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Long-term tests

Kia Niro Hybrid: long-term test review

Final report: Our hybrid had more than its fair share of problems, but there was much to like, too

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

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Verdict

We can’t overlook major software problems, but that’s a shame, given that our Niro was good to drive, had lots of kit and was pretty efficient. We hope that the patch cures the issue, because we weren’t alone.

  • Mileage: 11,246
  • Economy: 50.5mpg

There are times, it must be said, when you have to look beyond a certain issue or problem with a car, and try to see the bigger picture. And that’s certainly been the case with our Kia Niro Hybrid, which has occasionally put us through the mill over the past six months, while still managing to demonstrate plenty of pleasing qualities.

To recap, Kia sells the Niro in three versions – full hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and highly rated EV. We elected to not be thrown at the mercy of the UK charging network, which would have been challenging, given the number of miles I rack up on a weekly basis. Instead we chose to see what sort of efficiency we could get out of the most transitional of the three, the full hybrid.

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This was, in fact, the first fleet car I’ve had that is not a purely combustion-engined offering. And I’m sure this is precisely the sort of scenario that lots of car buyers are going through – knowing that we need a car with some form of electrification, but cautious about sacrificing the petrol or diesel power altogether, just yet.

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The Niro certainly made a good first impression when it turned up at the Gibson house. This generation’s design moves the game on considerably from the first edition of the model, with plenty of sharp creases and a novel ‘blade’ that sits proud of the C-pillar. I’m told it’s functional and helps with aero efficiency, but I just thought it looked like a cool little detail.

The interior felt solid too, with better screens and technology – clearly influenced by larger and more expensive models in the Kia line-up, such as the Sportage and EV6. Our model didn’t want for equipment, either; the heated steering wheel was a boon as winter closed in, and the pair of USB sockets, built into the sides of the front seats but accessible from the rear, helped to cut down the mid-journey arguments about mobile phone charging. The outermost two back seats were even heated – a nice touch.

The Niro quickly settled into life as a camera-gear lugger too, and its parcel shelf was easily removable for quick access to the boot – ideal for occasional car-to-car shots.

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So a solid start. But then things started to go wrong – so seriously, in fact, that our first Niro had to go back because of a recurring problem in its hybrid system. Unfortunately, its replacement was far from infallible.

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There was clearly some software issue, because the problems were pretty random and hard to replicate. Soon after our second Niro arrived, it flashed up several warnings and advised us to take it to the dealership for a check-up. But when we did so, the messages disappeared and the car seemed to be running as normal.

Soon after, though, a photoshoot near Kimbolton, Cambs, proved a trip too far. I stopped to grab a coffee en route, but when I climbed back into the Kia, it refused to go into either reverse or drive because the hybrid system had packed up.

I rang Kia’s assistance service and they sorted me a call from the RAC. The technician was expected to take more than four hours to get to me (not stellar), but he rang me and suggested that I turn the car off for 25 minutes. Apparently I wasn’t the first to ring with this type of issue on this type of Niro – and the RAC has been getting a bit fed up at arriving, only to discover that the fault has cleared itself.

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Sure enough, after about half an hour, our Niro was back to full health. We’re told – again, by the RAC – that the problem can be cured by a dealer-installed software patch, but by this stage the car was nearing the end of its time with us, so it has gone back to Kia directly to have the work done.

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It’s doubly frustrating, because in many other ways, the Kia really delivered. It was comfortable on a long journey, easy to drive and pretty efficient too; I always averaged north of 40mpg and on many occasions it got more than 50mpg, which is decent for a car that you don’t plug in. As a transitional vehicle, I can see why it would make sense.

Kia Niro Hybrid: second report

Our Kia Niro Hybrid crossover is the perfect car for photographer Pete

  • Mileage: 8,726
  • Economy: 46.6mpg

It must be hard for car manufacturers when they come to replace a successful model. Admittedly, Kia’s first-generation Niro wasn’t exactly the biggest-selling vehicle in the world, yet it had its dedicated followers, drawn in by the wide choice of powertrains – hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure electric – offered across the range.

But as the miles pile on in our Niro Hybrid, I keep catching sight of the Korean car on my drive or in car parks and filling stations, and noting what an effective job Kia did of evolving such a solid formula. It’s a larger car than before, with a longer wheelbase that helps to deliver improved cabin space, and yet I think a lot of how it seems to have grown up is down to the styling details more than the overall increase in scale.

The car’s profile is basically the same as the old model’s, and the Niro’s sharp edges mean it still feels compact when you’re parking it. But the totally different front end and those narrow tail-lights, angled over the rear corners, give it a more planted look and, I would argue, a bit more premium appeal. 

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The raised ‘blade’ C-pillar, which sits proud of the rest of the bodyshell, is another element that becomes apparent to you when you get closer to the car – the sort of thing that lifts any model beyond the norm.

