What are you driving?
The Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid, which is a fairly self-explanatory name. Last year we drove the first iteration of the Kia Niro compact crossover on Irish roads and that car was a traditional petrol-electric hybrid, or, as Toyota now calls it, a 'self-charging hybrid'. i.e. there's no way to charge up the battery from an external source. The new version of the Kia Niro, as the name suggests, is different. But it's not just a case of wiring in a charging port for the car, as the PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) version gets a bigger capacity lithium-ion polymer battery (8.9kWh, up from 1.56kWh) and a more powerful electric motor (up from 44hp to just over 60hp). The intention is for the Niro Plug-in Hybrid to be used for much longer periods on electric power alone. Kia claims it can go as far as 58 kilometres on a fully charged battery before the engine kicks in.
As before, the electric motor is partnered with a 1.6-litre petrol engine and all power goes to the front wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. There's just one equipment grade offered, and it's priced at €35,995 before you take into account the VRT rebate and SEAI grant.
Name its best bits
It might sound as if I am damning it with faint praise, but the Niro is an inoffensively attractive car to my eyes. The interior is larger than you might expect, too, with good room for five, and it's very well put together. That's conveyed by the hefty door handles and complemented by a noticeably well-equipped cabin. Included as standard is leather upholstery, climate control, rear-view camera, a seven-inch touchscreen multimedia system and much more.
Emphasising the quality feel is this car's refinement. Naturally, when running purely on battery power, it's quiet anyway, but crucially, even when the engine cuts in, it's not overly intrusive - and the transmission is butter-smooth in its gear changes.
While we didn't quite manage the same EV range as Kia quotes, it wasn't far off, and even when the battery charge was depleted, the car managed to use EV mode regularly in an urban environment, maintaining the electric car sensation.
Anything that bugs you?
Just like the original non-plug-in Niro, this one is entirely forgettable to drive. It's strangely disconnected feeling. Some won't notice or care, but we do. Other than that, the PHEV model loses a lot of boot space, nearly 100 litres, which could be significant, depending on the buyer.
What do the rest of the team think?
I think this is the best of the PHEVs I've yet driven. OK, so it's not a hot hatch, but it does get better than 60mpg even if you forget to plug it in, and the battery range is better than decent. Good quality too, and comfy inside.
Neil Briscoe, Editor-at-large
And why have you given it this rating?
We quite like the Kia Niro. It's well-equipped, even taking into account its relatively high purchase price, it looks good inside and out and feels very well made. Shame it distances the driver from the experience so much. Even so, there's no doubt that the PHEV version is the pick of the range.