedingly well-equipped, with engaging, if initially confusing digital dashboard displays (that include two fuel contents gauges: one for battery power, the other for petrol), neatly assembled cabin accoutrements, comfortable and supportive seating, an automated manual gearbox, an array of safety addenda, a decent climate control system and high-quality sounds.

Most SUV-class competitors hover around £4,000 more than Niro. Yet, eco-warriors (not always of the moth-eaten, prematurely grey-haired, vegetarian variety) want to be seen displaying their eco-credentials. That’s what myriad Toyota Prius models seem to affirm to others, not just to their operators, that the planet needs saving.

The package is almost as unassuming as the product. Powered by a 1.6-litre, petrol direct injection engine that develops a modest 104bhp, its adjacent electric power unit produces a supplementary 43bhp, which combines to create a nominal 139bhp (do not must presume that there is a combined 8bhp power loss, when the two engines work in unison). Not exactly landmark figures, I shall grant you, but they are enough to whisk a tonne-and-a-half of 4.3m long family car from 0-60mph in a modest 9.2 seconds, before hitting the buffers at an equally modest 101mph.

While that does not read like a racy novel, the Niro is so easy to pedal at fairly high speeds that it can be immense fun to drive, aided by a dynamics package that is neither intrusive, nor anything less than supportive of the driver and vehicle occupants. Thanks to the electricity boost, it is a car that feels as naturally talented at an in-town 30mph, as it can do exploring the other end of the register across country (although not necessarily ours).

Above all, while my final week-long fuel consumption worked out at a more than healthy 63mpg, it can clock its government-stated 74.3mpg with surprising ease. Even giving it the beans, that figure only tumbled to 54mpg and, trust me, I was revelling in its finely balanced handling, even though it was abundantly clear that its Lithium-ion polymer battery pack is no lightweight proposition. It can be felt in longer bends, although the moderately firm suspension does a great job of concealing its bulk by resisting body roll and dive under braking, while ironing out road surface imperfections both silently and painstakingly.

I mentioned the air-con briefly but it is worth noting that this is an ingenious system that can be directed only at the driver, when unaccompanied, which is not just unique but will also help a little in eco-terms. The bottom-line is Kia has produced a thoroughly agreeable motorcar that displays levels of consideration that I have simply not felt in similar and, more importantly, rival machines.

It is worth highlighting that, at no time did I attempt to wear my slightly tarnished eco-halo, when driving the Niro. As an acknowledged fan of twin-clutch, automated transmissions, I found that the unit in the Niro provided smooth, seamless gearshifts, with none of the ‘jerkiness’ of which some critics of this type of gearbox have complained, whether left in Drive, or selected manually, a function that none of the other hybrids can contest. It is almost as if Kia, which was admittedly ‘late’ to the party, with its Niro, has been standing on the sidelines like an incognito talent scout but, rather than pounce on its unsuspecting potential signings, it leaves them to play and constructs a supportive framework around their skills, which it then markets openly. Clever Kia.

The integrity of this car is just stunning. It possesses Audi build quality, thin panel-gap assembly, superior sound-deadening, marvellous chassis dynamics and all without trying too hard to attain sky-high frugality. How much better can it get? The Kia Niro makes sense as either a financially viable business car, which will please the company accountant, or an eminently spacious and practical family car for the private consumer. It also looks the part with its SUV-type body addenda, even though, like most SUVs, it is no off-roader. Of course, it carries a road tax levy, apart from EVs, they all do today, so it is not exactly the ultimate in green motoring but at around 88g/km CO2, it is not bad.

FCD Summary

If, in automotive terms, you really want to ‘do your bit’, Kia proves that you do not need to don a hair shirt, or raise questions about your age, or sexuality. The Niro delivers hybrid technology that is so acceptable that neither you, nor it, have anything left to prove. Now, if the British motor trade will only cease treating hybrid cars with the suspicion they do, they might start to hold decent residual values and the Niro would reside in slightly more than a safe haven. There is a lot to like here.

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