New Kia Niro shows promise, but lower-end versions of the hybrid crossover may be worth investigating for the relative savings they offer

What is it?

The Kia Niro represents its Korean maker killing two birds with one cleverly chucked stone. The firm’s first dedicated hybrid model (one available only with an electrified powertrain, like a Toyota Prius) is Kia’s first hybrid of any kind offered for sale in the UK, and also a new member of the enduringly popular ‘crossover’ class of compact pseudo-SUVs. That means the Niro has an iron in the roaring fire of not one, but two of Europe’s most lucrative growth areas.

Built on an all-new platform devoted to hybrid and all-electric models, the Niro uses weight-saving aluminium for its bonnet, tailgate and front bumper rail. A lightweight high-voltage lithium-ion battery housed under the back seats shuffles electrical power back and forth from a 43bhp electric motor, the latter assisting a 1.6-litre direct-injection petrol engine, which drives into a six-speed twin-clutch automatic gearbox, and then exclusively to the front wheels.

Kia claims combined peak ‘system’ outputs of 139bhp and 195lb ft for the Niro (the latter something of a fib, since it’s an ‘at-the-wheels’ figure only accessible in first gear). Buy one in either of the bottom of four trim levels – running on 16in alloy wheels and Michelin Energysaver tyres – and it’ll be rated at just 88g/km of CO2 and 74.3mpg.

Opt for either of the more expensive model trims in the Niro range and the car comes instead on 18in alloys and Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, taking the edge off the car’s emissions and economy performance considerably. It’s the top-of-the-range First Edition version that Kia provided for our first UK test.

What's it like?

Having lesser dimensions than the firm’s Sportage, the Niro still strikes you as a quite typically proportioned, jacked-up family hatchback – except that it isn’t as high-rise as the crossover class norm. Standing just 1535mm tall, the car’s roofline is considerably closer in height to that of a Nissan Pulsar than a Nissan Qashqai, and to get into the car you need to drop down into the seat in a way that plenty of crossover buyers would prefer to avoid.

Once you’re onboard, though, space and comfort levels are both good. Kia’s standard leather seats are a little flat and hard, but there’s ample room for larger adults in both rows, with second-row head room particularly generous. Boot space is well up to class standards, too, and unrestricted by the car’s hybrid powertrain.

The Niro has a well-structured dash design with instruments and infotainment screen on the same level, plus easy-to-use ventilation and audio system controls, and clear, readable instruments. Material quality is good, with soft-touch mouldings predominating at shoulder level, and where harder plastics are found they’re solid and well-finished.

At all times a smooth and quiet car on the move, the Niro has excellent mechanical refinement and rewards a relaxed driving style. It defaults to an Eco driving mode that configures the accelerator and gearbox pedal for a gentle rate of progess, and shuts off the combustion engine for significant periods at both town and B-road speeds.

Move the gearlever across the shift gate and you activate a Sport driving mode that makes for stronger initial throttle response, weightier steering and greater linearity to the car’s performance overall. But really, your choice is between ‘slow’ and ‘very slow’. Kia’s preference for a twin-clutch gearbox where you might otherwise have found a CVT does mean there’s none of the ‘elastic band’ over-revving you find in certain petrol-electric cars, but generally the car feels about as willing to be chivvied along as a heavily-laden packhorse.

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Moreover, the 18in wheels and sport tyres of the First Edition version hamper the Niro’s real-world economy. Whereas subsequent testing has revealed that a 16in-wheel-shod Niro will return better than 55mpg on a mixed route, you’ll struggle to get much better than 48mpg on 18s.

Those wheels and tyres also adversely affect the car’s ride and handling. Though woolly-feeling and short on feedback in any case, the Niro’s power steering has less consistency of weight and a more gelatinous feel on higher-spec cars. The suspension is also quite plainly incapable of dealing with the extra weight of those bigger rims and makes the ride fidgety and unsettled on anything other than a millpond surface. Roadholding was more than respectable in both versions of the Niro we tried, body control decent and overall handling competent but dull. 

Should I buy one?

Not this particular one, no. The Niro’s most convincing case will be at a much cheaper price point than this top-of-the-line version. Its £27k asking price makes its powertrain seem weak and one-dimensional compared with alternatives that are available for the same money – and its specification hobbles its performance in more ways than one.

However, at the sub-£23k price of a mid-spec 2 example, the Niro may well make financial sense at least. It has sub-100g/km diesel-powered opposition from the likes of the Nissan Qashqai and Renault Kadjar, but compared with the former the Niro is broadly competitive on price, five groups to the good on insurance rating, 4% (or between £160 and £320 a year) cheaper on company car tax, and it has a specification that includes touchscreen infotainment with navigation, a DAB radio, part-leather upholstery and plenty else that the equivalent popular Nissan does not. It isn’t a car for interested drivers, but the Niro has its place all the same.

Kia Niro First Edition

Location Newcastle-upon-TyneOn sale Now; Price £26,995; Engine 4cyls inline, 1580cc, Atkinson cycle petrol; plus 43bhp electric motor; Power 139bhp at 5700rpm (total system output); Torque 195lb ft at 1000-2400rpm (total system output, first gear only); Gearbox 6-spd twin-clutch automatic; Kerb weight 1587kg; Top speed 101mph; 0-62mph 11.1sec; Economy 64.2mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 101g/km, 17%; Rivals: Toyota Prius; Nissan Qashqai

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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highfidelity 10 August 2016


Autocar you have not mentioned two reasons why I shall not be buying this car. 1, foot/handbrake 2. No Space saver. Now becomes optional extra. The TV advert is enough to put potential buyers off,
highfidelity 10 August 2016


Autocar you have not mentioned two reasons why I shall not be buying this car. 1, foot/handbrake 2. No Space saver. Now becomes optional extra. The TV advert is enough to put potential buyers off,
highfidelity 10 August 2016


Autocar you have not mentioned two reasons why I shall not be buying this car. 1, foot/handbrake 2. No Space saver. Now becomes optional extra. The TV advert is enough to put potential buyers off,