The Kia crossover is still doing a good job of transferring that grown-up appeal to the on-road experience. I’m a frequent user of motorways because they’re just the easiest, quickest way to get between the various photoshoots that Auto Express needs. 

In this respect, the hybrid version of the latest Niro is the perfect choice; I wouldn’t get enough of a benefit from the plug-in hybrid model, given the high mileages of my average journeys, and a Niro EV would spend far too much of its time at public charging stations for my liking.

The hybrid, on the other hand, feels entirely at home at motorway speeds – it’s a good example of how an electrified boost can really help what is a modest petrol engine. It never seems to struggle to keep up with fast-moving traffic, even with a boot full of camera kit, cleaning gear and often a hefty container of water for washing cars when photographing them on location.

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Efficiency has dropped a little bit in the colder weather, but I’m still seeing north of 45mpg from a car that I don’t have to plug in – and that figure creeps back up with reassuring haste the moment I leave the M1, M25 or M4 and switch to urban roads.

It’s not perfect, however. The recent cold snap has exposed how the Niro can struggle a little in low-grip situations. It’s still keen to use its electric motor where possible – which helps it to maintain as much of that efficiency as possible, not a given for many a hybrid in cold weather – but the instant torque delivery of this unit can catch out the front tyres on an icy surface. 

A switch to winter rubber from what is undoubtedly a set of eco-focused summer tyres would help improve grip and traction on slippery winter roads.

Kia Niro Hybrid: first report

A positive first impression of the new Kia Niro is spoilt by a transmission software glitch

  • Mileage: 1,509
  • Economy: 52.6mpg

No, you’re not seeing double. Our photo does indeed show two identical examples of the latest Kia Niro on the Gibson driveway. But one was on its way out, and the other is the car we’re going to be living with for the next few months.

We’ll explain why we’ve temporarily twinned our cars in a bit. But a proper introduction first; this Niro, the second-generation model, is yet another example of how Kia is right at the forefront of mass-market electrification. It’s a bit bigger than the car it replaces – something I’m keen to test during everyday use – and it’s still available with a comprehensive range of powertrains. Want a pure EV? Sorted. Think you can live with and make good use of a plug-in hybrid? Step this way.

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But the entry point to the Niro range is a hybrid, which offers milder electrification and more modest efficiency gains, but doesn’t need to be hooked up to a wallbox every night. And that’s what we have here. It packs a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine and a small electric motor for a combined total of 139bhp, and features a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and front-wheel drive.

As befits a base-level model, performance is respectable rather than stellar; 0-62mph needs 10.8 seconds. And while it can’t quite dip below 100g/km for CO2 emissions either, the official figure of 106g/km is still more than adequate for a car of its size.

If anything, it was the heavily revised cabin that made the best impression on me in the days immediately following our car’s arrival. The materials all feel much higher in quality than before, and I love the infotainment system, which seems to have been lifted straight out of the larger Kia Sportage and the far more expensive EV6.

I was looking forward to getting going, then – but our car had other ideas. After a few days I noticed that the Niro was beginning to hold on to first gear for a strangely long time, and it had a tendency to over-rev, even after I’d taken my foot off the accelerator. It juddered under braking too – and to tell the truth, it wasn’t the biggest shock to me when, late one Friday night, the engine warning light came on.

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Keen to get to the bottom of things – and keep our new arrival moving – I studied the Kia’s built-in vehicle diagnostics system. After a couple of minutes it informed me of an error in the transmission control, and advised me to contact an authorised dealer.

I needed the issue sorted sooner rather than later, so the following morning I took the Niro straight to Westdrive Braintree
– the dealer where I’ve had previous Kias fettled. As usual, the service was first class, as aftersales manager Andrew Peck put the car straight into the workbays to reflash the software and flush out the error messages.

We were duly handed back a fully functioning Niro, but Andrew did warn me as I jumped into the driver’s seat that, software reboot notwithstanding, there was a chance the issue could recur, especially if it were linked to the double-clutch gearbox.

The initial signs were positive, as I made it home with the Niro in good health. But sadly, the issue returned a few days later. This time, without a work trip pressing on my timeline, I elected to keep the car at home until Kia’s own engineers were able to have a look at it.

And that’s why you see two Niros on the driveway – because while waiting for this issue to be fully investigated, I’ve been given an identical car. It’s even conceivable that I may keep this one. It’s the same trim level as before; it has the same engine; it’s even the same colour. But thankfully, it appears to have no warning lights on.

Model:Kia Niro 1.6 GDi HEV 4
On fleet since:September 2022
Price new:£33,745
Engine:1.6-litre 4cyl petrol, 139bhp
CO2/tax:106g/km/£165
Options:None
Insurance*:Group: 21 Quote: £620
Mileage/mpg:11,246
Economy:50.5mpg
Any problems?

Software faults in hybrid system and tyre pressure monitor

*Insurance quote for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

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