It was with some surprise and a nod of approval that we reviewed the performance benchmarks recorded by the Niro.

Kia’s 0-62mph acceleration claim for the car is 11.5sec, which would be a decent if unremarkable showing from an economy-minded crossover – if it wasn’t a significant underestimation of the Niro’s true potential.

Nic Cackett

Nic Cackett

Road tester
Go hard around a sharp corner and you can get trailing-throttle oversteer, followed by power-on understeer

In slightly damp conditions, the car’s two-way average 0-60mph time was actually 9.7sec, whereas most of the diesel-powered, sub-100g/km crossovers we’ve tested of late have struggled to go under 12.0sec.

Unlike in a Toyota hybrid, it’s possible to hold the Niro in a selected gear at full power (provided you don’t activate the kickdown switch at the bottom of the accelerator pedal), and doing so shows that the car is also surprisingly strong on in-gear acceleration.

For example, 30-70mph in fourth gear takes 13.7sec, which is several seconds quicker than direct rivals can manage.

So at full power and with good condition in its high-voltage battery, the Niro earns its corn. But the reason those figures surprised us was that, at anything less than full pedal, the car is smooth but pretty unresponsive and often reluctant to accelerate.

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The Niro offers you two drive modes for its hybrid powertrain (Eco and Sport), toggled between without the need for extraneous buttons or menu screens, simply by sliding the gear selector right or left when ‘D’ is selected. (There is also the option to use the lever to select gears manually, as suggested earlier.)

However, neither mode gives you the linear pedal response you’d want as part of a normal, everyday-use setting.

In default Eco mode, the accelerator feels utterly dead throughout almost all of its travel. In Sport, it’s a bit more progressive but still seems to save a disproportionate amount of power for the last half inch of travel.

You might expect the impression of ample torque instantly available as you flex your right foot, but rarely do you get it.

Kia’s decision to use a dual-clutch gearbox with this hybrid powertrain, when other manufacturers use a CVT, has pros and cons. Leave the gearbox in ‘D’ and, because you so often need to ask for full power to prod the car into any meaningfully brisk kind of motion, it typically kicks down anyway and the revs flare, just as they would in a Toyota hybrid.

There’s no ‘elastic band’ acceleration effect here, but then the new Prius has largely banished that anyway.

Meanwhile, in its unwillingness or hesitation in changing gear, you can tell that Kia’s transmission has plenty of thinking to do before responding to a big stimulus.

Engine isolation is good, particularly compared with that of the diesel models against which the Niro competes directly, but overall there’s just a little bit too much road and wind noise in the cabin for us to declare the car an outstandingly refined car in outright terms.

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