Kia Niro review: 3.0/5

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Kia takes on the Toyota Prius and hybrid C-HR with its crossover-styled Niro.

Neil Briscoe

Words: - - @neilmbriscoe
Pics: Max Earey - @MaxEarey

Published on: March 11, 2017

Words: - - @neilmbriscoe
Pics: Max Earey - @MaxEarey

Published on: March 11, 2017

Tech Specs

Model testedKia Niro EX ADAS
Price€31,295 as tested; range starts at €30,595
Hybrid system1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol plus electric motor and lithium-ion battery
Transmissionsix-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, front-wheel drive
Body stylefive-door, five-seat crossover
CO2 emissions88g/km (Band A2, €180 per annum)
Combined economy74.3mpg (3.8 litres/100km)
Top speed162km/h
0-100km/h11.5 seconds
Power141hp at 5,700rpm
Torque265Nm at 1,000- to 2,400rpm
Boot space427 litres rear seats up, 1,425 litres rear seats down
Euro NCAP rating with safety packfive stars; 91 per cent adult, 80 per cent child, 70 per cent pedestrian, 81 per cent safety assist
Without safety packfour stars; 83 per cent adult, 80 per cent child, 57 per cent pedestrian, 59 per cent safety assist

Good: frugal, comfortable, of high quality

Not so good: not much fun to drive, needs extra safety pack for top NCAP result

The Niro (and we think it's supposed to be pronounced as if it were a former emperor of Rome - Neee-row) is part of Kia's big push on more ecologically friendly vehicles, along with sister brand Hyundai. They are planning to launch dozens of fuel-sipping or all-electric cars between now and 2020, and we've just this week witnessed the unveiling of the plugin hybrid version of the Niro at the Geneva Motor Show.

Certainly, if you're aware of the discussions currently going on at governmental level about what's to be done with troublesome diesel, then the prospect of an economical hybrid petrol car is a tempting one, especially if it's wrapped up in a trending SUV(ish) body as it is in the Kia Niro. If nothing else, it gives the Niro a bit of separation between itself and its Hyundai cousin, the Ioniq hatchback

Both cars use the same 1.6-litre petrol engine, strapped to the back of which is a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and an electric motor, which is fed juice from a lithium-ion battery. Combined, the system pumps out a reasonable 141hp, has impressive CO2 emissions of just 88g/km and an official fuel economy figure of 74mpg. So far, so diesel-beating - although in reality you're going to be getting more like 45-50mpg in daily driving. 

The Niro is certainly easier on the eye than a Prius too - a neatly-drawn estate-cum-SUV body that feels reminiscent of the first-generation Subaru Forester in execution, if not design. Inside, it's made of very high quality stuff, comes with a standard equipment list that includes a nice seven-inch touchscreen (with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto) and generally feels well screwed together. The front seats are a little bit on the flat side, and could do with more support for longer journeys, but there's good space in the rear seats and, by hybrid standards, a respectable 427-litre boot out the back.

You will need to spend extra on your Niro if you want the safest one though. The basic EX model lacks autonomous emergency braking, with pedestrian detection, so you'll have to stump up an extra €700 to get the EX ADAS model. That brings a jump of one star in the Euro NCAP rating and significantly enhanced safety. 

Either way though, you're not getting a great car to drive. Whereas Toyota has made its Prius feel much more responsive and reactive of late (and the Toyota C-HR feels almost like a hot hatch), the Niro seems to assume that anyone driving a hybrid cares neither for steering feel nor chassis response. I haven't felt steering that seems this disconnected since my misspent youth feeding 50p pieces into Atari F1 arcade games. There really does seem to be only a causal relationship between the steering and the driving wheels, and when you do spin the rim hard enough to elicit a response, the chassis lurches and heels over like a trawler that missed the shipping forecast. Fun, it's not, but even if you don't think that a hybrid should be especially fun, there's no argument that says it should be this sloppy.

Which is a shame. The Kia's hybrid system is roundly impressive, and worth a look if you drive exclusively at low speeds and in town. That's not because it won't get impressive fuel economy on longer journeys, as it will. It's because on country roads, at anything approaching normal pace, the handling just can't cope. We need more and more frugal non-diesel options now, as the clampdown on diesel fuel and diesel fumes is gathering pace. Hybrids like the Niro represent the best alternative until either the electric or hydrogen revolution gathers proper pace.

Alternatives

Car Reviews | Hyundai Ioniq | CompleteCar.ie
Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid vs. Kia Niro: same drivetrain and (sadly) similar handling, but it's less practical than the Niro.

Car Reviews | SEAT Ateca 1.4 TSI | CompleteCar.ie
SEAT Ateca vs. Kia Niro: you can get a 1.0-litre TSI petrol model - a turbocharged three-cylinder in a big SUV? Madness, perhaps, but a good diesel alternative for city dwellers. 

Car Reviews | Toyota C-HR Hybrid | CompleteCar.ie
Toyota C-HR Hybrid vs. Kia Niro: smaller inside than the Niro, but vastly better to drive and the hybrid system is pretty much as good.

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