2016 was a difficult year for conventionally powered cars. The emissions scandal will of course live long in the memory, but more than that, a general shift in the mindset has been to make even larger cars, and those with 4WD, cheaper to run and more efficient while contributing to saving the planet along the way. The best way of doing this is with hybrid power, and alongside a trend for all-wheel drive last year, hybrid power was seen to take a huge leap in terms of its attraction to everyday consumers.
The Kia Niro uses the same sort of platform as the Toyota Prius – an electric motor with a battery pack to help boost the 1.6 engine shipped with the car. The benefits of this on a car of this size are obvious – it’s a large machine but efficiency figures should match even the most frugal and conservative of diesel powered SUVs of a similar size. Its practicality and space also really shines through. It’s a large car and does a great job of making the most out of its space.
Driving performance isn’t exactly brisk, or particularly fun, but its in the refinement that the Kia Niro really impresses. The engine note never really rises, however there is a perceptible delay when pulling away at speed between the electric and petrol powered motors. This might be an issue in the worst of speedy junction getaways, but the problem settles when it comes to general day-to-day use and there is a predominantly seamless link between both forms of propulsion. I never stop being impressed by how well this has progressed and how much we can genuinely rely on a hybrid powerplant to provide an enjoyable, refined and composed driving experience.
The downside to and engine, plus motor, plus battery packs, is that the Kia Niro feels quite heavy. It is certainly a bit of a lump and that does affect handling, body control and the overall feeling and driveability of the car. Its weight and lack of spritely performance may annoy some, but because of this, you tend to drive the car with efficiency and green power in mind, almost treating it as an electric a la range anxiety. No bad thing however – there’s also a little display that tell you how conservative or aggressive your driving style has been. Not a new feature within this sector, but very addictive nonetheless.
You do get the impression when driving it that the Kia Niro never really intended to be revolutionary. But that’s okay – it’s a perfectly good and in many cases excellent first effort from Kia, who with news about their new Stinger, are most certainly branching out into a whole different realm, and intend to be taken seriously. That’s the main thing about the Niro for me – it isn’t a groundbreaking car but twinned with Kia’s renowned value for money and its excellent build quality both on the inside and out. Thanks to its bold crossover stance and space inside, it’s also probably the most practical and family-friendly hybrid out there, and will be preferred to the Prius, for example, because of its relatively conservative approach and conventional looks. It’s a great first effort but more importantly it signals and delivers on some exciting developments for the Korean manufacturer – and alongside the Kia Soul EV confirms not just their commitment to making alternative powered cars, but cars that are also progressive and that’ll live long in the memory.
The Prius is no longer the default choice if you want a car that’ll seat four adults, have enough space for kids and that ships without the need to pay tax. A very good effort from Kia.