KIA Niro HEV2 Road Test

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The self contained hybrid is now nothing new. But to date whilst they work to a degree, the petrol-electric combination still has someway to go. Where the all in one appeal is in the physical fact that you don’t have to find or have a charger installed at home to refill the batteries or hope the one in town, your office’s business park or motorways services are free. In other words, you treat the self contained hybrid as a conventional car with economical and ecological benefits.


Part of Kia’s current range of electric and hybrid vehicles the Niro sits alongside the recently revamped and still more or less unique Soul EV and the new plug-in Optima saloon. Capitalising on the market’s almost insatiable appetite for SUV styling, the Niro’s aerodynamic crossover styling ensures the car’s multi-segment appeal. And as a small to medium sized estate the fact the Niro isn’t based on an existing Kia model also increases model interest, emphasising the point that Kia hasn’t just plumbed an electric motor into an existing design.


Sporting Kia’s now familiar ‘Tiger Nose’ grille and stylized LED front lights, the sculpted sides, sloping roofline accentuated by chromed window detailing, high waistline, arch protection and deep rubbing strip add the contours that culminate in a slab like rear tailgate, the almost square section broken up by elongated but small for the area they occupy, tapering rear light clusters. Sat on 16” alloys and 205/60 low friction Michelin Green-X Energy rubber, the Niro sits on conventional MacPherson struts, coils and gas dampers plus an anti-roll bar at the front, multi-link and double wishbones plus another anti-roll bar at the rear.


In ‘2’ spec the cabin’s cloth interior is spacious and comfortable, 60:40 split rear seats although the 425 litres of cargo space is impinged upon due to the physical fact the lithium-ion batteries live above the rear axle, their placement also ruling out the Niro’s ability to tow. A 7” touch screen takes care of the JBL 6-speaker music system, satnav and colour reversing camera along with some of the Niro’s various onboard readouts. Controlled via the multi-function leather sports steering wheel, it’s when you start the car that the instrumentation takes on a less than conventional character.


With a conformist speedo on the right and Kia’s now familiar central readout, the rev counter has been replaced with a dial that lets you know if your driving using power, that you’re as eco as possible or that you’re style of driving is charging the batteries. You’ll also find two fuel gauges, one telling you how much unleaded remains in the 45litre tank the other as to how electricity the batteries contain.


Between the smaller readout and the central screen the driver is able to monitor fuel consumption, the direction of flow of energy, when the batteries are being recharged and as to how green their driving is courtesy of the Eco Level meter and the digital ‘tree’. All very informative and a visual reference as to whether you’re making the most of the Niro’s fuel and environment friendly abilities, the downside is that if you aren’t careful you’ll become paranoid about it all, your attention directed towards the various displays and not the road ahead.


Under the bonnet Kia has neatly squeeze both of the Niro’s engines, a 104hp, 1,580cc, 4-cylinder petrol that displaces 147Nm of torque and a 32kW or 43hp electric motor, the pair effectively working both individually, in line and together via a 6-speed DCT automatic transmission. You don’t so much start the Niro you turn it on. When cold the petrol will kick in immediately or if warm and with plenty of electrical charge, just the electric motor will provide the initial motive power.


Dependant on the various demands the petrol unit will cut in once the Niro exceeds 20mph or once electrical power drops below approximately half will self-start as a generator, the facility occasionally interrupting the stop-start system. At higher speeds such as on the motorway both engines will run together, each one complimenting the other, the battery power being topped up when on a light throttle, braking or running down hill, the various gauges keeping you more than appraised as to the immediate state of motive affairs.


Kia suggests that their Niro is capable of over 70mpg whilst high 60’s are more than achievable with careful and judicious driving. But whilst the car is more than capable of returning impressive fuel saving figures, once you’ve been able to divorce yourself from the constant monitoring of consumption and energy flow, driven normally under the mixed motoring conditions we all encounter everyday, the Niro easily returns an average of 56.4mpg, the combined 147hp giving the car a passable 11.1 seconds 0-60mph and a top speed of 101mph.  


General all round visibility is good; the ride is noticeably smooth, even severe road irregularities failing to upset the Niro’s equilibrium. The steering is well weighted with a 2.6 turns lock-to-lock 5.3 meter turning circle making the solid feeling Niro easy to maneuver and relaxing to drive, all in all the hybrid Niro a competent petrol-electric car that significantly advances both the principle and the concept.


Complete with Kia’s usual 7-Year/100,000 mile warranty and KIAssist roadside assistance the base model Niro ‘1’ comes in at £21,295, the ‘2’ as tested £22,795 whilst the range topping ‘3’ is £25,045. With the 16” wheels fitted the Niro’s low Co2 figure of 88 places it in the zero road taxation class moving up to the optional 18” rims increases the Co2 to 101 or just into the £20 bracket. Please note, these were the figures at the time of writing, the new road tax figures due to be introduced in April 2017 will reclassify the Niro, the fact the car has a petrol engine meaning it now generates pollution and will be taxed accordingly.


Governmental interference and money making schemes aside, Kia’s Niro is a comfortable, practical, efficient and very usable hybrid. It works well and is tangible proof that this system actually can be made to work efficiently given the current scientific boundaries. And whilst all manufacturers are pushing as hard as possible to develop this technology, as it stands Kia could possibly be considered as leading the way.                  


     

By; Mark Stone




KIA Niro HEV2 Road Test