The Niro isn’t yet available in New Zealand. In fact it’s likely that the exact version tested here won’t be made available at all. Why are we testing a car you can’t buy? Kia have brought in two UK-spec Niro Eco Hybrids to test New Zealand dealer and press reactions, so we were happy to try it out.
It’s likely that they will import the plug-in hybrid version for the New Zealand market which will be very similar. Kia hope pricing will start in the $40-50k range.
This hasn’t been determined by Kia yet but going by other models there’s likely to be an entry level model and a Limited spec. In the UK there are four trim levels called 1,2,3 and First Edition. Our test car is ‘3’ spec and features leather seats, ABS, EBD, cruise control, keyless entry and start, auto lights and wipers, wireless phone charging, electric folding and heated door mirrors, leather trimmed steering wheel and armrests, lane keep assist, rear cross traffic alert, hill start assist, seven airbags, ISOfix child seat mounts.
All feature the same 1.6l 77.5kW four cylinder petrol electric hybrid motor with a 6 speed dual clutch transmission. Combined fuel consumption is quoted as 3.8l/100km with the 16” wheels or 4.4l/100km with the 18s sported by our test car.
I looked up the Niro online before I went to collect it, and found it on the Kia US website. The photos there do not do it justice, it looks way better in the metal. Not that it’s exactly exciting to look at – it’s a crossover SUV – but it doesn’t look bad either. I like the 18” wheels, they’re similar to the ones on other Kia models and look good here.
One thing I can say about it is that it doesn’t look like an eco-car. A lot of manufacturers’ hybrid or electric cars go out of their way to look different. Kia have gone for the stealth option with just a small Eco Hybrid badge on the tailgate.
The inside is typical Kia. That’s to say it’s comfortable with decent materials and a real feeling of quality. There are a few hard plastics here and there but most of the touch points are nice to interact with, with the harder materials lower down out of reach.
The 3-stage heated leather seats are a bit on the firm side but comfortable, with 8 way power adjustment for the driver and manual adjustment for the passenger. The steering wheel adjusts for height and reach, and has thumb buttons for the cruise control, phone, stereo and trip computer. It seems like a lot of buttons at first glance but they are intuitive and easy to use.
The instrument panel has the familiar look of two large dials either side but instead of a rev counter you get an eco display on the left with a needle that swings from Charge via Eco to Power. This is overlaid with a digital range, battery and fuel gauge. In the centre is a 4.2” LCD screen which can show hybrid power flow, trip computer, digital speedo, stereo track and more. The dials are very clear and easy to read at a glance. Some other manufacturers could learn from Kia here.
There’s a central 7” touch screen which seems a little small compared to other cars but it has excellent contrast and the touch screen is more responsive than I expected. This controls the media system and shows the reversing camera view – with moving lines when you steer. There are also parking sensors front and rear.
There’s dual-zone climate control which can be switched to driver’s side only to save on fuel and power usage. On cars that can tell you what systems draw most power climate control is always top of the list so this is a great idea to save on fuel.
Our test car had the 8-speaker JBL Sound System with subwoofer, external amp & front centre speaker and it does sound very good, especially when you’re cruising in the almost-silent EV full electric mode. There’s USB and Aux inputs in the centre console, alongside two power sockets. If that isn’t enough power there’s another socket in the centre storage bin.
One feature that I like on all Kias I’ve tested with keyless entry is that when you get close to the car they unfold the mirrors and light up LEDs in the door handles like they’re greeting you. It’s a small thing but a nice touch. Pressing a small button in the door handle unlocks the car.
The Niro has a foot-operated parking brake where the clutch would be in a manual car, which takes a bit of adjusting to. Push the start button and the petrol engine fires and starts to warm up. I found that when it was cold the Niro ran the petrol engine for the first ten minutes or so of driving. This meant that on the short 1-2km trips I do most mornings to drop my daughter at school it didn’t really use the electric motors, and that combined with the window defrosters and heater meant it only managed around 15l/100km; proof that there are some situations where eco cars are not the most economical solution.
