Kia's second generation Niro Hybrid is an electrified small SUV with a much sassier look. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Ten Second Review
Kia's Niro Hybrid gets a sharper look - and sharper technology in this second generation form. As before, the car remains a mix between a family hatch and a Crossover, but this time round is a little larger and quite a lot more sophisticated. Expect this self-charging model to continue to figure amongst Kia's top sellers.
Once upon a time, Kia was a value-orientated budget brand. Then it started making high quality cars and promised that one day, those models would feature cutting-edge styling and market-leading technology too. We're now living in that era and it's epitomised by this car, the brand's second generation Niro Hybrid.
The Niro model line goes back to 2016, when it was launched as Kia's Crossover take on partner brand Hyundai's trend-setting IONIQ hatch. Like that car, the original Niro was eventually offered with Hybrid, Plug-in Hybrid and full-Electric powertrains. All were well received, hence 300,000 global sales and the elevation of the Niro to a position as Kia's second best UK seller.
This slightly larger MK2 model, announced in late 2021, remains a token Crossover in looks but as you can see is far more eye-catching. And, as before, is available in Plug-in Hybrid and full-Electric forms if you want something more sophisticated than this more affordable self-charging Hybrid. The Hybrid version's our focus here though. Repackaged but, as we'll see, very recognisable in essence to loyal customers joining Kia on its gradual journey up-market. Should it be high on your shopping list if you're seeking a contender of this kind?
Despite the sassier looks, this Niro Hybrid is still very much the sensible steer it's always been, which will probably suit the market just right. Very little of this second generation model's engineering has changed. There's still basically the same Smartstream 1.6-litre GDI petrol engine Kia's been using for a decade, mated to the same 6-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox driving the front wheels with the assistance of an electric motor. That's pretty much the same too, developing 43bhp (as before) but unfortunately the tiny battery that powers it isn't, reduced in size to 1.32kWh (down from 1.56kWh before), which means it's even less likely to ever power the car on its own.
That's not the point with a self-charging Hybrid model like this of course; the little battery's there to reduce the load on the engine, not to substitute for it - in the way that the much larger 11.1kWh battery on the alternative Niro Plug-in Hybrid can. But that much pricier 180bhp model isn't our focus here. Niro Hybrid customers must be content with a more modest 139bhp output that delivers 62mph in 10.8s en route to 102mph. There's not much pulling power (especially with the default 'Eco' drive mode engaged), which means overtakes must be planned well in advance. And you certainly won't want to be throwing this car about through the turns, where you'll notice a bit of body roll and the anaesthetised steering. But it's great in town, with decent ride quality and refinement that's also a boon on the highway. Kia's served up plenty of new drive tech too.
Design and Build
Confident. That's the word which brings to mind the first time you set eyes on this second generation Niro. This Kia's grown a little this time round, 4,420mm long and standing 1,570mm high, which makes it 65mm longer and 10mm taller than before. But it still can't quite make up its mind whether it wants to be a Crossover (suggested by the roof rails, these wide lower side rubbing strips and the wheel arch cladding); or a family hatch (which is probably what you think this car was if those features were removed).
Big wheels also fit the fashion remit - you get smart 18-inch alloys, providing you avoid the base model with its weedier 16-inch rims. The final touch is probably the most eye-catching - the option of a colour-contrasted so-called 'Joy for Reason' C-pillar design, which you only get with top '4'-spec trim level and which comes in either 'Steel Grey' or in 'Black Pearl'. Kia insists this feature isn't just there for fashion - it stands proud of the bodywork, supposedly improving aerodynamic efficiency.
The front showcases Kia's current 'Opposites United' design ethos, complete with angular 'heartbeat' daytime running lights and a signature 'Tiger Face' grille which is now more decorative than functional.
Inside, absolutely nothing's been carried over from before and there's a considerably higher feeling of quality, particularly in the highest-spec version which decorates the angular dash with twinkling twin 10.25-inch screens. Design touches borrowed from other recent Kias include a circular gear controller and a central touch-sensitive strip, which hosts either the climate controls or the infotainment system hotkeys, depending which of its two display settings you've chosen. All the right eco boxes are ticked too, thanks to a cabin headliner made from recycled wallpaper and faux-leather upholstery fashioned from a 'bio PU' material containing healing eucalyptus oil. As with the previous generation Niro, the seating position is a fraction higher than the norm and across the range, the seats are well upholstered and supportive for longer journeys. There's plenty of cabin storage space too.
It feels almost EV-like in the back, with more leg room than you'd get in any other class rival. Headroom's good too, even with a sunroof fitted. And the centre transmission tunnel's not too prominent, so if you had to fit three adults in the back for a short trip, it'd probably be easier than would be the case with most cars in this class.
