Pros: great electric version, futuristic interior, spacious cabin
Cons: hybrid feels weak, Plug-In Hybrid lacks boot space, dull driving experience
There’s a new Kia Niro in town, and it aims to stamp its authority on the compact family SUV market with a bold look and a flashy, ultra-modern interior. As before, it’s available with a choice of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric powertrains, but now there’s more technology and improved battery tech.
Kia Niro Design
The new Niro is instantly distinguishable from its predecessor thanks to a bold, modern design that gives the car a slightly more forceful look. With more pronounced edges and a narrower grille, as well as huge side blades on the flanks and angular lights inspired by the larger Sportage, it’s an altogether more interesting and more distinctive design than before.
Personalisation has become a bigger part of the Niro offering, too, because those side blades can be specified in contrasting colours. There’s a bright orange option, as well as green and red choices, not to mention the more conventional greys and blacks. There’s some off-road-inspired body cladding, too, although with no all-wheel-drive Niro on offer, it’s really all for show.
To an extent, the way the Niro looks will be decided by which powertrain is under the bonnet. The fully electric version, for example, has a different grille and a charging flap on the nose, whereas the plug-in hybrid’s charging port is found on the front wing. There are differences in the wheels, too, with the electric model getting 17-inch alloys while the two hybrids come with 18-inch wheels as standard.
Kia Niro Interior
It isn’t just the external design that’s become more modern. The new Niro comes with a fresh new cabin that borrows heavily from the EV6. There are two large screens that dominate proceedings, with one sitting behind the steering wheel and another over the centre of the dash. Both are clear and easy to read, albeit not quite as snazzy as some of the systems in some competitor models. However, they work well, the menus are logical and the functions easy to access, putting them up with the best infotainment systems in the class.
The Niro cabin also gets another touch-sensitive display below the centre screen, which provides both infotainment ‘hotkeys’ and climate control functions. Fitted with two physical dials at either side, the system can be switched between the two functions with a tap of a logo on the panel.
As we now expect from Kia, build quality is excellent, with every button feeling robust and every panel sitting flush with its neighbour. Some of the cabin plastics are slightly cheap and there are one or two sharp edges, but Kia is no more or less guilty of those cost-cutting measures than any of its competitors.
What’s most striking about the Niro’s interior, however, is the amount of space available. The old car wasn’t cramped, but the new one is positively cavernous inside. Rear passengers get acres of legroom and plenty of headroom, while those in the front get comfortable, adjustable seats and a good driving position.
Boot space is dependent on which model you choose, though, with the ‘basic’ hybrid option getting a 451-litre luggage bay. That’s fairly good for a car of this size, offering more room than you get in a VW T-Roc or a Mazda CX-30. But the plug-in hybrid car’s larger battery is hidden under the boot floor, and that reduces the space available to 348 litres – less than you’ll find in the back of a VW Golf.
Perhaps strangely, given it has the biggest battery of any Niro model, the electric version is the most practical. The battery is tucked away under the floor, and that means there’s a 475-litre boot, while the compact electric motor under the bonnet allows a 20-litre ‘frunk’ to be installed, providing storage for charging cables and the like.
Kia Niro Performance & Drive
The Niro is available with three different powertrains, and each one has its own particular character. The ‘basic’ hybrid system is fitted to the Niro HEV, providing 141hp and allowing the car to run on electric power alone at low speeds or when coasting. That makes it efficient, using just 4.7 litres of petrol every 100km, but it isn’t especially fast.
With a 0-100km/h time of 10.8 seconds, performance is no more than adequate, and the driving experience is similarly nondescript. There’s a slight stiffness to the ride, particularly over broken surfaces, which makes the car feel short of grip, while the light steering is great in town but uninspiring on more open roads. And although the hybrid system is refined around town, it gets raucous when you put your foot down.
The Niro PHEV, the plug-in hybrid option, is more comfortable and it comes with a rechargeable battery for greater electric range. Officially, it can cover up to 59km on a single charge, allowing it to manage most short trips without troubling the petrol engine. If you can charge regularly and most of your journeys are shorter than about 50km, you might well get close to the quoted economy. With 183hp, the Niro PHEV is slightly faster than the Niro HEV, but not by as much as you might think. It is slightly more refined, though, if only because it uses the petrol engine more sparingly.
Finally, the line-up is capped by the battery-electric Niro EV, which offers 204hp from its electric motor and has a 460km range on a single charge. It’s also the fastest Niro in the range, getting from 0-100km/h in 7.8 seconds, and it’s the most comfortable to boot. The car rides really well on fast roads, and although the weight of the battery becomes an issue at lower speeds, it still soaks up all but the worst lumps in the road. It’s still a bit inert, but for urban users it’s a great family SUV that just so happens to run on electricity.
Kia Niro Pricing
Kia is yet to confirm whether the Niro HEV will make it to Ireland, but the Niro PHEV and Niro EV models are already available to order. Prices start at €38,500 for the PHEV, while the electric version comes in at €45,715. Only the high-end K3 and K4 trim levels are currently available, with every version getting alloy wheels, navigation and a digital driver display, as well as climate control and heated front seats.
Carzone Verdict: 3.5/5
The Niro remains one of the best compact SUVs you can buy, but each version comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. The hybrid is practical but down on power, while the plug-in hybrid is versatile but less spacious. The electric option is perhaps the most convincing, with its balance of space, range and comfort, which makes it arguably the best-value electric car on the market right now.