The Kia Niro offers hybrid technology to buyers in the small Crossover segment. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Kia reckons that this Niro PHEV Plug-in hybrid model offers the best of both worlds, combining fashionable 'Crossover' looks with exemplary hybrid efficiency. It's not, perhaps, the kind of car you'd expect from this growing Korean brand but in its own way, it promises to be a very appealing one.
Kia is becoming a strong player in the plug-in hybrid segment. In 2016, it launched a PHEV version of its mid-sized Optima model and it's followed that up with this car, a plug-in version of its Niro crossover model. Under the skin, this car shares its technology with the Hyundai IONIQ, which means it's very advanced indeed.
You get an efficient 1.6-litre GDI petrol engine mated to an 8.9kWh battery able, when fully charged, to take this car up to 36 miles on all-electric power. And all for a lot less cash than you'd be asked to pay of most other Plug-ion hybrids currently on sale. Sounds promising....
At the heart of the Niro's plug-in powertrain is a high-capacity 8.9 kWh lithium-polymer battery pack, growing in size from the 1.56 kWh battery pack found in the normal Niro Hybrid. The PHEV variant's battery pack is paired with a more powerful 44.5 kW (60bhp) electric motor (offering almost 40% more power, up from 32 kW) compared to the Hybrid model. The battery and electric motor are paired with the Niro's efficient 1.6-litre 'Kappa' four-cylinder GDI engine, which independently produces 104bhp and 147Nm torque. The total power and torque output for the Niro Plug-in Hybrid's powertrain is 139bhp and 265Nm, enabling the PHEV derivative to accelerate from rest to 62mph 10.4 seconds (1.1 seconds quicker than the standard Niro) on the way to 107mph flat out. With greater capacity and electric power output, Kia engineers claim a pure-electric driving range of up to 36 miles.
Inevitably of course, you're going to need to adopt a very relaxed driving style in order to realise that kind of range, but this Kia's whole demeanour encourages that anyway. As do assorted dials and gauges that include an 'energy flow meter' in the instrument binnacle and various diagrammatic graphics on the centre dash infotainment screen. If you really must push things along and use the full output that engine and electric motor can together provide, you'll find that like most hybrids, this one doesn't take particularly kindly to being hustled along.
Design and Build
We're not sure if Kia's designers in Korea and California deliberately set out to blur the boundaries with this design between Focus-style family hatch and 'Juke'-style small Crossover. That's certainly the kind of look we've ended up with here. You might not immediately pigeon-hole this Niro as any kind of Crossover, but Kia is keen that you should look a little closer and pick out the detail features that would usually identify more lifestyle-orientated models of the Juke-genre.
The exterior and interior design of this PHEV Niro variant has been adapted to differentiate it from the ordinary Hybrid version. Exterior alterations include a satin chrome grille surround, as well as special chrome brightwork with a clean metallic-blue finish, applied to thin 'blades' in the front and rear bumpers. The Plug-in Hybrid model is available with 16-inch alloy wheels as well as full-LED headlamps and dedicated 'Eco Plug-in' badging.
The interior of the Niro Plug-in Hybrid is upholstered in leather finished with blue stitching, plus there's a special blue surround for the dashboard air vents. This derivative features a 7.0-inch full-TFT driver instrument cluster, displaying key information about the powertrain - such as the battery's state of charge - as well as offering suggestions for a more efficient driving style. The dashboard is fitted with Kia's latest 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment and navigation system, configured for the Plug-in Hybrid model to display current electric-only range and the location of nearby charging stations. Boot space falls though - from 427-litres in the standard Hybrid to 324-litres here.
Market and Model
The Niro PHEV costs £28,000 after taking into consideration the Government plug-in car grant of £2,500. That makes this model about £3,000 pricier than the Hyundai IONIQ Plug-in hatch that shares most of its engineering. But you'll be paying about the same as you'd have to find for an entry-level version of the Volkswagen Golf GTE plug-in hybrid (a car which would give you much less equipment) and you'll be paying about £1,000 less than you'd have to find for a plug-in hybrid version of MINI's Countryman.
You can expect this Kia to be well equipped with lots of technology - things like a 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Plus there are safety features such as Blind Spot Detection with Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Lane Change Assist, Advanced Smart Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking. Kia's Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) system is fitted as standard, helping to ensure stability under braking and cornering by carefully controlling the vehicle's Electronic Stability Control and electric motor-driven power steering. If the system detects a loss of traction, VSM helps the driver to remain safely in control of the vehicle.
This Niro is fitted as standard with seven airbags for optimum passive occupant safety, with airbags for driver and front passenger, driver knee, first row side airbags and first and second row curtain airbags. ISOFIX child-seat tether and anchor points are fitted as standard to the second row of seats, to safely secure children.
Cost of Ownership
This Plug-in Hybrid variant puts out just 29g/km of CO2 and is supposed to be able to return an average fuel reading of around 217.3mpg - those figures based on NEDC calculations assuming that owners will be making full use of the 36-mile driving range potential provided by this variant's 8.9 kWh battery. That's significantly further than you can go in some other rival Plug-in models. A pricier Prius Plug-in, for example, offers a rated 30-mile range. Charging a Niro Plug-in Hybrid takes 2 hours 15mins using a 3.3 kW AC charger.
As with all Kias, this Niro is covered by a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty that's longer than any other car in the same class. This includes the battery and all of the parts that make up the hybrid power system. On to residual values, predicted to see this Niro retain between 56 and 58% of its original price when it reaches the three-year old and 12,000-mile mark.
If you started out wanting to buy a Plug-in Hybrid, you probably weren't expecting to be considering a small Crossover. Get over it. Here's a contender that does a pretty good job in combining fashion and frugality and it's well worth your consideration.
Overall, this is a car that delivers on Kia's promise to develop its products with quality and segment-leading technology. That doesn't necessarily mean it'll be right for you, but there's no doubt of one thing: in terms of the kind of wishlist that a buyer in this part of the market might have, the Niro PHEV ticks a lot of boxes.