Battery placement makes quite a difference to boot capacity across the Niro range. Because it's under the rear seat in this Hybrid model and doesn't encroach into the cargo area, there's a very class-competitive 451-litre capacity figure. The rear bench doesn't offer a ski hatch or a 40:20:40-split. But at least when the 60:40-split backrest folds, it falls down nearly flat, freeing up 1,445-litres of space.
Market and Model
As you'd expect, this Hybrid version of the Niro is your least expensive way into this model line and, as with the accompanying Plug-in Hybrid and EV models, is available in Kia's usual three trim levels, '2', '3' or '4'. From launch, Hybrid pricing started from just over £28,000; from there, there's an increment of around £3,000 each time you progress up a trim level.
Niro models with the two other available drivetrain options aren't our focus here, but for reference, if you want one of those, you'll need to spend quite a bit more. To graduate from this Hybrid to the Plug-in Hybrid Niro would require around £6,000 more from you; to go from this Hybrid to the full-battery Niro EV would require around £8,500 more. Even when you take the lower running costs of these two more electrified Plug-in variants into account, it's hard to imagine too many cost of ownership scenarios in which this ordinary self-charging Hybrid version didn't come out top. Kia expects it to account for 40% of Niro sales.
If, having considered all of this, you conclude that it is a Niro Hybrid that you really want, then you're going to need to know just how generous Kia has been with the standard spec - so let's take a look at that now. Starting with the features you can expect to find across the Niro range. Tick off automatic LED headlights, LED daytime running lights and taillight clusters, a rear spoiler, roof rails, skid plates front and rear, rear solar glass, electrically heated door mirrors, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera. Plus you get Smart Cruise Control with stop and go functionality: with many of the same cameras used for the very complete portfolio of camera safety equipment, which we'll cover off for you in a moment.
Inside, there's dual-zone climate control, an artificial leather steering wheel, a dual-height boot floor for extra versatility, and in the instrument binnacle, there's a 4.2-inch 'Supervision Colour Cluster Display' in the instrument binnacle. Media connectivity's taken care of by an 8.0-inch touchscreen central monitor with a six-speaker DAB audio system and Bluetooth, plus 'Android Auto' and 'Apple CarPlay' smartphone projection.
Cost of Ownership
This second generation Niro can make all the style statements it likes but if its cost of ownership figures don't stack up, then it won't sell. Fortunately, Kia's nailed this issue when it comes to this Hybrid version, which records 64.2mpg on the combined cycle and 100g/km of CO2. You'll need some segment perspective here: that's fractionally better than a Toyota Corolla 1.8-litre Hybrid (62.8mpg and 102g/km); and a lot better than either a Honda Civic e:HEV (56.5mpg and 110g/km) or a Nissan Qashqai e-Power (53.3mpg and 119g/km).
As with all full-Hybrids of this sort, the advantage over mere mild hybrid tech lies in the fact that the engine is able to run independently on battery power. Though in this case, not for very long, thanks to the combination of a near-1.5-tonne kerb weight, a relatively feeble 43bhp electric motor and the small size of the 1.32kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack that powers it.
As you'd expect, there are lots of dashboard drive tools to help you maximise economy. You'll need to regularly engage the 'Eco' drive mode of course and there's a Power Meter dial on the right of the instrument cluster, plus a selectable central Energy Monitor so you can see in real time what's being powered by what. A larger version of that Energy Monitor can be seen in the 'Hybrid' section of the centre dash infotainment display, along with average fuel economy, electric motor use and remaining battery percentage. That same screen's 'Settings' section has an 'Eco Vehicle' screen, which allows you to activate efficient 'coasting' and 'smart recuperation settings. Make good use of all of this and the results can be impressive. Even when driving this car really hard, we struggled to record less than 40mpg throughout our test.
This is a more confident Niro - from a now more confident brand. The idea here was clearly to lower this car's age demographic without alienating its core market and the changes made here should achieve that. Perhaps what's most significant isn't the trendier styling: it's that the more sophisticated K3 chassis has allowed a size increase sufficient to enable this second generation Niro to now (just about) function as an only car for eco-minded families. Which wasn't really something you could have really said about its predecessor.
Is it worth going beyond this self-charging Hybrid to the two plug-in Niro models? That's a difficult call, which will of course be influenced by all kinds of things - chief amongst them your bank balance, your priority on performance and your prevailing view on the current environmental zeitgeist. We'd merely suggest you think carefully before committing to the considerable extra spend required to plug your Niro in, particularly if your annual mileage in it is likely to be modest. What's impressive is that all three drivetrains are available in a single model line, allowing an easier choice of the eco route that's right for you.
In summary, as we've been saying throughout this test, behind the funkier looks of this second generation Niro Hybrid, much is as before, which is probably as you'd expect given that it's Kia's second best seller and there was little point in trying to change a winning formula. Car enthusiasts can move right along: there's nothing to see here. But if your reason for wanting a model of this sort is grounded in sense and sensibility, then you'll probably like this one very much.