Long-term tests

Long-term test review: Kia Niro

Final report: clever Kia Niro hybrid offers an interesting glimpse into the future of motoring

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

It seems we’ll all be driving hybrids soon, and the Niro proves there’s no reason for alarm at that prospect. Whether you should choose this particular one right now is less clear-cut. Away from the company car lists where the low-emissions Niro is at its strongest, it faces some tough competition – but buyers who discount Kia’s hybrid option could well be missing out on a solution that suits them down to the ground.

Mileage: 6,995Economy: 47.5mpg

Give it another decade or so, and every new car that isn’t a full EV will be a hybrid of some description.

At least, that’s the stated aim of many of the world’s top automotive makers. Should we be living in fear of this rapidly dawning new age of electrical assistance? Well, ‘frightening’ certainly isn’t an adjective that leaps to mind when considering the hybrid Kia Niro we’ve been running on our fleet.

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Far from it; this is a car that we’ve gained a healthy respect for during its time with us. Its general ease of use has been a highlight – and while battery-impacted boot space of 373 litres is a major drawback, overall Kia has created a competitive compact crossover that also happens to be a hybrid.

The Niro needs to persuade car buyers that the time to take the plunge and buy a hybrid is right now, not at some point in the future when emissions legislation removes the choice from our hands.

The hybrid powertrain might not be the magic bullet for your fuel bills that you expect, though. We have to admit the 47.5mpg we’ve been averaging falls a little below expectations, even though it’s a strong return in real-world driving. Over longer trips the Niro seems to perform better, with close to 60mpg possible on extended motorway runs.

So it’s probably fair to say that the Niro squares up to alternatives on the cost front without landing a knockout blow. What about the actual ownership experience, however? Well, the hybrid powertrain encourages a relaxed style of driving, as the DCT transmission doesn’t respond well to enthusiastic throttle inputs. Conform with this, though, and the Niro is easy to use and runs on electric power only frequently enough in town. It’s a different experience and one many drivers will enjoy.

We admit the interior design lacks a bit of flair; a complaint that could also be levelled at the exterior. Otherwise, build quality is up to scratch, the controls are logically laid out and there are plenty of storage options in the cabin.

A mixed bag, then, but a car that we’ll miss having on the fleet regardless.

Kia Niro: third report

Mileage: 4,034Economy: 52.5mpg

If Kia were planning a commercial for the Niro, it could do a lot worse than replicate a Volkswagen Golf advert from the eighties. The one where a mechanic cures the Golf’s only rattle with a drop of oil on the sleeping passenger’s earring.

That’s because at a cruise, the Niro is remarkably quiet. It feels as though you could drive it through a library, and no one would be disturbed. It really is a remarkably relaxing car to drive over a long distance.

But more importantly, it seems as though Kia has launched the right model at the right time. With the hybrid Niro, it has a car that easily stands up to scrutiny from buyers switching from their diesels.

In this ‘2’ trim, shod with 16-inch wheels, the Niro is claimed to be capable of 74.3mpg. Naturally, I haven’t been able to come close to that, but on long journeys 60mpg is easily achievable – a real-world figure that betters some diesel alternatives.

It’s not as if it has any vices in other areas, either. Those wheels – fitted with easily changeable plastic trims – do a good job of insulating the occupants from much of the noise and vibration from the road surface. The suspension is supple, too, thanks in part to Kia’s concerted effort to ensure the Niro is a car built for comfort.

Its ability to cover most low-speed round-town driving using the batteries and electric motor alone is impressive, and it’s virtually silent when doing so. Accelerate hard and the 1.6-litre petrol engine makes itself known, but it’s not harsh. The Niro’s seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox keeps engine noise to a minimum compared with CVTs fitted to hybrids such as the Toyota Prius. 

Its 11.1-second 0-60mph time makes short slip roads a little bit of a challenge, even when the Sport mode is engaged. Although not exactly an appropriate name – there’s little sportiness in the Niro – Sport does endow it with better throttle response and changes the gearbox shift points.

Once up to a cruising speed, the Kia is still very quiet, and is reasonably adept at swift overtakes. But unlike other hybrids I’ve driven, it doesn’t require a new driving style. Yes, it helps to brake early and gently to regenerate as much power as possible, and knowing when the motors and engine switch operation is helpful. Truth be told, much of this is simply good practice for economy whatever the engine.

It helps that the Niro is happy to buzz round on electricity alone, without switching to petrol power too soon. Kia doesn’t quote an electric-only range, but I’ve managed to get close to three miles before the engine cuts in. 

Where it’s not quite as relaxing concerns transport for my young family. While it’s easy to install child seats in the rear, and the doors are sufficiently wide for decent access, the boot isn’t quite as useful for storing large prams and other paraphernalia families need to carry.

I found the boot too narrow, due to the wheelarch intrusions, and not quite deep enough to carry my newborn baby’s prams. 

That, coupled with the pull-out luggage cover which often snags, plus limited underfloor storage, make the boot the Niro’s weakest suit as family transport.

Kia Niro: second report

Mileage: 1,667Economy: 47.5mpg

Eagle-eyed readers will notice that there’s something different about our long-term Kia Niro. That’s because we’ve had to swap the Temptation Red car that made its debut on the Auto Express fleet for an identical car, bar the obvious change to White Pearl metallic paint.

