Niro is an interesting addition to both the hybrid and SUV ranks, reckons Cathy Parker.
Maybe it is having a bet both ways, but at the launch, Kia compared the Niro both to other hybrids – regardless of body style – and other SUV’s, and it stands up pretty well in either category.
As a hybrid, it sits towards the lower level of the price spectrum at $39,990, bettered only by the Prius C and Corolla hybrid, which don’t offer the same SUV versatility. As a compact SUV, it stands up well against competitors – albeit with a price premium of around $8,000 – due to the hybrid power train.
You would definitely gain some of that $8 grand back with Niro’s claimed 3.8 l/100km combined fuel economy (and we definitely saw low 4’s in regular every day driving). The Niro is also a tad larger than some of the other compact SUV’s, sitting only slightly below its medium-size brother, the Sportage (125mm shorter, 50mm narrower but on a 30mm longer wheelbase).
The power train comprises the new Kappa 1.6-litre GDi engine, which delivers 77kW and 147Nm of torque along with a 32kW electric motor (170Nm of torque) giving a combined power of 104kW and combined torque of 265Nm – comparable with more normally powered small SUV’s.
Kia’s hybrid uses a simple parallel system rather than Toyota’s more complex series and parallel mix or BMW’s series approach. The parallel hybrid has the electric motor and petrol motor in line with each other, with either or both being able to supply power. It is a simple and efficient arrangement, but it offers slightly lower economy whilst saving weight.
The Niro styling is modern without being in your face, as is the interior – dominated by a the seven-inch touch screen which has the usual audio, reversing camera and Bluetooth phone connectivity. It also offers CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring. There is no navigation, but with phone mirroring, you can use Apple Maps or Google Maps for this.
Safety systems include autonomous emergency braking, smart cruise control and tyre pressure monitoring.
The Niro has comfortable and supporting seats and provides good legroom. On the EX, the seat adjustment is manual, and the interior is cloth (the LTD model gets electric adjustment, leather and heated seats). The EX does not get a proximity key, so you do need to fetch it out of your bag/pocket to use the remote to open and the folding key to start – something which seems at odds with the high-tech nature of the vehicle. The luggage space is typical for a compact SUV.
Driving is a bit of a mix – at low acceleration on just the EV motor, progress is leisurely. If you need extra performance, press harder on the ‘’go’’ pedal and the petrol engine comes in, which improves things. The performance still won’t set the earth on fire, but it gets the job done and the Niro feels more responsive on the open road than round town.
The handling similarly is vice-free but unexciting. The steering feels heavy, but the Niro does corner with a flat attitude and has a good, compliant ride.
It is nice to have some options in eco-style SUV’s, which have been pretty limited until now.