Kia Niro: Checking out de Niro
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The Kia Niro provides a glimpse into the future, when most of us could be forced to drive either electric vehicles or some form of hybrid. The good news is the compact hybrid SUV from Korea feels and drives more like a conventional vehicle than most of the hybrids on our roads today.
Kia New Zealand has two examples of the Niro in the country to help decide whether to add the model to its line-up here.
We tested the top-end model with leather seats, a raft of driver aids and a six-speed automatic gearbox. It sits on 18-inch wheels, and bears a strong resemblance to the popular Sportage.
However the Niro sits slightly higher off the ground, and has straighter side panels than its sibling SUV.
The Niro is powered by a 1.6 litre petrol engine that produces 77kW of power and 147Nm of torque, assisted by a 32-watt electric motor which in turn is powered by some of the latest lithium-ion battery pack.
Both motors sit under the bonnet at the front, but the batteries lie beneath the floor of the vehicle.
The two motors work in tandem, and help provide a seamless source of power through a six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission.
The resemblance to the Sportage is somewhat misleading, because the Niro is based on an entirely new platform, developed by Kia’s parent company Hyundai. The same platform is used on Huyndai’s new compact hybrid Ionic range, to be introduced here later this month.
The Niro delivers an unusually pleasant driving experience for an SUV — there is plenty of feel in both the steering and and the ride.
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Though there is body movement when the vehicle is being driven around sharp corners, it feels far more like a well-tuned and set-up sedan than a high-sided crossover SUV.
Inside the Niro is a typically well-built Kia, with five doors that open with a reassuring clunk.
The flat floor of the vehicle means there is plenty of space in the rear of the Niro — for passengers with the rear seats up or, when the seats are down, for large squarish objects that need to be transported.The carrying capacity is 421 litres.
The dashboard is straightforward compared to some of the high-tech dazzle instrument panels on other hybrids.
Photo / Ted Baghurst
Instead the Niro dashboard is neat, tidy and modern, with clear dials immediately in front of the driver and a touch screen in the centre.
There are clear read-outs of available range, the level of battery charge, and fuel gauge, all presented in a manner you would expect in a conventional car rather than a high-tech hybrid.
The conventional automatic gearbox is smooth, and has a sports mode, which is useful when there is a need to hoof it when passing.
There is also a read-out which judges the driver’s driving style — for most of the test this driver scored an 55 per cent mark for “normal” driving, 10 per cent for “aggressive” and 35 per cent for ”economical”.
Initially my “aggressive” score was up to 15 per cent, but once I became familiar with how the Niro drove, it dropped. On the motorway however, I used the sport mode to power past trucks and other traffic on passing lanes, and the “aggressive” score soared.
Even so, on several long trips I managed fuel consumption of around 5 litres/100km, although the manufacturer says the Niro will travel as far as 4.4 litres/100km on the 18-inch wheels.
Kia New Zealand general manager Todd McDonald believes this market is idea for the Niro, especially with the surging demand for SUVs instead of sedans and station wagons.
However it may be another 12 months or so before it becomes available in this market.
The Niro will be in one of the most competitive market segments, against vehicles such as the Mazda CX3, and Mitsubishi ASX, although it is a larger vehicle than both of them.
PRO: Fun to drive, especially for a hybrid SUV
CON: Instrument feedback a tad preachy