The Kia Niro hybrid crossover has impressed, but now we’ve got our hands on the plug-in version.
Kia launched its first dedicated hybrid last year. Unlike many of the brand’s current models, the Niro was designed for electrification from the outset. It arrived only as a hybrid, before a plug-in version was revealed at March’s Geneva Motor Show.
Offering all the tax benefits of Toyota’s latest Prius PHV, but in a more desirable, crossover-style package, the Niro PHEV has an 8.9kWh lithium-polymer battery teamed with a 1.6-litre GDi petrol engine. It’ll charge from empty in just over two hours, and should do up to 36 miles on electric power alone. But even when the batteries are depleted, the car operates as a mild hybrid and claims up to 67.3mpg – more than the standard hybrid, which promises 64.2mpg in 3 spec.
The PHEV will appeal to business users looking for cheap company car tax, too, with 29g/km CO2 emissions putting it in the lowest nine per cent Benefit-in-Kind bracket. For comparison, the regular Niro 3 has a 19 per cent rating – emitting 101g/km of CO2.
Performance is sluggish, though. Despite being faster than the normal Niro hybrid on paper, the PHEV feels lethargic. And unlike the new Optima plug-in, it never feels especially alert. Even off the line the Niro struggles to pick up pace with any urgency, and the engine kicks in when using anything more than part-throttle. Take things more gently, however, and the Kia crossover is a quiet companion. It glides silently in EV mode between junctions and traffic lights.
The Niro PHEV has two drive modes for the powertrain: EV and HEV – the latter combining battery and engine for the best balance of performance and efficiency. The 1.6 GDi unit isn’t as quiet as we’d hope, though, vibrating rather harshly as it kicks in and raising its voice when you ask for more revs. The six-speed dual-clutch gearbox isn’t the smoothest, either, but many will find it preferable to Toyota’s CVT set-up. A Sport setting for the box does little to boost outright performance, although it does improve throttle response slightly.
Out on the open road, the Niro performs much like the standard hybrid. It prioritises petrol power on the motorway, although it is possible to stay in EV mode even at high speeds. Body control is acceptable, but change direction quickly and you’ll feel the Kia roll as its mass shifts from side to side. If you want a fun-to-drive plug-in SUV, the MINI Countryman Cooper S E is worth a look.
The Niro’s suspension has a firm edge, too, making the softer Prius a more appealing proposition for those who often spend long periods of time at the wheel. Still, the PHEV is £1,200 cheaper to buy than the Toyota, and comes loaded with kit. Despite sitting as a standalone spec, it’s based on Kia’s 3 trim, and boasts auto lights and wipers, heated leather seats, a JBL stereo and eight-inch touchscreen sat-nav. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are also included. Quality is good, but the uninspired design will leave style-conscious buyers lusting after the MINI.
On the outside, the plug-in car swaps the hybrid’s 18-inch wheels for 16-inch rims, and gains blue highlights and a satin-finish grille. Plug-in badging completes the look.
However, while it’s cheaper to run and near enough as good to drive as the normal Niro hybrid, practicality takes a hit. The cabin is just as spacious, but the bulky batteries reduce boot space from 382 to 324 litres. Total volume shrinks by the same amount – yet the 1,322-litre load bay still trumps the area on offer in both its plug-in competitors.
Model: Kia Niro PHEV 1.6 GDi
Price: £27,995 (after Govt grant)
Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl petrol plus electric motor
Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch auto, front-wheel drive
0-60mph: 10.4 seconds
Top speed: 107mph
On sale: Now