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In-depth reviews

Kia Niro review - Engines, performance and drive

Designed with comfort in mind rather than driving fun, although the Niro EV has a decent turn of pace

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.5 out of 5

Engines, performance and drive Rating

4.0 out of 5

Price
£29,560 to £42,325
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Kia has improved the driving dynamics of the new Niro thanks mainly to the introduction of the new K3 underpinnings. The platform is shared with Hyundai, and Kia’s parent company has claimed the new architecture allows for better body control due to a lower centre of gravity. Whichever Niro you pick, it’ll feel much more stable and compliant in the bends than plenty of rivals. 

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In the corners, it’s fairly easy to reach the Niro’s limit, after which point you’ll find plenty of safe and manageable understeer. The steering is not particularly communicative, but it is accurate and has a reassuring weight to it, which can inspire confidence through corners.

On top of this, the seats are surprisingly supportive; there’s rather large bolstering at the sides so you’re never going to be flung out of them. In the Niro EV, it’s the same story but you do feel the extra weight of the battery in places. 

Due to its weight, the Niro EV is a bit more fidgety over ruts and bumps than the hybrids, but overall, the soft damping allows for smooth progress on most roads. There’s also little difference in comfort between the lower spec 16-inch wheels and the 18-inch wheels that come as standard on top-spec 4 models. Wind noise and tyre roar is kept to a minimum even at motorway speeds. 

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Two driving modes are available for the hybrids: ‘Eco’ and ‘Sport’. Credit to Kia, there’s a pretty noticeable difference between the two on the move. In Eco mode, throttle response is slowed and gear changes happen earlier to provide more efficiency. In Sport, the throttle response is sharpened and the Niro is keener to hold onto gears. Both have plenty of flexibility however so you don’t end up chopping between the two that often. 

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The Niro’s brakes don’t offer that much feel and you do have to press them quite hard to garner some stopping power. It’s likely down to the Niro’s weight translating into momentum, as at slower speeds around town they seem to perform better.  

The six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission in the hybrids can be a bit slow to change gear at times, and kicks down sharply if you floor the accelerator before sending the revs skyward, but it does a good job of providing smooth shifts the rest of the time. The manual override paddles in the PHEV are best left alone as they can be painfully slow to intervene. If you put your foot down in either hybrid, the engine noise can sound a bit gruff at first, but it slowly smoothes out the further up the rev range you go. 

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We wouldn’t go as far as to call the Niro fun. It’s still a small SUV designed for comfort and practicality over driving thrills, but it’s easy to develop confidence from behind the wheel. The Niro does well in tricking you into thinking it's a smaller car and it’s easy to develop confidence from behind the wheel. 

0-62mph acceleration and top speed

The Niro Hybrid comes with a 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine mated to a 1.32kWh battery and one electric motor. When combined they are good for 139bhp and 265Nm of torque. With power being sent to the front wheels only (as with all Niros), the Hybrid model manages the 0-62mph sprint in 10.8 seconds and goes on to a top speed of 101mph.

With less low-down power than the plug-in hybrid or electric Niros, the base hybrid isn’t as adept at swift overtakes or punchy acceleration when merging with motorway traffic, so it’s at its best when it’s not being hustled and you’re just pottering around town.

The Niro PHEV features the same petrol engine, except it comes with a 11.1kWh battery. The plug-in hybrid produces 180bhp and 265Nm of torque, which gives it a 0-62mph time of 9.8 seconds and a top speed of 100mph. The smaller 16-inch wheel of the ‘2’ trim level allows for a 9.6-second 0-62mph time and a 104mph top speed). 

The fastest Niro by far is the EV, thanks to its 201bhp electric motor which can propel from 0-62mph in 7.8 seconds and reach a 104mph top speed.

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