As soon as the car warms up it goes into full hybrid mode and the fuel efficiency improves dramatically. On the next 16km of motorway and stop/start traffic the average usage came down to 4.7l/100km. Stops and starts of the petrol motor are almost imperceptible and with music playing the only way I could tell was when the small green EV light lit up on the dash.
The six-speed dual-clutch transmission is a smooth shifter and works well with the hybrid powertrain. I did find a couple of times when reversing out of car parks there was a small delay when shifting back to 1st. A quirk of the DCT system, but I did a couple of rollbacks on hills before getting used to it.
The Niro has that eco-car squashy throttle feel which encourages you to accelerate more slowly and smoothly. It can be a little frustrating if you want to nip quickly out of a junction. Pressing the throttle right down does get a quicker response if you need it. The Niro gets to 100kph in a little over 11 seconds, so it’s hardly fast. But speed and acceleration are probably not the primary concerns if you’re buying a car like this.
The ride is pretty firm but not harsh in any way. This translates to surprisingly good handling, with the Niro nipping around corners with more grace than I expected. Some of this might be duse to the 33kg of batteries in the rear floor improving front/rear balance and lowering the centre of gravity. If you really push it into a corner it will want to understeer, but the ESP does an excellent job of stopping that, enabling you to drive around safely.
On the motorway the main source of road noise is the tyres. It’s not overly loud and is more noticeable because you often find yourself in pure EV mode, cruising almost silently. There’s something pretty impressive about being able to cruise along at 100kph on free power you’ve generated by braking.
I ended up doing mostly shorter trips in the Niro with just a few longer journeys. Because of this I didn’t get the best out of it as far as economy goes. My average over 150km was 6.0l/100km compared to Kia’s figure of 4.4. This was at an average speed of 30kph. I have no doubt that this would come down to high 4’s if you took a journey to work each day of over 10 minutes.
This is a bit difficult as there are not many hybrid SUVs. So I’ve gone for other hybrid family cars currently sold in New Zealand
|Brand / Model||Engine||Power/Torque||Fuel L/100km||0-100km/h||Price Highest to Lowest|
|Mitsubishi Outlander Hybrid||2.0 4 cylinder turbo/electric motor||88kW/189Nm||1.7||N/A||$60,990|
|Toyota Camry Atara SL Hybrid||2.5l 4 cylinder/electric motor||118kW/213Nm||5.2||8.1s||$56,290|
|Toyota Prius ZR||1.8l 4 cylinder/electric motor||72kW/142Nm||3.4||N/A||$54,990|
|Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid Elite||1.6l 4 cylinder/electric motor||77kW/147Nm||3.9||N/A||$52,990|
|Kia Niro Eco Hybrid||1.6l 4 cylinder/electric motor||77.5kW/104Nm||4.4||11.1s||Not yet released|
The pros and cons
What we think
The Niro would make a great family car. It has the high SUV driving position people want, plenty of equipment and space, and as long as it’s not used only for very short trips it’s great on fuel. If Kia do decide to bring this car to New Zealand, and if the price is competitive, it should do well.
Rating – Chevron rating 4 out of 5
|Vehicle Type||Hybrid Crossover SUV|
|Starting Price||Not yet set|
|Tested Price||Not yet set|
|Engine||1.6l 4 cylinder GDi|
|Transmission||6 speed dual clutch|
|0 – 100 kph||11.1 seconds|
|Length x Width x Height||4355 x 1579 x 1545 mm|
|Cargo Capacity||373 Litres seats up|
1371 Litres seats folded
|Fuel Tank||45 litres|
|Fuel Efficiency||Advertised Spec – Combined – 4.4L / 100km|
Real World Test – Combined – 6.0L / 100km
|ANCAP Safety Ratings||Not yet tested|
|Warranty||In the UK the Niro has a 7 year warranty and 12 year bodywork warranty|