From £20,6457

Kia taps into the zeitgeist with an all-new hybrid compact crossover, but conventional models like the Nissan Qashqai, Renault Kadjar and Honda HR-V will take some beating

It’s hard to imagine a car more conspicuously of its time than the all-new Kia Niro.

For a start, it is that most prized family-sized possession: a compact crossover – supposedly as useful as a double-decker pram and three times as covetable.

A crossover packaged as cleverly as this will appeal to those who’ve always found the Prius impractical

And second, the Kia  has got it’s finger on the ecological pulse when it comes to its motive force. Not only is there a hybrid (as tested here), there’s also a plug-in hybrid and an all-electric, the Kia e-Niro. It’s basically as voguish and right-on as a soy cashmere jacket.

The Niro has been the electrified vanguard for Kia, being its first hybrid model to be available in the UK. Yet since its launch only five years ago it’s been joined by the Kia Soul, Kia Ceed, Kia X-Ceed and Kia Sorento that have variously been made available with hybrid, plug-in and EV power, plus there’s the all-electric Kia Kia EV6 that packs a Porsche Taycan-baiting 577bhp in top GT guise. No surprise when you consider that its parent, the Hyundai Motor Group, has been successfully dabbling in alternative-fuel solutions for well over 20 years.

It is also not a late-to-the-party adaptation of existing architecture. Instead, the Niro is built on an entirely bespoke platform that allowed it to accept the three different forms of electrified propulsion.

Back to top

None of that, of course, necessarily makes the Niro a decent prospect, especially in a segment now so well stocked with conventional alternatives. Still, a light refresh in 2020 has helped keep the Niro in contention, even if it was limited to some subtle changes inside and out.

Prices start at £24,335 for the entry-level 2 self-charging hybrid, which is likely to be favoured by buyers and is the model we test here.

Kia Niro design & styling

In size at least, the Niro is intended to sit below the Kia Sportage in the firm's crossover line-up.

Its look, another Peter Schreyer design, is familiar: the front end bears the latest evolution of the brand’s ‘tiger nose’ grille and the rear gently tapers over chunky wheel arches. The appearance is conformist, then, but also rigidly unmemorable, although the facelift in 2020 did add some rather neat LED daytime running lights that sit below the front bumper.

The platform on which it sits has been specially formatted to accommodate electrical components, including not only the motor and battery pack in the self-charging Niro but also the larger battery of the plug-in model and the even larger cells and motor of the Kia e-Niro.

With extra weight an inevitable factor of such features, attention has been paid to the architecture’s mass: the structure is 53% high-strength steel and Kia has employed lighter-still aluminium in the Niro’s bonnet, tailgate panel, front bumper and a number of suspension elements in a chassis made up of front MacPherson struts and a multi-link rear. Meanwhile, the A and B-pillars and wheel arches use hot-stamped steel to enhance rigidity.

The platform’s packaging means that both the 45-litre fuel tank and the 1.56kWh lithium ion polymer battery (which, at 33kg, is said to be one of the lightest, most efficient packs deployed by Kia) fit side by side under the rear seats.

Back to top

The fuel tank feeds a 104bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine and the battery powers a 43bhp electric motor mounted within the standard six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Like the Toyota Prius, its electric motor runs in parallel with a petrol engine with only very short bursts of all-electric running, making this a ‘self-charging’ hybrid in the current lexicon. The plug-in version can be charged from the mains and has a more useful 36 mile range thanks to a larger 8.9kWh battery.

The gearbox, based on the seven-speed unit in the Cee’d, is fundamental to accessing the full potential of the two power sources, which work in parallel to drive the front wheels, and is said to be superior to a continuously variable transmission, especially in its responsiveness at higher speeds.

The combined peak outputs of both the hybrid and PHEV are claimed to be 139bhp and 195lb ft, although buyers not looking to win every traffic light grand prix may be disappointed to learn that those healthy figures are available in first gear alone.

The Niro’s engine, like that of the Prius, uses the more efficient Atkinson combustion cycle and, also like the Toyota, the Niro has a brake energy recovery system to help recharge the batteries. The reduced load on the motor afforded by electrification means Kia can claim combined fuel economy of 58.9mpg, with CO2 emissions of 110g/km, although both these WLTP figures are some way short of the, admittedly far less SUV-infused, Prius.

The PHEV model makes do without exactly the same powertrain, but with the addition of a larger 8.9kWh battery. This allows a claimed zero emissions-in-use range of 36 miles and a slightly pie-in-the-sky official fuel economy of just over 200mpg. Of course, it all depends on how you use it, but frequent high mile trips will reveal there’s little in between the plug-in and self-charging flavours of Niro when it comes to fuel efficiency.

Back to top

Kia Niro (2016-2022) First drives