What is it?
It’s brave of Kia to have made such a drastic departure from the previous generation with this new Kia Niro.
After all, despite being the blandest-looking car you could imagine, that now-defunct model was a runaway success. Mostly driven by demand for the long-range EV version, it whipped up such a fervour among those seeking a family EV that it’s a wonder we didn’t see Bonhams running Korean hatchback events.
The good news is that the new Niro has all the hallmarks of continuing to be an aspirational model for those people after a practical yet well-priced electrified family hatchback. Based on the company’s new K2 platform, the Niro is offered with the same powertrain line-up as before: a full hybrid, a plug-in hybrid and a full EV, the first two complete with a naturally aspirated 1.6 GDI petrol engine.
We’ve already driven versions of the hybrid and EV, so here we’re focusing on the plug-in hybrid. The significant powertrain news here is that the battery is bigger. Up from 8.9kWh to 11.1kWh, it brings a useful jump in the WLTP combined range of up to 36 miles. An 83bhp electric motor works with the 1.6 petrol engine for a total output of 180bhp, which streams through the six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox to the front wheels. A Type 2 socket on the flank of the car will suck up enough electricity for a flat to full battery in around 2.5 hours from a standard home wallbox.
It’s a predictably pleasant and refined way to get about, the new Niro PHEV. There’s very little whine from the motor as you set off, which you can do with greater urgency than you might expect, given the moderately slovenly 0-62mph time of 9.6sec. There’s quite a noticeable thrum as the petrol engine kicks in, but vibration is kept to a minimum and the engine stays quiet so long as you don’t rev it too hard.
Which you’re not terribly inclined to do, because the engine sounds coarse and noisy without delivering much recompense in acceleration, and even without the fun deterrent that this underwhelming 1.6-litre engine undoubtedly is, this simply isn’t a car that encourages spirited driving.