The Kia Niro recently had a significant redesign, transforming the looks and the interior while retaining its low emissions.
It is no surprise that the first generation of the Niro was a hit. And it was even more so once a variety of hybrids arrived, along with the e-Niro, its all-electric version.
The new looks are somewhat controversial, with the grille now consisting of a thin line, headlights that sit unnaturally low and a larger lower grille that dominates the lower half of the front end.
The sides have a significant indentation in the lower doors, while the test car comes in bi-colour form, with the area behind the rear doors and at the bottom of the front doors covered in black.
At the rear, there’s a hefty roof spoiler and, at the bottom, some rugged panels to give it something of an off-road feel.
The e-Niro name has been dropped, but there’s still an all-electric version available with a 64.8kWh battery and 204PS.
The focus here, though, is on the hybrids. The plug-in hybrid (PHEV) features a 1.6-litre petrol engine and a much smaller 11.1kWh battery that puts out 183PS (217mpg and 29-36g/km CO2).
The self-charging version (HEV) contains the same 1.6-litre engine, delivering 141PS thanks to its electric motor, powered by an even smaller 1.32kWh battery (83mpg, 165g/km CO2).
The entry-level ‘2’ trim comes with 16-inch wheels, cloth upholstery, an eight-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and a 4.2-inch digital instrument cluster.
The ‘3’ grade jumps to 18-inch rims and a 10.25-inch infotainment screen, plus navigation and a wireless phone charger. You also get lumbar support for the driver, a heated steering wheel, heated front seats, and half-leather vegan upholstery.
Kia’s top-of-the-range ‘4’ trim gets full vegan leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, a relaxation passenger seat, and a powered tailgate. The car also boasts a head-up display, a tilt and slide sunroof, and a Harman Kardon premium sound system.
On the road, neither of the hybrids is incredibly sprightly. The PHEV gets to 60mph in 9.6-seconds, while the HEV manages it in 10.4-seconds.
There is little noticeable difference between the versions regarding how they cruise. But, the PHEV feels like it gets more of a shove off the line thanks to its larger electric motor.
There are various driving settings, and those keen to get a hurry on will want to use the Sport mode, which makes the accelerator pedal more responsive.
The automatic gearbox isn’t the hastiest to change down under acceleration, but the car’s performance ticks enough boxes unless you’re a thrill seeker.
When it comes to handling, the Niro performs fittingly, with an excellent weight to the steering in the bends. And, although there’s body roll in the corners, the grips levels are high.
The handling is helped by the suspension set-up, which is a comfortable midpoint between soft and firm, with the PHEV swaying towards the latter. But any increase in the PHEV’s handling ability is offset by the weight of the motor and batteries. Consequently, tackling twisty B-roads at speed isn’t its strong suit, but it’s not boring to drive.
Both variants are comfy cars, although the PHEV's firmer suspension means the HEV is more absorbing. Nevertheless, the suspension does a decent job of smoothing out imperfections in the asphalt.
Those prioritising the comfort levels will want to stick with the entry-level trim, which comes with smaller alloy wheels.
Noise from the wind, road, and engine are all well contained.
If you’re careful, you may get close to the 38 miles of all-electric range in the PHEV, although low 20s to early 30s is probably more realistic.
Inside, the cabin has had a complete revamp and looks far nicer than the old Niro. The design has been built around the shape of the panel that houses the infotainment screen and digital instrument display. Incidentally, the infotainment system is reasonably responsive and intuitive to use.
There is space aplenty inside the Niro due to the new version being bigger than the old model. It has increased legroom in the back, bettered even further by thinner front seats.
The improved room addresses one of the key criticisms of the outgoing Niro. It was too cramped in the rear to use its practicality as a small crossover SUV.
Three adults in the back are doable, while boot space has increased to 451 litres in the HEV and 348 litres in the PHEV. This capacity swells to 1,445 and 1,342 litres, respectively, with the rear seats collapsed.
The all-electric version is the one to go for if minimising company car tax is key. That said, the PHEV isn’t far behind and still offers decent savings.
The Niro is backed up by Kia’s widely recognised reputation for reliability and offers a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
The new Niro hasn’t yet been crash-tested by safety body Euro NCAP, but the former model scored a five-star rating when tested six years ago. However, this result was reduced to four stars if an assistance pack wasn’t fitted.
Thinking of making the switch to electric?
All variants of the Niro get smart cruise control, emergency stop signalling, lane-keep assist, and lane follow assist. Rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera, and collision avoidance assist are part of the package, too.
You also get front parking sensors in the mid-range ‘3’ trim, plus remote smart parking assist and blind spot detection in the top-of-the-range ‘4’ grade.
Overall, the latest Kia Niro is an appropriate step forwards from its predecessor, even though the power and handling characteristics remain largely the same.
The 2022 Niro is more practical than the previous one, but the looks, especially at the front, won’t be to everyone’s tastes and will divide opinion.
Nevertheless, the overhauled interior more than makes up for it.
Fast Facts – Kia Niro PHEV & HEV (‘3’ trim) as tested: