CROSS BUT ELECTRIC
Could the Plug-in hybrid PHEV version of the Kia Niro be the one to have? We take a look at the revised version.
Ten Second Review
Kia reckons that this Niro PHEV Plug-in hybrid model offers the best of both worlds, combining fashionable 'Crossover' looks with exemplary hybrid efficiency. It's not, perhaps, the kind of car you'd expect from this growing Korean brand but in its own way, it promises to be a very appealing one.
Kia is becoming a strong player in the plug-in hybrid segment. In 2016, it launched a PHEV version of its mid-sized Optima model and it followed that up a year later with this car, a plug-in version of its Niro crossover model. Under the skin, this car shares its technology with the Hyundai IONIQ, which means it's very advanced indeed.
Like the IONIQ, the Niro is available with hybrid, all-electric and PHEV drivetrains. With this PHEV, you get an efficient 1.6-litre GDI petrol engine mated to an 8.9kWh battery able, when fully charged, to take this car over 34 miles on all-electric power.
Not much has changed mechanically with this revised model apart from the adoption of larger rear brakes (and an electronic parking brake). So as, before, at the heart of the Niro's plug-in powertrain is a high-capacity 8.9 kWh lithium-polymer battery pack, growing in size from the 1.56 kWh battery pack found in the normal Niro Hybrid. The PHEV variant's battery pack is paired with a more powerful 44.5 kW electric motor than you get in the ordinary Hybrid model (44.5 kW as opposed to 32 kW). The battery and electric motor are paired with the Niro's efficient 1.6-litre 'Kappa' four-cylinder GDI engine, which independently produces 105PS and 147Nm torque. The total power and torque output for the Niro Plug-in Hybrid's powertrain is 141PS and 265Nm, enabling the PHEV derivative to accelerate from rest to 62mph 10.8 seconds (0.7 seconds quicker than the standard Niro). With greater capacity and electric power output, Kia engineers claim a pure-electric WLTP driving range of 30 miles.
Inevitably of course, you're going to need to adopt a very relaxed driving style in order to realise that kind of figure, but this Kia's whole demeanour encourages that anyway. As do assorted dials and gauges that include an 'energy flow meter' in the instrument binnacle and various diagrammatic graphics on the centre dash infotainment screen. If you really must push things along and use the full output that engine and electric motor can together provide, you'll find that like most hybrids, this one doesn't take particularly kindly to being hustled along.
Design and Build
We're not sure if Kia's designers in Korea and California deliberately set out to blur the boundaries with this design between Focus-style family hatch and 'Juke'-style small Crossover. That's certainly the kind of look we've ended up with here. You might not immediately pigeon-hole this Niro as any kind of Crossover or SUV, but Kia is keen that you should look a little closer and pick out the detail features that would usually identify more lifestyle-orientated models of the Juke-genre.
The exterior and interior design of this PHEV Niro variant has been adapted to differentiate it from the ordinary Hybrid version. Exterior alterations include a satin chrome grille surround, as well as special chrome brightwork with a clean metallic-blue finish, applied to thin 'blades' in the front and rear bumpers. Boot space falls with this Plug-in version though - from 427-litres in the standard Hybrid to 324-litres here. The Plug-in Hybrid model is available with 16-inch alloy wheels as well as full-LED headlamps and dedicated 'Eco Plug-in' badging. Changes to this revised model include smarter bumpers and a redesign for the front and rear lights.
Inside, the cabin of this revised model features better quality materials, with greater use of soft-touch materials and an upgraded 10.25-inch widescreen centre-dash infotainment screen. There's a TFT screen for the instrument cluster too. The centre screen uses Kia's new UVO CONNECT telematics system. UVO CONNECT features a new Kia Live system, which uses its own SIM card to retrieve and update live data.
Market and Model
Now that the government no longer incentivises the purchase of plug-in hybrid models, the Niro PHEV looks quite expensive at around £32,000, which is what you'll pay for the only variant on offer, a '3'-trimmed variant. This upgraded model has been treated to a series of extra active driver-assistive safety technologies. Already available with Adaptive Smart Cruise Control, the upgraded Niro Hybrid is also now offered with additional Stop & Go functionality. Adaptive Smart Cruise Control with Stop & Go follows the preceding vehicle and can now bring the Niro to a stop if traffic slows to a halt, bringing the car back up to speed as the car in front moves off.
Lane Following Assist is available for the first time too. This technology tracks vehicles in front of the car in traffic and detects road markings to keep the Niro in its lane on the motorway. The system controls acceleration, braking and steering depending on the convoy of vehicles in front, using external sensors to maintain a safe distance, while also assisting the driver change lanes. Lane Following Assist operates between zero and 81mph.
The Niro continues to be offered with a comprehensive suite of active safety technologies. Depending on specification, these include Forward Collision-avoidance Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Driver Attention Warning, High Beam Assist, Blind-spot Collision Warning, Rear Cross-traffic Collision Warning and Intelligent Speed Limit Warning.
Cost of Ownership
This Plug-in Hybrid variant puts out just 31g/km of CO2 (NEDC) and is supposed to be able to return a combined cycle reading of around 201.8mpg (WLTP) - good luck with that. Those figures assume that owners will be making full use of the 30-mile driving range potential provided by this variant's 8.9 kWh battery. That's about the same distance as you can go in some other rival Plug-in models. A pricier Prius Plug-in, for example, offers the same rated 30-mile range. Charging a Niro Plug-in Hybrid takes 2hours 15mins using a 3.3 kW AC charger.
As with all Kias, this Niro is covered by a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty that's longer than any other car in the same class. This includes the battery and all of the parts that make up the hybrid power system. On to residual values, predicted to see this Niro retain between 56 and 58% of its original price when it reaches the three-year old and 12,000-mile mark.
If you started out wanting to buy a Plug-in Hybrid, you probably weren't expecting to be considering a small Crossover or SUV. Get over it. Here's a contender that does a pretty good job in combining fashion and frugality and it's well worth your consideration if you don't mind paying a little more than you'd expected to for a car of this size, provided you get a lot of technology in return.
Overall, this is a car that delivers on Kia's promise to develop its products with quality and segment-leading technology. That doesn't necessarily mean it'll be right for you, but there's no doubt of one thing: in terms of the kind of wish list that a buyer in this part of the market might have, the Niro PHEV ticks a lot of boxes.