What is it?
Underneath that cladding lies the Kia Niro, a new high-riding hybrid SUV that has been developed on a bespoke platform so that the ambitious Korean firm can start eating into the eco leadership established by the likes of the Toyota Prius.
Indeed, the Kia Niro is described by its maker as a cross between the practicality and styling of the Nissan Qashqai, Renault Kadjar and VW Tiguan and the economy and image of the Toyota Prius. As such, Kia insists it has no rivals and therefore occupies its own space; it has even invented the Hybrid Utility Vehicle (HUV) name for this sector – although it looks very much like a jacked up soft-roader to us.
Read our full review of the Kia Niro here
In size, it sits between the Kia Soul and Kia Sportage, although if you’re unfamiliar with them then think of it as an eco-friendly rival to the Ford C-Max, or as a more conventional hybrid rival to the UK’s best-selling electrified vehicle, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (a plug-in Niro will follow at a later date).
Thankfully, it’s significance goes well beyond a dreamed-up new sector. Sitting on a bespoke platform developed by parent company Hyundai, the Niro spearheads a push by Kia take its electrified vehicle line-up from four cars today to 11 by 2020. With sales of alternatively fuelled cars expected to triple by then, to more than six million cars a year, it’s not hard to understand why Kia is launching this car now.
What's it like?
Before we get too earnest, here’s the full disclosure: as the pictures above will have indicated, this is a test of a disguised prototype on unfamiliar roads in Korea and for less than an hour behind the wheel.
It would be a mug’s game to try to give a definitive verdict, therefore, but what’s clear from this first chance to get behind the wheel of the Niro is that it will likely deliver to all of Kia’s usual standards.
The Niro combines Kia’s new 104bhp, 108lb ft 1.6-litre Kappa petrol engine with a 32kW electric motor, putting its power, all channelled through a six-speed DCT gearbox and utilising a 1.56kWh lithium-polymer battery.
Most of the time, it’s a smooth powertrain, with the electric motor delivering a noticeable and linear level of boost. Only when you want to push really hard do the revs rise and the hushed cabin ambience gets intruded on by an unseemly thrashing of the petrol engine - although Kia is still working on final calibrations. In particular, the DCT gearbox works well; it's rarely caught out, and it generally shifts early to avoid the over-revving typical of cars with CVT transmissions.
On the bumpy Korean roads, the Niro also rode well and cornered flatly, while the steering was accurate if not overly feelsome. There is nothing sporty about this car, and the weight of the batteries is noticeable if you hurry on, but despite giving nothing to the enthusiast driver, it is perfectly capable.
The disguised cabin looked smart where we could see it, and space in the front, back and boot was decent. Certainly the SUV-like body style will win fans over the divisive looks and shape of the Prius.
Beyond that, it would be hard to judge.
Should I buy one?
Possibly, although it’s impossible to say, not least because the most crucial bits of information have yet to be revealed. Before committing, we’d need a UK drive, UK pricing and the final emissions figures.
On the latter Kia has targetted CO2 emissions below 90g/km (equating to around 70mpg) for the Niro, but that seems conservative as it is also playing a waiting game, knowing Toyota must declare its hand with the new Prius imminently.
Until we learn the rest, we can only conclude that Kia has a very capable car that is worthy of success, if not guaranteed it.
Location Korea; On sale Summer 2016; Price na; Engine 4 cyls, petrol plus 32kW electric motor; Power 104bhp; Torque 108lb ft; Kerb weight na; Gearbox 6-spd DCT; 0-62mph na; Top speed na; Economy 70.0mpg (combined, est); CO2 sub 90g/km (est)