First Drive: Kia Niro
SECTOR Crossover PRICE From €24,990 approx. FUEL 3.8–4.5l/100km CO2 88–101g/km
A round of anti-diesel sentiment has followed the Volkswagen emissions scandal, which broke in September last year. For anyone who has watched the diesel car market for a while, that may not be much of a surprise, but it is ironic given that diesel and petrol emissions post Euro6 are more or less equal and lower than they have ever been.
Diesel may be the fuel of choice for many fleets, offering generally better fuel consumption than most hybrids over long distance running, but there are those who don’t like diesel and for drivers whose routes involve a fair bit of stop/start urban traffic, hybrid technology offers a good alternative.
The new Kia Niro is a good example. Unveiled at the Geneva Show in March, the compact crossover model shares a new platform with the Hyundai Ioniq and it has been designed specifically as an electric vehicle platform. First to market is the conventional parallel hybrid, due to be followed by a plug-in hybrid model in 2017. A battery electric variant is also scheduled for the future, although no launch date has yet been announced.
Toyota has driven the parallel hybrid market across the world, with the Prius, marking its credentials out with distinctive, or, if you prefer, quirky design, to optimise its aerodynamics although both the Auris and Yaris hybrid models are conventional looking cars. It would be difficult to pick the Niro out from a crowd of similar compact crossovers, yet it comes with a low 0.29Cd drag coefficient, ensuring that it's a slippery shape. Aluminium for panels such as the bonnet and tailgate, the use of high-strength steels and aluminium components do their bit to counter the weight of the battery pack, mounted beneath the rear seats.
The 2,700mm wheelbase ensures there is legroom for adults front and rear. The car is slightly smaller than the Sportage but offers slightly more headroom for front seat passengers. The boot space is acceptable and fairly typical for a compact crossover at 373 litres, extending to 1,371 litres with the rear seats folded. Remove the under floor tray and these figures increase to 421 litres and 1,425 litres respectively.
There is just one powertrain option combining a 104hp variant of the Hyundai/Kia 1,580cc direct injection Kappa engine with a 43hp (32kW) electric motor. Either motor in combination or separately can drive the front wheels through a six-speed dual-clutch automated transmission. The car’s on-board control system will determine which motor operates when and also handles battery re-charging with relevant information displayed in the instrument cluster. The Kappa engine has been especially calibrated for the hybrid powertrain, offering optimised operation. Wheel size dictates the CO2 emissions; either 88g/km (16-inch wheels) or 101g/km (18-inch wheels), both looking attractive for CO2-based tax regimes, although 88g/km is likely to yield more tax benefits.
The drivetrain is very impressive. Gear changes are almost imperceptible. By default the car will operate in Eco mode. But it will also pull away briskly if you want, using both motors together. Drivers can also make manual gear changes if they want and again, shifts are very smooth. There is little noise from the engine too so refinement is good. Wind and road noise are apparent though, less so in the higher specification models we drove. Ride quality is good too, with the car absorbing most surface irregularities well. Generally, ride and handling are comparable with most crossover rivals.
There is very little apart from the instrument pack to suggest the car is a hybrid. We recorded an indicated 4.6l/100km on a mixed route of fast dual carriageway urban and country roads, a good result.
Kia has served up an impressive hybrid crossover with the Niro. It offers spacious accommodation, a broad range of specification options and low CO2 emissions at a competitive price. It looks set for success.