Damien O’carroll finds Kia bucking the trend – in a pleasant way.
Kia’s Niro bucks the “weird” trend of both the electrified segment and the small SUV segment by aiming at “strictly conventional” with its design. Sitting in the same platform – and sharing its drivetrains – with the Hyundai Ioniq, the Niro is 125mm shorter and 50mm narrower than the Kia Sportage, but the wheelbase is actually 30mm longer. Inside there’s a single instrument cluster that combines a fuel gauge, battery charge meter and eco-driving assistant without being in the least bit flashy or interesting. Kia is bringing the Niro to New Zealand in three models: two with hybrids and a flagship plug-in hybrid that can cover 55km on pure electric power. All models have lithium-ion battery packs. The EX hybrid kicks off the range at $39,990 and features adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking and lanekeep assist. The higher-specification $43,990 LTD adds blind-spot warning, lane-change assist, rear cross traffic alert, front parking sensors and leather upholstery. The PHEV model is only available in LTD specification, gets the same equipment as the hybrid and costs $55,990. While there isn’t a pure-ev version of the Niro yet, it is almost certainly coming. All Niros are powered by a 1.6-litre direct- injection petrol engine and separate electric motor, with a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox and both powertrains have a combined output of 104kw/265nm. Sitting on its 16-inch wheels the hybrid EX achieves a combined average 3.8L/100km in the combined cycle, while the LTD on its 18-inch rims sees consumption rise to 4.4 litres. As a result, the PHEV LTD drops down to 16-inch alloys to be the super-eco model, with a combined average of just 1.3L/100km, which includes a full charge of electricity, remember. On the road you could never accuse the Niro of being a rocket – the hybrid gets to 100km/h in 11.5 seconds, while the PHEV manages it in 10.8 seconds, but it is actually a rather pleasant thing to drive because, unlike most other hybrids, it has a proper gearbox. The six-speed dual-clutch gearbox happily gets on with the business of being eco-friendly, while actually remaining rather engaging when you show a bit more enthusiasm as well. Extremely pleasant, thoroughly unthreatening and remarkably frugal (particularly in PHEV form), the Niro avoids the traditional pitfalls and excesses of both the Ev/hybrid and small SUV segments. It is in no way exciting, however.