The Kia Niro offers hybrid technology to buyers in the small Crossover segment. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Kia needed a small Juke-style compact Crossover model. And it also wanted a hybrid able to appeal to buyers who can't quite stretch to a Toyota Prius. The Niro smartly packages up both requirements into one potentially appealing product.
For some time, Kia has known that it needed another small Crossover model to slot in below its strong-selling Sportage. Yes, the brand has the Soul range, but that's a little quirky for some tastes and it hasn't proved as attractive to Juke and Captur buyers as the Korean brand would have liked. This Niro still won't take on those kinds of cars in volume sales terms but it's still likely to make quite an impact in this fast-growing segment. Why? Well this is the first hybrid car of this kind and Kia thinks it will appeal not only to Juke folk but also to customers who want a more affordable take on petrol/electric technology.
Under the bonnet lies a 1.6-litre petrol/electric hybrid powerplant of the non-plug-in variety. The petrol unit puts out 104bhp and that's bolstered by a 43.5bhp electric motor mounted on the transmission. Together, the two power units produce 139bhp, with 265Nm of torque available in first gear for rapid acceleration from standstill. As you'd expect from a hybrid, regenerative braking is used to send power back to the battery, but Kia says it's paid special attention to brake feel, reducing the grabby nature that you get from the brakes in other hybrids. The transmission is the latest version of Kia's 6DCT CVT auto 'box, re-engineered specifically for use with the Niro's advanced hybrid powertrain, delivering a more direct and immediate response - and a more entertaining drive - than a traditional continuously-variable transmission would. The Niro's 6DCT is able to shift gears automatically, while keener drivers can pull the gear lever towards them to put the car into Manual Sports mode and allow manual shifting. A series of measures have been adopted to ensure low levels of noise, vibration and harshness. These include specially-designed asymmetric engine mounts to manage powertrain movements at each point in the front subframe, high density under-bonnet insulation and a sound-deadening acoustic shield with a special support structure to improve the sound of the engine accelerating across the most used range of engine speeds.
Design and Build
The Niro occupies a new space within the brand's model line-up in terms of its size. It's 4,355mm in length, 1,800mm wide and 1,535mm tall, making it smaller overall than the brand's larger Sportage Crossover, though occupying a larger footprint than the cee'd hatchback. There's nothing particularly exciting about the shape but it's likely to chime with buyers in the compact Crossover segment and has a relatively sleek 0.29Cd drag factor. The relatively wide stance is intended to portray stability and a low centre of gravity. With a relatively long bonnet, short overhangs, elevated headlamps and rising shoulder line, the Niro's styling is certainly a break away from more sensible Prius-style hybrid models. The silhouette tapers slightly towards the rear of the vehicle, ending in a subtle rear roof spoiler, elevated tail-lamps and a wide, squared-off rear bumper. Combined with bold wheel arches, the design places greater visual volume over the rear haunches. Inside, the cabin has been designed to give an impression of space and modernity, with a wide dashboard and defined horizontal lines. The Niro follows the most recent Kia models in offering high quality, soft-touch materials throughout the interior. There's decent boot capacity too - 421-litres.
Market and Model
There are four Niro trim grades currently on offer - '1', '2', '3' and 'First Edition'. Pricing starts from around £21,000. All are comprehensively equipped with comfort, luxury, connectivity and driver assistance features. Every version has a Lane Keep Assist System, Hill-start Assist Control, Cruise Control and a Speed Limiter. Every Niro also has a DAB radio and is able to support Bluetooth smartphone connectivity and music streaming. Plus all variants get 16-inch alloy wheels, dual automatic air conditioning, an automatic windscreen de-fogging system, LED daytime running lights and tail lights, a 3.5-inch TFT supervision cluster, all-round electric windows and electric exterior mirror adjustment, USB and AUX ports and a trip computer. Buyers can specify a single-tone cabin, available either in black or dark grey, and upholstered in cloth, cloth and leather or full genuine leather. And there's a choice of seven colours, plus a selection of 16 or 18-inch alloy wheel designs. The Niro is fitted as standard with seven airbags for optimum passive occupant safety, with airbags for driver and front passenger, driver knee, first row side airbags and first and second row curtain airbags. ISOFIX child-seat tether and anchor points are fitted as standard to the second row of seats, to safely secure children.
Cost of Ownership
We should start by saying that this is a conventional hybrid rather than one of the Plug-in variety. Kia can offer this technology - indeed it does so in the larger Optima model - but in order to keep the Niro's price competitive, it isn't currently available here. So, how do the figures stack up? Well, this model's headline efficiency figures can't match those of Toyota's Prius but they're still pretty impressive: 74.3mpg on the combined cycle and 88g/km of CO2. That's achieved using some impressive tech. The Niro uses the a Lithium-Ion Polymer battery that is both compact and powerful - so much so that Kia has been able to do away with a 12v battery in the car. Kia has also developed a Predictive Energy Control system to use navigation data that predicts changes to the road ahead and maximises the efficiency of the hybrid system. The 1.56 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack is the lightest and most efficient pack used by Kia to date, with up to 50% higher energy density and 13% greater energy efficiency than the battery packs found in key rivals. Weighing just 33 kg, the Niro's battery pack - with an advanced power relay - allows the battery to regenerate electrical energy under deceleration.
Matching hybrid power with Crossover trendiness was always going to make an appealing combination and the Niro delivers exactly that. We're a little disappointed that there are no more affordable conventionally-engined versions but that apart, we like the look of what's on offer here. Not everyone wants the noise, smell and extra expense of a diesel engine. Well if you don't, then here's a way of getting diesel economy with petrol convenience in a fashionable-looking package.