On paper, the Kia Niro is a tempting proposal.
Here is a crossover with space for the family and their luggage, but with the attractive costs of running a hybrid and the low tax bills to match. Still places well on the style and the Kia seven-year warranty plus softens the case.
But on paper is different from real life, and more than eight months and more than 6800 km, we found Kia’s first hybrid dedicated to something of a mixed bag. And, as Frank Sinatra once sang, I’ve learned things that only time can teach.
Where Kia really found his foot was during my travel week, the seven gnarly miles along a mixture of tight city streets and two-way, with the speed of 50 mph on a clear run. Here, the Niro could use its electric power in stop-start traffic, while minimizing the fuel consumption. Or that’s the theory: in the real world, it is disappointing, my average is around 45-46mpg.
Even when we drove with as much care as we could, we were unable to get closer to Kia’s claimed fuel economy figure of 64.2 mpg (combined). In fact, the best that we saw was 51.9 mpg.
We have traveled far and wide, in the Niro, also, of my house, in the county of Northamptonshire to the Lake District and in the continental part of Europe. That gave us a lot of time to evaluate how it performed on the highways. There was enough performance from the 1.6-litre petrol engine to get you up to speed, but the car was far from quiet in terms of wind and road noise. When I used the cruise control, the Niro has oscillated on each side of the speed rather than hold a constant speed.
There were things that we liked, however. Editor-in-chief Matt Burt was impressed by the way in which the Niro handled the country roads, where at slower speeds the hybrid system could happily flit between its gasoline and electric power.
It is also interesting to note that the Niro of the interior, in spite of not offering the same quality that you can find in rivals such as the Volkswagen Tiguan, was comfortable. The seats were supportive, and when I filled the back seat with friends, there were no complaints about leg or head room. I was grateful for our car, the heated seats and heated steering wheel during cold winter months, too.
The Niro was 90% of the way towards a good car to live with, but it was the final 10% of the experience, which is particularly evident in the small comments and questions, which would put me off purchasing this model. A little more involvement in the daily conduct of the experiment, more linear throttle response, better indoor quality and an increase in fuel economy, and this model could be more attractive.
I say “this model”, because I would not want to exclude the Niro entirely. Plug-in hybrid and pure electric versions are on the way. As a plug-in hybrid, I think that the Niro would be a lot more done to the car. It would be a crossover that could cover my short commute on electric power alone and still offer a good driving range for the weekends. If you let me go back to the Ol’ Blue Eyes, the best is (probably) to come. DM
LIKES: the SPACE – Ingestion of airport baggage and passenger with ease. Gearbox Six-speed automatic is much better than the Cvts we are used to hybrids.
HATE: the INTERIOR QUALITY of the Cabin is comfortable, but there are too many hard plastics on display. DRIVING EXPERIENCE – dead, flying to a non-linear accelerator, there is little commitment. FUEL ECONOMY – in Spite of our best efforts, the Niro is not as fuel efficient as it should be.
When they are faced with a week of vacation with my parents in the rural areas of the Lake District, ideally I would have sought a robust diesel SUV rather than the Niro, which is described by its author as an “urban crossover hybrid”.
In fact, the Niro has been successful on our journey. As I found with the Toyota Auris Hybrid once, I ran, the long motorway journeys at a constant cruising speed does not really offer a chance for the electric motor to deploy if you find yourself lugging around heavy batteries that are largely redundant.
In Lakes, however, the Niro was more effective. I quickly realized that, in some respects, Lakeland the roads are not too different from urban areas: your average speed is quite slow, because the space is tight and there are a lot of braking, stopping and pulling out. These factors play to the strengths of the Niro hybrid powertrain.
Then there are the steep hills,which provide opportunities for the regenerative braking system to recharge the battery on the decline, but also highlights a lack of usable torque, at least when the Niro is in the default mode of Eco driving. Given the way we have often said that the advantage of an electric motor is instant torque from zero regime, that is disappointing, there is no more low-end punch when it is needed the most.
My edge-to-edge calculations of fuel consumption for our 424-mile of the week suggested the Niro returned 48.8 mpg; not too bad, but not much more than a careful driver could be expected to be achieved from a standard diesel engine of car.
KIA NIRO 1.6 GDI HEV 3 DCT
Price £24,695 Price as tested £25,240 Economy of 45.6 mpg Defects of the Battery is drained, Charge No Mileage 4968
Okay, so a small hybrid crossover was probably not the ideal car to scrounge for my week off.
Let me explain: I myself was rather ambitious task of building a brick wall in my garden for a new greenhouse to sit on. The work involved in karting, many, many bags of sand and cement from a DIY store back to my boner. Goalkeeper Darren Moss has kindly proposed to the Niro services and, well, that’s that, a Morgan 3 Wheeler or a Renault Twizy. Easy decision to make.
