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 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.
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.