Kia en­ter low-emis­sions game with the Niro

Irish Examiner - - Motoring -

AN­OTHER week, an­other hy­brid. It seems that you can­not travel too far in the mo­tor­ing world these days with­out trip­ping over one of these flavour-of-theminute green ma­chines.

In this case it is the Kia Niro PHEV — that’s plug-in hy­brid elec­tric ve­hi­cle, for those of you not keep­ing up with the pro­gramme — and it is one of a slew of elec­tric or faux elec­tric ve­hi­cles com­ing from the Kia/Hyundai con­glom­er­ate in the com­ing two years, or so we’re told.

And, for those of you who are not keep­ing up with the pro­gramme, there was a very in­ter­est­ing in­sert on the RTÉ news last week when Donal Byrne did a piece about the grow­ing in­flu­ence of hy­brids on the car sales mar­kets around Europe and es­pe­cially here in Ire­land.

With the Gov­ern­ment fall­ing well be­hind in its com­mit­ments to low­er­ing CO2 emis­sions and fac­ing EU sanc­tion as a re­sult, man­darins from var­i­ous de­part­ments are focussing on elec­tric and hy­brid cars as a means to achieving much bet­ter na­tional emis­sion fig­ures.

In­ter­est­ingly, how­ever, when Byrne in­ter­viewed Mark Tee­van, a Toy­ota Ire­land cor­po­rate spokesman and thus the voice of the com­pany which has cham­pi­oned the whole hy­brid deal as be­ing of mas­sive im­port to the planet, he was not nec­es­sar­ily ze­roed in on the fu­ture of hy­brid as a to­tally clean fuel source.

What was ev­i­dent from his words on the mat­ter is that Toy­ota (world­wide and not just here on our rapidly scorched isle) view hy­brid only as a step on the road to zero-emis­sion mo­tor­ing.

We know the Ja­panese gi­ant is in­vest­ing gazil­lions of yen on hy­dro­gen re­search and it is do­ing so in tan­dem with a host of other cor­po­rate be­he­moths in Ja­pan, in­clud­ing the elec­tric­ity, rail­way and gas util­i­ties, ship­ping man­u­fac­tur­ers, oil com­pa­nies and car mak­ers, among oth­ers.

So, as a step on the road to cleaner mo­tor­ing hy­brid is only go­ing to be with us for a com­par­a­tively short time as will elec­tric ve­hi­cles, be­cause nei­ther, frankly, is the long-term an­swer to the prob­lem. But with us they and the Kia Niro PHEV is as good an ex­am­ple of the genre as there is around right now.

All too many hy­brids look like some­thing left over on the sound­stage of a Star Trek lot, des­per­ately at­tempt­ing to ap­pear to be shinily fu­tur­is­tic and thrust­ingly mod­ern, but end­ing up be­ing gaudily anaemic. The Niro, in fair­ness, is none of these things and in fact looks rather more like a C-Seg­ment SUV should in this day and age — chunky and pur­pose­ful.

It is built on a new plat­form and fits some­where into the Kia range be­tween the Ceed and the Sportage, be­ing big­ger than the for­mer and smaller than the lat­ter, al­though it has a longer wheel­base than the Sportage al­low­ing Kia to claim classlead­ing in­te­rior space for the car.

It is a de­cent enough look­ing thing, very well equipped, rea­son­ably well priced (es­pe­cially when you add in the gov­ern­ment tax re­bate and the SEAI grant you are en­ti­tled to) and is rea­son­ably good to drive.

On the en­gine front, power comes from a mix­ture of a con­ven­tional 1.6 litre double over­head cam petrol four cylin­der en­gine and a lithium ion bat­tery, the com­bi­na­tion of which pro­vides some 139 bhp to the driven front wheels.

Some­what note­wor­thy is that the Niro PHEV utilises a six speed dual clutch au­to­matic rather than the CVT trans­mis­sion which seems to be de rigeur among hy­brids and, to be hon­est, this gives an in­creased el­e­ment of drive­abil­ity to this ma­chine, but still does not put it in boy racer ter­ri­tory.

With a 10.8 se­cond 0-100 kph time and a top speed of 172 kph this is a car which will suit peo­ple for whom rush­ing around the place is not a pri­or­ity. Hefty ap­pli­ca­tions of the loud pedal will be re­warded by the pow­er­plant(s) striv­ing man­fully to keep up with what the driver wants. On the whole, though, it is pretty re­fined by hy­brid stan­dards and noth­ing like as shouty as many.

On this note credit must be af­forded to Kia for the amount of work it has done to dam­pen noise com­ing from un­der the hood; spe­cially de­signed en­gine mounts, high den­sity un­der bon­net in­su­la­tion and a sound-dead­en­ing acous­tic shield are among the tricks they have suc­cess­fully adopted.

In­ter­est­ingly, Kia has also adopted a new Pre­dic­tive En­ergy Con­trol (PEC) sys­tem which uses the nav­i­ga­tion and cruise con­trol sys­tems to in­form the driver when to coast or brake and thus max­imise fuel con­sump­tion.

The util­i­sa­tion of this sort of tech­nol­ogy in­di­cates fur­ther that the Niro is aimed squarely at more ma­ture driv­ers who want ef­fi­are ciency more than they want show­man­ship.

And ef­fi­ciency is plen­ti­ful here. Al­though many hy­brid cars have dual per­son­al­ity on the econ­omy front — you’ll more of­ten than not only achieve the miles-per­gal­lon claimed by the man­u­fac­turer by driv­ing like you were a com­plete numpty. Not so here, as the Niro PHEV will ac­tu­ally re­turn some 5.5 l/100 km (50.1 mpg) on a reg­u­lar ba­sis and bet­ter will be achieved if you’re re­ally com­mit­ted.

Thus it may be that stuff like all-round in­de­pen­dent sus­pen­sion is per­haps a bit wasted on this car as a ma­jor­ity of pun­ters will never feel or credit the ben­e­fits in the ride and han­dling de­part­ment, but the fact re­mains that the car is equipped with very de­cent sus­pen­sion set-up which, oddly, is not re­ally nec­es­sar­ily needed given the pow­er­plant’s rel­a­tively weedy con­tri­bu­tion to af­fairs.

Equip­ping lev­els are good and all the in­fo­tain­ment stuff needed by to­day’s con­sumers is to hand. As for the in­te­rior in gen­eral, the feel, largely, is very pla­s­ticky, but at least the tac­tile el­e­ment is good and over­all qual­ity is not bad.

It has taken other com­pa­nies quite some time to get this hy­brid busi­ness any­where near to the point it pro­vides a de­cent driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, so Kia are to be ap­plauded for get­ting so much right so quickly, but there is still quite a lot of com­pro­mise on of­fer here and it will take time and pa­tience for peo­ple to get to grips with it.

And, of course, it re­mains to be seen for how much longer the whole hy­brid thing re­mains a vi­able lowe­mis­sion al­ter­na­tive — just ask Toy­ota.


The Kia Niro hy­brid is a PHEV, a plug-in hy­brid elec­tric ve­hi­cle, com­bin­ing a petrol en­gine and bat­tery power to de­liver 139bhp.

In gen­eral the feel of the Kia Niro In­te­rior is very pla­s­ticky, but at least the tac­tile el­e­ment is good and over­all qual­ity is not bad.

Equip­ping lev­els of the Kia Niro are good and all the in­fo­tain­ment stuff needed by to­day’s con­sumers is to hand.

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