Anyway, each bag weighed 25 kg, so after a few quick back-of-the-fag-packet calculations, I’ve worked with, that I have been able to legally carry 13 bags at once. To put that in some sort of context, our Audi SQ7 long-term test car could have managed 31 sacks, and even our 1.0-litre Volkswagen Golf would have taken 17. That is the difference between one, two or three round-trip for me, clearly the Niro is not the ideal choice if you plan to do a lot of home improvements. In fact, even with four well-fed passengers could easily switch to the Niro on its maximum gross weight limit.
But the Niro boot is handy in other ways. Heavy lifting and is easy because there is no big lip at the entrance, and the boot floor is (to me, at least) at about waist height. Fold the rear seats and they are parallel with the floor without leaving any irritating steps or cracks, so that you can simply drag things without having to maneuver over obstacles.
In other respects, the Niro is a better car than I had been led to believe, too. Kia finally seems to be making progress and the improvement of the weighting and of the positivity of the controls. The steering is a long way from perfect, but it is a dramatic leap forward compared to the gloopy, and the vagueness of racks on, say, the cee’d or Sportage. And despite all the weight that I hang around, the Niro still averages a very creditable 47mpg during my week off. WN
KIA NIRO 1.6 GDI HEV 3 DCT
Price £24,695 Price as tested £25,240 Economy of 45.6 mpg Defects of the Battery is drained, Charge No Mileage 3012
The Niro has been put through our True MPG test, which is much more accurate than the onboard computer of the reading. The result suggests that 50.1 mpg is achievable. It is, in some way, the drift of the 64.2 mpg Kia claims for the hybrid. Remember, the rival Toyota Prius fares worst, recording a 50.5 mpg True MPG figure compared to a claimed 85.6 mpg. DM
KIA NIRO 1.6 GDI HEV 3 DCT
Price £24,695 Price as tested £25,240 Economy of 45.6 mpg Defects of the Battery is drained, Charge No Mileage 2705
Kia claims the gasoline-electric de Niro hybrid can achieve a fuel economy combined of 64.2 mpg.
I’ve developed a basic test to see what the car is capable of in the real world. I planned to drive 100 km from my home in Sunbury-on-Thames to visit my parents in Northamptonshire, a journey that includes freeways, expressways and urban roads.
On the outside of the leg, I would use some ” hypermiling’ driving techniques in an attempt to disentangle the fuel economy, but for the return match, I’d be in a car of the Niro in a more carefree fashion.
Coach resident eco-driving and obsessive gave advice, namely to anticipate on the road, avoid sudden acceleration or deceleration, and the stick electric power at low speeds. I’ve also traveled in the night when there is less traffic.
I’ve measured the fuel consumption on the trip computer. It is not always the last word in terms of accuracy, but it gave me a comparison. The result has been disappointing 48.5 mpg for the outside of the leg, and 45.0 mpg for the trip back. A stroke of luck, perhaps? To know this, we are in the process of putting Niro through our more in-depth True MPG test. Stand by for the results.
Photoshoots are an integral part of our fleet. Our cars are looked in detail at their first arrival and again before they leave, and this is a chance for us to catalogue everything about our new car.
For the Kia Niro, we have decided to be part of the shooting outside, around our offices, near Twickenham. But for the “detail” photos, we moved to the safety and warmth of our studio, where the car was sitting with its lights on and the ignition off for maybe half an hour. And in the process, we managed to flatten completely the 12V battery and leave the car stranded.
I received a call from snapper Will Williams, first say that, having finished with the car, it was showing a brake error message and does not start – and, therefore, could not be moved. After having given the Niro little time to “reset” itself, Will be called me to tell me that he had managed to roll out of the workshop, but the interior lights and other electrical components were in the process of play; even the door locks does not work. Before long, the car was completely dead, and no one was sure whether to try to launch a hybrid was a good idea.
A call to Kia has resulted in our Niro being towed away by the RAC to be diagnosed in a professional manner. The explanation that we have received from Kia later in the day confirmed by the draining of the 12V battery, which was recharged. Kia’s diagnostic system has not revealed other problems.
Now that we’ve got the back of the car, I am slowly learning to adapt to the operation of a hybrid car: how to use the regenerative brakes to pump the friction energy in the battery, and learning where the acceleration cut-off between fully-electric and electric/petrol engine power is located.
We are still working on our fuel economy, though, because the 45.6 mpg we see at this moment is not particularly impressive. We’ll see if a couple of highway runs to see family and friends in the coming weeks could improve this number, and I’ll take a sheet of resident frugal driving expert Tim Dickson big book of hyper-milling tips to know what is achievable.
KIA NIRO 1.6 GDI HEV 3 DCT
Price £24,695 Price as tested £25,240 Economy of 45.6 mpg Defects of the Battery is drained, Charge No
Read our first report of the Kia Niro here