Sipping as little as 1.3l/100km, with up to 3200km possible from just a 43-litre tank, Kia says its Niro is NZ’S most economical SUV – and at a reasonable price, too.
Kia’s hybrid electric SUV arrives, and it’s shockingly good (bad pun intended).
SMALLER THAN A SPORTAGE AND larger than a Soul, Kia’s new Niro claims the title as NZ’S most efficient SUV.
The headline model is the PHEV – Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle – which combines a conventional 1.6-litre petrol four-cylinder with a 96-cell battery, which it uses to drive up to 55km in electric-only mode, or a theoretical 3200km between fills of its 43-litre tank!
It’s no slouch, either, with 0-100km/h in 10.8 seconds, top speed of 172km/h and solid handling thanks in part to Michelin tyres across the range. And that’s the key feature of the Niro: it performs, handles, weighs and cost the same as a normal compact SUV, but uses substantially less fuel. Or no fuel, in EV mode.
The headline fuel number from the plug-in electric model does require a little effort. Along with petrol in the tank, the battery needs external-sourced charging. Two chargers are included: for a standard domestic three-pin plug, which takes around four hours to fully charge at eight amps, includes a heat-sensitive plug which shuts down if it’s overloading a circuit; or a Type 2/three-phase cable, which pumps in 16 amps (though it can accept up to 32A), for a full charge in 2.5 hours.
Niro can drive up to 55km in electric EV mode, before needing a recharge, which takes between 2.5 and four hours.
It’s no slouch, with 0-100km/h in 10.8 seconds for the plug-in, or 11.5 seconds for the entry level HEV.
The Niro also uses a simpler parallel hybrid system, similar to systems used by Hyundai and VW, which sandwiches the electric motor between the engine and gearbox, enabling a smaller, lighter and cheaper system, at the expense of long-distance efficiency.
While driving, the system is effectively seamless and invisible. There are displays which show where power is being fed to/from, and a small green EV light when in electric mode either automatically (in the two HEV models) and/or manually in the plug-in PHEV.
But while the PHEV may take the headlines, it’s the Hybrid HEV that will sell more, with early sales figures suggesting the Hybrid – in EX or LTD specs – outsells the $15,000 price-premium PHEV ten-to-one.
And it’s easy to see why: the EX’S $39,990 is targeted right at the rapidly growing under-$40k compact SUV market, and is extremely well equipped with all the increasingly expected mod-cons such as Smart Cruise Control, reverse camera and a big touchscreen display. Its slick 0.29Cd helps achieve 3.8l/100km, for up to 1200km per 45-litre tank. It uses one-third fewer batteries than the PHEV, and doesn’t need an external charger, but does get a little more boot space.
Dimensionally, Niro’s 4.35m length is 12.5cm shorter than a Sportage, but its 2.7m wheelbase is 3cm longer, so there’s plenty of room inside, including the rear seats.
Though it doesn’t get the Ev-only mode, the HEV is easily the pick of the range, and with Kia offering a temporary introduction price of $34,990, that’s a very appealing compact SUV.
Energy isn’t free, and even electric vehicles cost money to refill, but Kia has done a lot of permutations and calculated its PHEV costs $3 per 100km to run, which it says is a few dollars less than even the Tesla Model X SUV.
Kia’s Niro represents another step forward in the feasibility of hybrid electric vehicles, and puts it all into a compact SUV. With a five-year warranty, and seven years on the battery, Kia’s Niro isn’t just the future of compact SUVS, it’s the right now.
Plugging in is reserved for the top-spec model only, but charges take between 2.5 and four-hours, depending on the amp rating from the domestic or commercial outlet.
Identifying the Hybrid versus the Plug-in isn’t easy, with a range of mix & match wheels. Easiest spot is the charging flap on the passenger-side front guard. The engine is a conventional 1.6 petrol engine, but the orange wires give the game away that...