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The change came as a result of a mystery problem that emerged after just 600 miles in our original Niro, which Kia thought worthy of additional investigation. On starting the car, a whiff of petrol fumes would quickly enter the cabin, and when the engine was cold, it would hesitate under acceleration and had a lumpy idle. Once up to temperature, the problem would go away.

This meant a trip to the dealer was necessary, so I booked the car into Essex Auto Group in Southend for the issue to be examined. A faulty oxygen sensor was picked up by EAG’s diagnostic software, but replacing it failed to cure the problem.

Even a comprehensive engine stripdown and calls back and forth between EAG and Kia’s technical centre proved fruitless. In the end, Kia asked to take the car back.

I was glad when its replacement arrived. I’m not too taken with the pearlescent paint, but elsewhere, this second Niro is just as easy to drive as the first, and, more importantly, it’s easy to drive economically.

This is a hybrid, so it’s all about maximising what the powertrain can offer – which is a lot. The Niro is more willing to drop into EV mode than most other petrol-electric cars I’ve driven, while the combustion engine doesn’t kick in as soon as you go near the accelerator. Try as I might, I’ve not been able to fully deplete the battery’s charge, and as Kia doesn’t publish a battery-only range figure, an electric- range challenge is planned for the future.

However, this could be difficult, given there’s no button to force electric-only progress. The Niro behaves like a normal petrol or diesel car when it comes to urban and motorway driving, so it’s more economical on a motorway than in traffic. From past experience I’ve had with a Lexus CT 200h, that’s the opposite of what most hybrids are capable of.

It’s obvious that the Niro’s more modern technology brings more electric assistance at higher speeds and for longer, making 60mpg on a motorway run easily achievable.

However, during the more common around-town grind I find myself in, the Niro dips into the forties. So far on test, I’ve managed an average of 47.5mpg, but I’m confident I can improve on that easily.

Talking of town driving, the Niro’s bluff shape and short overhangs make it an excellent urban car. The turning circle is impressively tight and its boxy shape makes it easy to get in and out of in tight spots.

But what’s not so impressive is the boot. For such a large vehicle, the Niro doesn’t make best use of its 373-litre load bay. It’s quite a bit smaller than crossovers like the Nissan Qashqai (430 litres), while its roll-back luggage-cover means accessing the boot is a two-step process.

Once it’s open, it just doesn’t seem that big; the only way I can carry my three-year-old daughter’s bike is by folding the rear seats forward, which is a bit disappointing for a family crossover. 

Kia Niro: first report 

Mileage: 832Economy: 51.2mpg 

Electric cars might be the flavour of the month, but until charging stations are fast enough – and plentiful enough – there will always be motorists who lack the confidence to take the plunge.

While EVs are generally recognised as ‘the future’, it’s not hard to understand the appeal of hybrids such as the Kia Niro that’s just joined our fleet, with its low tailpipe emissions and impressive on-paper fuel economy. Blending hybrid technology with a crossover body could well be enough to give the Toyota Prius (the world’s biggest-selling hybrid) a bit of a scare.

Kia isn’t messing about with its first-ever dedicated hybrid. The Niro promises much: up to 74.3mpg and a low 88g/km CO2 output all wrapped up in a practical bodyshell that slots neatly between the Cee’d hatchback and Sportage crossover in size.

Yet while those models are strikingly handsome, the Niro is rather more prosaic. It’s not ugly; it simply lacks visual impact. Fortunately, it’s rather more impressive underneath, using an all-new platform developed exclusively for electrified vehicles.

Under the bonnet sits a 104bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine and a 43bhp electric motor, driving the front wheels through a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, rather than the kind of CVT auto more commonly found in hybrids. Performance isn’t dazzling; the Niro takes 11.1 seconds to cover 0-60mph, while top speed is a mere 101mph. What’s of more interest to would-be owners, though, is its economy.

My average has fallen from an initial 63mpg to 51mpg over the first 800 miles, which is still respectable. However, some rough acceleration has indicated a problem and is about to prompt a visit to the dealer.

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Unusually, there was no need to dig deep on the options list when we placed our Niro order. David Charlson, dealer principle at Romford Kia in Essex, outlined the standard spec, which includes a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with sat-nav, Bluetooth and DAB, Android Auto connectivity and a rear parking camera. That’s a fair level of kit fitted to a relatively spacious car costing £22,795. The options are limited as a result; £545 Temptation Red metallic paint is our test car’s only non-standard item.

This equipment contributes towards the Kia’s trump card: its everyday usability. It’s easy to drive, while the hybrid powertrain delivers decent performance and a relaxing feel helped by the electric motor’s assistance, adding extra torque off the line for a smooth getaway. Visibility is excellent, and apart from a bit of wind noise the Niro is quiet and relatively refined on the move.

The ergonomics are good, too, so getting in and out is easy, while the doors open wide to aid the fitting of child seats. Perhaps the only problem is the boot. At 373 litres with the underfloor storage, it’s certainly not small, but it’s tall rather than deep. On a big family shop, you may find yourself stacking bags on top of each other.

*Insurance quote (below) provided by AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old living in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

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