LIKE IT: SPACE - Swallowed airport luggage and extra passengers with ease. GEARBOX - Six-speed auto is much better than the CVTs we’re used to in hybrids.
LOATHE IT: INTERIOR QUALITY - Cabin is comfortable but there are too many hard plastics on display. DRIVING EXPERIENCE - From dead steering to a non-linear throttle, there’s little engagement. FUEL ECONOMY - Despite our best efforts, the Niro isn’t as fuel efficient as it should be.
When faced with a week’s holiday with my parents in the rural Lake District, ideally I would have sought out a rugged diesel SUV rather than the Niro, which is described by its maker as an ‘urban crossover hybrid’.
In fact, the Niro was a qualified success on our trip. As I found with the Toyota Auris Hybrid I once ran, long motorway journeys at a constant cruising speed don’t really offer a chance for the electric motor to deploy so you end up lugging around heavy batteries that are largely redundant.
In the Lakes, though, the Niro was more proficient. I soon realised that, in some ways, Lakeland roads aren’t too dissimilar from urban areas: your average speed is fairly slow because space is tight and there’s plenty of braking, stopping and pulling away. Those factors play to the strengths of the Niro’s hybrid powertrain.
Then there are the steep hills,which offer opportunities for the regenerative braking system to recharge the battery on the declines but also highlight an absence of useful torque, at least when the Niro is in the default Eco driving mode. Given how we’re often told that a benefit of an electric motor is instant torque from zero revs, it’s disappointing there isn’t more low-end punch when it is needed most.
My brim-to-brim fuel calculations for our 424-mile week suggested the Niro returned 48.8mpg; not too bad, but not significantly more than a careful driver could expect to achieve from a standard diesel-engined car.
KIA NIRO 1.6 GDI HEV 3 DCT
Price £24,695 Price as tested £25,240 Economy 45.6mpg Faults Battery drained Expenses None Mileage 4968
Okay, so a small hybrid crossover probably wasn’t the ideal car to scrounge for my week off.
Let me explain: I’d set myself the rather ambitious task of building a brick wall in my garden for a new greenhouse to sit on. The job involved carting many, many bags of sand and cement from a DIY store back to my gaff. Custodian Darren Moss kindly offered the Niro’s services and, well, it was that, a Morgan 3 Wheeler or a Renault Twizy. Easy decision.
Anyway, each bag weighed 25kg, so after some quick back-of-a-fag-packet calculations, I worked out that I could legally carry 13 bags at once. To put that in some sort of context, our Audi SQ7 long-term test car could have managed 31 bags, and even our 1.0-litre Volkswagen Golf would have taken 17. That was the difference between one, two or three round trips for me, so clearly the Niro isn’t the ideal choice if you’re planning lots of home improvements. In fact, even carrying four well-fed passengers could easily tip the Niro over its maximum gross weight limit.