Kia Niro SUV (2016 -) Driving & Performance

Review by Gareth Evans on
Last Updated: 10 Aug 2016
3.5
On an all-new platform with a completely new powertrain, this new small hybrid SUV, the Niro, does two important jobs for Kia. Firstly, it gives the company a much-needed rival to the likes of the Mazda CX-3, Nissan Juke and Renault's Captur; and, secondly, with both the hybrid and SUV segments growing strongly (the former, Kia anticipates, at the expense of diesel power) it provides eco-friendly competition for a growing raft of hybrids including Toyota's Prius.

3 out of 5

Performance

The Kia Niro makes use of a 1,580cc four-cylinder turbo petrol engine coupled to a 32kW electric motor for a total hybrid system power of 139bhp available at 5,700rpm, and 264Nm of torque between 1,000 and 2,400rpm. Performance figures show 0-62mph is achieved in 11.5 seconds, while top speed is 120mph.

It feels pretty lively round town, and good off the line at traffic lights thanks to the electric motor’s assistance. However, it tends to have to work rather hard to maintain impetus on motorways.

Its gearbox, instead of the CVT type we’re used to in hybrid cars, is a six-speed twin-clutch automatic that performs far better on the road, with quick and smooth gearchanges instead of increasing engine speed without noticeably accelerating the car.

Also unlike other hybrids, there’s no switchable, all-electric EV drive mode, but average fuel consumption of over 60mpg on our test drive suggests excellent real-world mpg.

Not yet fitted to our early test car but set to join the Niro range, Predictive Energy Control works with the sat-nav to optimise hybrid system performance. For instance, boosting electric motor power on inclines and charging the battery on downhill sections.

3.5 out of 5

Handling

We found the Niro very easy to drive around town; it’s got light steering and good low-speed manoeuvrability - a lot of it under electric power alone.

It handles quite tidily through the corners, with accurate yet numb steering and well-controlled body roll.

The power density of lithium-ion batteries means the pack is small enough to fit under the rear seats, so the Niro doesn't suffer from the tail-heavy behaviour of some rival hybrids. But, even though the battery pack is inside the wheelbase, you can still feel the weight while driving.

Its low rolling-resistance 16-inch tyres are better for economy and low CO2 emissions (and hence lower tax), but it's not the grippiest rubber and squealing front tyres are quite easy to provoke if you push too hard.

Drive to the strengths of the powertrain, however, and it handles very much like a notably quiet, conventionally powered SUV.