Kia have been having a good run over the past few years in terms of having a product line-up with good-looking models, however things seem to be changing especially when you look at the new Kia Niro. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it outright ugly, but it’s still not really a car that you would buy based on its looks alone. So, with two weeks to use it as my daily runabout, I had more than enough time to find out what other good qualities it has, and if other well-established hybrids such as the Toyota Prius deserve to be overlooked in favour of this new offering.
The Niro is a lot bigger in the metal than pictures would suggest. Initially you would think of it as merely a big hatchback, but being designated a mini-SUV isn't a stretch either. While the outside looks of the new Niro is a subjective matter, the inside is less so. There is a decent amount of space to be had for both front and rear passengers, and the overall layout and quality of materials used is quite good. The trunk is a good size, easily taking a couple of big suitcases and small bags, and with the rear seats folded down you end up getting quite a useful loading bay as well.
What you're working with
Powering the new Niro is a 1.6-litre petrol engine combined with an electric motor, sending power to the front wheels only. The combined power output is 141hp and 265Nm of torque, which goes exclusively through a six-speed double-clutch transmission. Claimed CO2 emission and fuel consumption figures are; 88g/km, 3.8l/100km combined, 3.8l/100km in the city and 3.9l/100km on the highway. Acceleration from 0-100km is 11.5 sec and top speed is 162km/h.
Making a car that’s affordable, economic, easy to drive and available with plenty of cool features is what really sells a family-friendly car, and for the most part the Kia Niro delivers. This test car costs CHF 37,450 with the Style trim, with optional extras being the 18-inch wheels (CHF 450) and metallic paint (CHF 590).
Fuel economy and driving
While fuel consumption in the new Niro is indeed low, it will be difficult for most people to match Kia’s claimed economy figures. With mixed driving conditions and a total of 550.2km of driving in two weeks, the trip computer showed that my average was 6.4l/100km. Someone with a lighter right foot would have probably gotten a better figure, but probably not by much.
Driving the Niro is a very easy affair, with the steering being light at low speeds and slightly heavier when you gather pace. The steering responds well enough when the road begins to twist, and body control is also quite good, with minimal roll when you go through tight corners. The throttle response is typical hybrid when left in normal mode, meaning that it can be a bit sluggish when you want sharp response at low speed. However when you place the gear lever in ‘S’, the throttle response is quite good, with fast and smooth gear changes accompanying the car’s newfound eagerness to accelerate. The Niro drives very much like a well-sorted hatchback rather than an SUV, so it rides quite well and is by no means intimidating to drive. It isn’t as comfortable as a Toyota Prius however, feeling firmer on imperfect surfaces, but at the same time it’s never really uncomfortable.
Using the features found in the Niro is pretty straightforward, being intuitive to use and having a decent display screen. Pairing my phone to the car was an easy affair, and having a wireless charging spot proved to be very useful and much appreciated. I did have trouble pairing my iPod as it wouldn’t be picked up by the system – no such problem in any other car with Bluetooth, including a Mercedes Benz Sprinter van. Having a heated steering wheel is always great when you have hands that freeze up at even the lightest of breezes like I do, and a useful 220V socket is available for other accessories. Other features include heated front and rear seats, satellite navigation, a reverse camera, an SD card slot, USB slot, aux-in slot, as well as two 12V sockets.
Is it worth it?
The Kia Niro makes a great case for itself for being a viable alternative to the hybrid benchmark Toyota Prius. The only thing that might work against the Niro is indeed the price, at CHF 37,450 it has a base price that is nearly CHF 2,500 more than that of the Prius. However, it is economic, spacious, comfortable, well-equipped, and although it looks rather strange – to my eyes – it’s nowhere near as awkward-looking as the current Prius. The lack of all-wheel drive might deter some people, but as many SUV drivers don’t take their cars off road anyway, I doubt this will be of great concern to Kia. Also, a seven-year/150,000km warranty might just be the thing that ultimately seals the deal for any prospective buyers.
Written by Alex Kisiri