Review: Hybrid Kia Niro is fine in theory

Kia's model offensive continues this autumn with the Niro, its first bespoke petrol/electric hybrid. Niro is also a 'cross-over' vehicle '“ a vague term given to enhance image and appeal. You might otherwise confuse it for an estate car, which in most respects it is. It uses a one-off body design which Kia says will only ever be a hybrid or electric vehicle. Ergo, neither a petrol or diesel Niro will ever appear '“ though 'never' is a tricky word.

The Kia Niro has a decent amount of space inside a body thats smart but not stunning, with official fuel economy of 64.2mpg to 74.3mpg depending on the model

The South Korean maker is late into hybrids and says its Niro is a cross-over which happens to be a hybrid, if you can follow that. The idea is that the electric motor assists the petrol engine most of the time. In theory – and that’s another word which needs care – it will run for three miles on electric power supplied by the lithium-ion battery. In practice, any incline will thwart this electric ambition, as the petrol engine joins in. In theory, it will cruise at 75mph solely on electric power. Hmm. I had trouble maintaining 40mph. I wonder if the cars I was holding up were bothered. In these respects it is neither worse nor better than other hybrids – lab-tested theory versus real motoring.

Maybe the best plan is to decide if you like the idea of the Niro and its price and then just soak up any hybrid spin-off. Such as the 88g CO2 rating which eliminates annual road tax – but only if you buy the entry grades 1 and 2 which have smaller wheels. The taller wheels on grade 3 and First Edition models tip the rating just into the pay zone at 101g.

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Perhaps of greater financial import, they “average” 64.2mpg to the 74.3mpg claimed for the entry models. Disregarding the likelihood of achieving those MPG figures very often, it does suggest that there will be a 10mpg gain on smaller wheels in daily motoring.

All versions have the same power system – a 1.6 litre direct injection petrol engine and the electric motor together generating 139bhp and 195 lb ft of torque through a six-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox rather than the CVT type used by rivals. Its advantage – faster response. The petrol engine uses the Atkinson ignition cycle which beneficially alters the timing. A quoted 0-60mph time of 11.1 seconds is nothing special but the electric motor gives its load from the off – so in town it can nip smartly from one queue to another.

Kia launched the Niro on roads around Newcastle from a base in Gateshead across the Tyne. We were in the First Edition, fully loaded and a fiver under £27,000 which is rather too much for a mid-sized Kia. We drove it normally and it rewarded my mood with 51.5 mpg over a 54 mile route. The display said my driving style was 35 per cent economical, 45 per cent normal and 20 per cent aggressive – that would be when I tried its standing start acceleration. My eminent co-driver was marked at 24-68-8, rated by the trip computer at 53mpg and won the inaugural Freedom of Tyne & Wear Trophy for sensible driving. I jest. He was crawling along, watching his hybrid manners. These results were not bad but nor were they remarkable.

So what about the rest of the Niro? It has a decent amount of space inside a body that’s smart but not stunning. The cabin fittings are passable – noting quite an amount of hard-shell surfaces, alleviated on the First Edition by some white inserts which at least break up the dark tones. The boot floor is high – allowing a flat surface when the seats are folded. Underneath is more storage, with a removable tray from grade 2. All versions have digital radio, air conditioning, lane keeping assistance, cruise control and a speed limiter. Grade 2 adds roof rails, part leather trim, rear ventilation, touchscreen navigation, reversing camera and sensors and Kia services through Tom Tom. Grade 3 replaced the 16 inch alloys with 18s, has a bigger, deep info screen, eight speaker JBL hi-fi, heated front seats. The First Edition has leather seats, smart key with push button ignition, heated outer rear seats, and a sliding sunroof. It is the only one which has as standard automatic emergency braking, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert and smart cruise control, gaining it a 5 star EuroNcap crash safety rating. The lower grades can be fitted with these 5 star enablers at extra cost.

Price, by grade, are £21,295, £22,795, £24,695 and then the First Edition at £26,995.

In case you are dithering, Kias come with a seven year (or 100,000 mile) warranty subject to servicing schedules being met.

Verdict: I am not sold on hybrids, other than their ability to get lower CO2 figures in the test lab. They cost more, too. The Kia Sportage SUV appeals more and, among others, the Golf SV is a contender.