Kia Niro review: hybrid crossover fits bill for family buyers

Fuel-efficient Niro proves a viable option for diesel motorists ready to make the switch

Make: Kia

Model: Niro

Year: 2017

Fuel: Hybrid

Date Reviewed: January 3, 2017

Tue, Jan 10, 2017, 20:45

   

As Kermit warned back in 1970, it’s not easy bein’ green. Those who unwisely caught the first electric wave washed up with overpriced and undercharged mobile doorstoppers. Recent models offer a much better proposition but the risk of redundancy still looms large.

Meanwhile, our level-headed legislators leapt upon the CO2 bandwagon in 2008 and led us to a situation where 70 per cent of new cars are diesel.

Now, it seems, while we have been furiously cutting our carbon footprint, we’ve also been pumping potential carcinogens into the air.

Across the globe, and with no sense of irony, sagacious legislators now talk of banning diesel cars from urban centres, turning the loyal policy-following diesel motorist from conscious car owner to polluting pariah.

Given that cars are the second biggest investment people make after their home, you can see why these consumers may be a little miffed to be led up the garden path by muddled political messages.

And you can sympathise if they are a little cynical about the latest eco-friendly whizz bangs. Yet the time may be right for the arrival of a raft of new hybrids.

On the road since the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius, they have spawned into variations that range from true tree huggers to fig leaf offerings with battery packs that would struggle to power a post-Christmas Furby.

Kia is the latest to arrive on the scene with the Niro, a long-awaited roomy crossover that on paper seems the ideal recipe for Irish success. From sales of the Nissan Qashqai to the Hyundai Tucson, it’s clear Irish buyers love the high-set family hatchback format.

This is the same hybrid underpinnings which appear in the range of sister brand Hyundai, only there it is in the form of one of the trio of Ioniq family hatchbacks.

Added practicality

The trick here is that the Niro offers all the eco-credentials of the Ioniq or other hybrid family cars like the Prius, but with the added practicality of a crossover. Up front you have a 1.6-litre petrol engine supported by an advanced battery pack that leaves ample bootspace yet delivers emissions of just 88g/km.

Alongside its obvious family car advantages, the Niro is a decent drive. It’s neither sporty nor fast, but it is smooth and unlike some rivals it manages to combine the petrol engine and electric motor via a standard six-speed automatic transmission in a way that is almost imperceptible. This smooth transition is also evident in the way the engine doesn’t emit the same high notes as some hybrid rivals.

Fuel economy is all important on a car like this and over a week of mixed urban, motorway and rural driving we were achieving 64mpg, a pleasant surprise given how close we came to the official fuel consumption figure of 3.8l/100km (74.3 mpg). In most rivals we rarely manage to get within 70 per cent of the official figure.

Perhaps part of this was also down to the little eco-driving scorecard you can call up on the 7-inch touchscreen display. It should be dismissed as a gimmick but it did lighten my right foot. None of us like to be poorly thought of by our technology.

And you need not take just my word for it. Last month the Niro secured the Guinness World Record title for the lowest fuel consumption driving across the United States from coast to coast in a hybrid car. Admittedly that’s a record I never heard about before the Kia release hit my inbox, but it’s a relatively impressive feat.

Harsher ride

It’s worth noting that there is a significant difference in the fuel economy figures when it comes to the choice of wheels. Opt for the 16-inch alloys and you get the aforementioned 88g/km and 4.4 l/100km fuel economy. Choose the 18-inch and while you might prefer the aesthetic look, you will get a harsher ride, emissions of 101g/km and an official fuel figure of 64 mpg. In short, it’s best to stick to the 16-inch alloys.

Complaints? We have a few. Of course on the open road it becomes less hybrid and more pure petrol. The brakes on our test car didn’t have the sort of bite we would have liked, while there is a level of body roll when you pitch it into twisting corner combinations. None of these would be deal breakers.

The interior trim is smart and clean, the controls simple and intuitive. The rear seats will take three six-footers and still have ample leg and head room.

The Niro is up against some big-name rivals and that’s only going to increase in the coming months. A convoy of mainstream hybrids are destined to fill the gap left as Europe begins its break-up with diesel.

The beauty of the Niro is that it can deliver real-life diesel-beating fuel consumption without either the high-pitched whine or annoying driving traits of rivals. And as suburban motorists turn their back on diesel this seems the answer to their motoring needs.

Sales figures

Pricing is strong as well, coming in at €30,550 (or €31,295 if you add the adaptive cruise control and emergency braking system). That’s lower than the rival Ioniq and a few thousand less than the new Prius. Plus it’s got the more favoured crossover format.

Kia has a range of cars that deserves more consideration than the sales figures suggest it is getting from the Irish public. From the funky Soul to the stylish Sportage and the eye-catching Optima, the Kia brand is arguably punching below its weight these days. Where its sister brand is fighting for top slot, Kia is playing for a top-10 place.

The Niro is a family-friendly fuel sipper in a format that fits the bill for Irish buyers. It’s timely as well, for many post-2008 diesel buyers now realise petrol is a better fit for their lifestyles. Hybrid gives them an economic out.

And our legislators should take note as well. If they wish to lead the car market by the nose then they should extend the grant system on hybrids beyond the two years.

Uncertainty is a given in the current economic climate but it would be nice if there was a little more surefootedness when it came to government policy.

Lowdown: Kia Niro

Powertrain: 1580cc four-cylinder petrol engine mated to a battery pack with 16 cells putting out a total combined output of 139bhp.

0-100km/h: 11.1 secs

Fuel economy: 3.8 l/100km (74.3 mpg)

Price: €30,595

Our rating: 4/5

Verdict: Welcome hybrid crossover that should do well among Irish family buyers, winning on price, functionality and fuel economy.