In size at least, the Niro is intended to sit below the Sportage in Kia’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 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.
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.