Kia Niro EX hybrid: Is this the best value SUV of 2018?
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For a mainstream compact SUV, the Kia Niro provoked a surprising amount of disagreement within the Driven office.
There is no argument the Niro EX hybrid is a tidy, and economical, package, selling at the moment for a shade under $35,000. However the disagreement arises over its appearance.
From the front, the Niro looks good, with a classic Kia appearance. The rear-end view is less pleasing, although the Niro in my view is no worse than the multitude of other compact SUVs on the market. Others beg to differ, describing it as ugly.
On the road the Niro looks good, from whatever angle, especially in the red of the test car.
There are three Niro hybrid models available, all front-wheel drive vehicles.
The range starts with our test model, the EX, with the LTD mid-range model adding leather upholstery and other extras, and the top-end LTD plug-in model offering even more economical motoring, albeit at a higher initial cost.
The models are all powered by a 1.6-litre HEV Kappa GDI engine, putting out 104kW of power and 147Nm of torque. The Niro models all have a six-speed DCT gearbox.
They also have a 1.56kWh 240V battery, delivering 42kW.
In eco and normal drive mode, the engine does not like to be pushed hard. There tends to be too much revving and not enough traction if the acceleration is robust. However the problem tends to disappear when sport mode is engaged, and the vehicle responds in a lively fashion.
The Niros being offered on the New Zealand market are up-specced from the evaluation models trialled last year, which were built to the British specifications.
Despite these improvements, Kia New Zealand is introducing the EX here for $34,990 plus on road costs, although the recommended retail price is $39,990. It is good value given the high standard of the cabin, and the technology on board.
Kia is listing the mid-range LTD model for $43,990, and the plug-in LTD tops the range at $55,990.
At first glance, it is puzzling that Kia is offering a second small- to medium-sized range of SUVs, in addition to its popular Sportage models. However the Niros offer the advantages of more economical hybrid motoring, while the slightly larger Sportage is offered in conventional petrol mode only.
Niro buyers will also be concerned about the usable space available in the Niro — there is 373 litres of cargo area with the rear seats in place, and 1371 litres with the back seats folded down. This compares with 466 litres with the Sportage rear seats in place, and 1455 litres with them folded flat.
Inside the Niro, the cabin has a quality feel about it, typical of all Kia models.
The instrument cluster directly in front of the driver displays a hybrid system gauge indicating the hybrid battery power level, and energy flow.
The models also include a digital read-out of driving style, dividing more aggressive, normal and economical driving. Modesty prevents me from revealing my “score” during the test driving, but the majority of the kilometres behind the wheel were driven in sports mode.
The EX has a claimed 3.8 litre/100km urban driving figure, while the heavier LTD model has a 4.4 litres/100km urban figure. Though impressive for this vehicle size, both are dwarfed by the plug-in model that is said to achieve 1.3 litres/100km, albeit coming with a much higher initial cost outlay.
The Niro is an urban SUV, not targeting the off-road or crossover market. It offers a high-tech option between the quirky Kia Soul and the popular Sportage SUV, at an excellent entry price, especially as all models come with a five-year guarantee.
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