There’s something familiar about the Niro, but it’s an all-new car. Sitting perilously close to the Sportage, but nevertheless at the foot of Kia’s SUV range, the jacked-up hatchback is the first car Kia has designed solely to be a hybrid.
As a result, almost every single thing about the Niro is new. There’s a new chassis supporting a new powertrain, all covered by a completely new body. Only a few interior trimmings have come straight from the Kia parts bin.
At launch, the only engine option is a 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol unit assisted by an electric motor, although Kia is promising a plug-in hybrid for 2017.
LOOKS AND IMAGE
At first glance, the Niro is unmistakably a Kia — that tiger-nose grille and the slanting lights ensure it sticks to the brand’s signature ‘face’ — but placing it is a little more difficult. Is it a jacked-up, beefed-up Cee’d? Or is it a shrunken Sportage?
Either way, it’s reasonably good looking, but the fact that it looks like so many cars rolled into one somehow takes away any personality that was lurking in there.
Inside, it has that same familiar-yet-new look, which has come as a result of pinching important parts such as the infotainment system from the Sportage, but adding its own bespoke panels.
Despite the fact it has lifted so much from its stablemates, though, it’s remarkably well built, although when you search lower down the cabin, you’ll find quite a few cheap, hard plastics lurking.
SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
The Niro is very marginally larger than the 500X it competes with, but only by a few centimetres.
Nonetheless, that difference, combined with the Kia’s less wantonly stylish body and better packaging, means the Niro is the roomier car. The most obvious sign of this comes when you open the tailgate. There’s a 373-litre boot back there, which is 23 litres larger than the Fiat’s. Take the underfloor tray out, however, and you can up that to 421 litres.
You’ll find a tad more room in the rear, too, where two reasonably tall adults could sit in relative comfort thanks to a more generous helping of rear headroom than you’ll find in many crossovers.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Hybrid cars are often associated with refinement, but oddly enough, the Niro doesn’t actually major on quietness. In fact, despite its near-silence on inner-city roads, there’s a lot of tyre roar on the motorway, not to mention the drone of the engine.
Of course, this isn’t helped by the fact the Niro’s combination of electric and petrol power only affords it 139bhp, which means you have to work it quite hard just to achieve a sensible cruising speed. But even if you do push it, it’ll take a while to gather pace. The sprint (if you can call it that) from 0-62mph takes 11.1 seconds, and it feels every bit as laborious as it sounds.
There is one surprising silver lining, however, and it’s the handling. The Niro’s steering is vague and light, but it grips well and the way it contains its body roll is a match for any of its rivals.
It’s reasonably comfortable, too, although it does fidget a little bit on pitted road surfaces and the plush leather chairs of higher-spec variants make it seem comfier than the more utilitarian seating found on less generously equipped models such as our ‘2’-spec test car.
The Niro’s biggest selling point, though, is efficiency. The basic ‘1’ and mid-range ‘2’ models will both return more than 74mpg and emit just 88g/km of carbon dioxide - figures which put the Kia ahead of rivals with even the latest diesel engines.
VALUE FOR MONEY
With a starting price of €30,495, the basic Niro is more expensive than the cheapest Fiat 500X, and that’s a big old price difference for two cars that are separated in size by mere centimetres.
The Niro is slightly more practical, though, and there’s a big efficiency benefit. Both are powered predominantly by 1.6-litre petrol engines, but the Niro’s electric motor allows it to return 74.3mpg and 88g/km CO2 emissions, while the Fiat’s unassisted engine only manages 44.1mpg and 147g/km CO2 emissions.
That’ll make a big difference when it comes to running costs, but beware that the Niro’s economy is drastically reduced by the big wheels of top-of-the-range variants. Going for the top-spec cars isn’t necessary, mind you, because Kia’s new offering is well equipped.
The hybrid drive means an automatic gearbox is fitted as a necessity, while 16-inch alloys, two-zone climate control and DAB radio are all standard.
Satellite navigation is included on all but the basic ‘1’ model, too. But even so, the Niro isn’t cheap.
WHO WOULD BUY ONE?
The Niro is slightly too pricey to make sense for the average private motorist, but the low CO2 emissions and the equally low tax rates they permit mean that quite a few company car drivers may be tempted.
AT A GLANCE
Model: Kia Niro ‘2’ 1.6 GDi HEV
Price: staring at €30,495 (excludes €1,500 VRT relief)
Engine: 1.6-litre petrol and electric motor
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Performance: 0-62mph in 11.1 seconds, 101mph top speed
Emissions: 88g/km (claim)