The stylish new Kia Niro Hybrid brings frugal motoring to the crossover market
Kia's first purpose-built hybrid car has landed in the UK aiming at bringing petrol-electric efficiency to the crossover segment. We check it out.
There's something familiar about the Niro, but it's an all-new car. Sitting close to the Sportage, but nevertheless at the foot of Kia's SUV range, the jacked-up hatchback is the first car Kia has designed solely to be a hybrid.
As a result, almost every single thing about the Niro is new. There's a new chassis supporting a new powertrain, and the whole lot is covered by a completely new body. Only a few interior trimmings have come straight from the Kia parts bin.
At launch, the only engine option is a 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol unit assisted by an electric motor, although Kia is promising a plug-in hybrid for 2017.
LOOKS AND IMAGE
At first glance, the Niro is unmistakably a Kia - that tiger-nose grille and the slanting lights ensure it sticks to the brand's signature 'face' - but placing it is a little more difficult. Is it a jacked-up, beefed-up Cee'd? Or is it a shrunken Sportage?
Either way, it's reasonably good looking, but the fact that it looks like so many cars rolled into one might risk taking away any personality that was lurking in there.
Inside, it has that same familiar-yet-new look, which has come as a result of pinching important parts such as the infotainment system from the Sportage, but adding its own bespoke panels.
Despite the fact it has lifted so much from its stablemates, though, it's remarkably well built.
SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
The Niro is very marginally larger than the 500X it competes with, but only by a few centimetres. Nonetheless, that difference, combined with the Kia's less wantonly stylish body and better packaging, means the Niro is the roomier car.
The most obvious sign of this comes when you open the tailgate. There's a 373-litre boot back there, which is 23 litres larger than the Fiat's. Take the underfloor tray out, however, and you can mark that up to 421 litres.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Hybrid cars are often associated with refinement, but oddly enough, the Niro doesn't actually major on quietness. There is near-silence on inner-city roads, but some tyre noise on the motorway.
Of course, this isn't helped by the fact the Niro's combination of electric and petrol power only affords it 139bhp, which means the sprint from 0-62mph takes 11.1 seconds.
There is one surprising silver lining, however, and it's the handling. The Niro's steering is vague and light, but it grips well and the way it contains its body roll is a match for any of its rivals.
It's reasonably comfortable, too, although it does fidget a little bit on pitted road surfaces and the plush leather chairs of higher-spec variants make it seem comfier than the more utilitarian seating found on less generously equipped models such as our '2'-spec test car.
The Niro's biggest selling point, though, is efficiency. The basic '1' and mid-range '2' models will both return more than 74mpg and emit just 88g/km of carbon dioxide - figures which put the Kia ahead of rivals with even the latest diesel engines and put you comfortably into zero road territory.
VALUE FOR MONEY
At £21,295, the basic Niro is exactly £7,000 more expensive than the cheapest Fiat 500X, and that's a big old price difference for two cars that are separated in size by mere centimetres. But of course the cheapest 500X isn't a hybrid and you get less kit and sophistication.
The Niro is more practical, though, and there's that big efficiency benefit. Both are powered predominantly by 1.6-litre petrol engines, but the Niro's electric motor allows it to return 74.3mpg and 88g/km CO2 emissions, while the Fiat's unassisted engine only manages 44.1mpg and 147g/km CO2 emissions.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Kia Niro '2' 1.6 GDi HEV
Engine: 1.6-litre petrol and electric motor
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Performance: 0-62mph in 11.1 seconds, 101mph top speed