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.

New Zealand LCV - - CONTENTS - Story: Dean Evans Pho­tos: Sup­plied

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...

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