Kia Niro Hybrid review
The latest Kia Niro’s technology, styling and practicality set it apart from the rest of the hybrid family cars on the market
- Smart looks
- More practical than before
- Comfortable and efficient
- Sluggish gearbox
- Road noise
- PHEV or EV models cheaper as company cars
|Car type||Fuel economy||CO2 emissions||0-62mph|
The first-generation Kia Niro was a runaway success for the South Korean brand, with over 70,000 registered in the UK alone. Though it must be said by the end of its life the popular family car looked and felt quite out of date. Thankfully, its replacement is a much sharper-looking machine inside and out that's available once again with a trio of electrified powertrains for you to choose from.
There’s the fully electric Niro EV and a plug-in hybrid version, too, but the Niro Hybrid is where it all began for Kia’s baby SUV and it’s one we’re focusing on here. Under the bonnet is an updated 1.6-litre petrol engine coupled with an electric motor for a total of 139bhp and 265Nm of torque, all of which sent through a six-speed gearbox to the front wheels. Kia says it’ll return up to 60mpg, while CO2 emissions have been cut to 107g/km for reasonably low running costs.
The ‘traditional’ non-plug-in petrol-electric setup is still the cheapest Niro variant you can buy, starting at a little over £28,000, which right now undercuts the electric Niro EV by over £8,000. However, both the plug-in models will be much cheaper to run, especially for company-car drivers due to their lower BiK ratings.
Regardless of what’s powering the Niro, the new car boasts much sharper looks than its predecessor, with little setting the hybrid apart from the plug-in hybrid and electric models at first glance. There’s a slim, chrome-trimmed grille up front, with distinctive boxy LED headlights adding character, while the rear gets a set of vertical boomerang tailights. Contracting C-pillars are also available on top-spec models if you want your Niro to stand out even more.
0-62mph takes nearly 11 seconds and generally the Niro Hybrid doesn’t like being hustled. The six-speed gearbox kicks down sharply if you floor the accelerator, sending the revs skyward, then hanging onto gears for far too long leaving you stuck with a harsh engine note. There’s also less low-down power than in either the plug-in hybrid or electric Niros, so the Hybrid isn’t as adept at swift overtakes or punchy acceleration when merging with motorway traffic.
The car feels better if you work with rather than against it, accelerating gently and lifting off in plenty of time for traffic lights and bends, allowing the strong regenerative braking to scrub off speed and replenish the small 1.32kWh battery in the process. Indeed, the strongest ‘Max’ setting pretty much lets you do all your driving without even brushing the brake pedal, once you’ve perfected judging when to back off the accelerator. Switching between the various regen strengths is easy thanks to the steering wheel-mounted paddles, and you even switch to the strongest mode temporarily by holding down the left paddle – handy for slowing down when exiting the motorway, for instance.
A gentler approach suits the Niro’s chassis and suspension, too, as it’ll roll quite noticeably if you try to attack corners like a rally driver. The upside is a comfortable ride that softens the frequent lumps and bumps encountered by UK drivers. Despite the fact that its platform has been lengthened compared to the old car, the new Niro still feels relatively compact from behind the wheel, as well as stable at higher speeds. However, over undulating roads the Niro’s ride can become quite bouncy, and at those higher speeds there is a fair amount of road noise – though neither issue is exclusive to the hybrid Niro.
The length increase is most evident inside, where there’s been a big improvement in passenger space. A slimmer front seat design has liberated more legroom for back-seat occupants and there’s plenty of headroom, too. Boot space has also increased from 382 to 451 litres, and the new model boasts some clever touches, such as a foldable parcel shelf that takes up less space when not being used.
Another big improvement found inside is the infotainment system. It’s one of the best systems on the market right now thanks to its intuitive user interface, plus wired Android Auto and Apple CarPlay come as standard, too. The base model gets an eight-inch touchscreen (pictured above), while higher-spec Niros feature a 10.25-inch unit that’s quick to respond and fills the dash more.
The instrument panel also changes depending on the exact specification: 2 and 3 spec cars come with a 4-inch panel, but upgrading to the top-of-the-range 4 trim gets you another 10.25-inch display – the same setup you’ll find in the larger Sportage SUV or fully electric EV6.
Kia has carried over some other cues from the flagship EV6, including its handy switchable panel for the climate controls and other shortcuts, plus a two-spoke steering wheel with physical buttons. The cabin design itself is a highlight of the new Niro, with ambient lighting on the dashboard and rising door panels swooping up to meet the bottom of the windscreen pillars. The fit-and-finish overall is excellent; there are a lot of plastics about the place, but key touch points like the steering wheel and indicator stalks do feel high quality.
It all adds up to make the Niro Hybrid a very attractive family-car option, particularly for private buyers to whom the company-car tax savings offered by the electric and plug-in hybrid variants don’t apply. The best value is to be found lower down the trim-level ladder, the mid-range 3 specification in particular. It comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, the larger central touchscreen, heated front seats and steering wheel, wireless phone charging and parking sensors at the front and rear. Plus, smart cruise control and a reversing camera. But if you splurge for the range-topping 4 trim, you get a host of goodies, such as a head-up display, heated seats all round, vented front seats, a powered tailgate, a powered sunroof and the pair of 10.25-inch screens.