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Kia Niro 1.6 GDi HEV '4' DCT

Click to view picture gallery“Petrol and diesel engines are still
  widely available but every month
  more new planet-friendly powerplants
  edge into the marketplace. Kia, for
  example, now offer their Niro
  compact crossover in three shades
  of ‘green’
hybrid, plug-in, and
  pure-electric...”


AFTER REVIEWING THE BRILLIANT E-NIRO (with its test-verified range of 282 miles) we've been pootling around in the Niro HEV (Hybrid Electric Vehicle). It's the perfect jump-off for lifelong fossil-fuel drivers as it mixes electric and petrol power in an exceedingly driveable package that, critically, feels and drives just like any quality-made, traditionally-fuelled car.

Although only introduced three years ago, the Niro has already received a makeover to keep it daisy-fresh — apart from some sharper signature tweaks on the outside, the real upgrades are in-cabin with some smarter trim and, top of most users' wish lists, improved infotainment and connectivity features that keep it at the front-line for comms and up there with the best in class.

The Niro HEV’s
self-charging hybrid
drivetrain is clear-cut —
basically it’s a small
battery pack and electric
motor partnered with
a 1.6-litre petrol engine
to provide the bulk of the
‘muscle’ and charge
the motor's battery as
required. The good news
is that there’s absolutely
nothing for you to do...”
But first the power: the Niro HEV's self-charging hybrid drivetrain is clear-cut — basically it's a small battery pack and electric motor partnered with a 1.6-litre petrol engine to provide the bulk of the 'muscle' and charge the motor's battery as required. The good news is that there's absolutely nothing for you to do, unlike a pure electric vehicle that requires connecting up to a charging point on a regular basis. You fill up the HEV with unleaded as you would any normal petrol-fuelled car, and that's it. Apart from a gauge showing battery power reserves, there's nothing out of the ordinary to monitor.

Most of the time the HEV's electric motor and petrol engine work together although the Niro can operate in all-electric mode for short distances when setting off or under gentle acceleration or during braking when it's harvesting brake energy to top-up the battery pack. Not that you'll really know — or even need to know — because the switching between all-electric and petrol engine-only drive is seamless, adjusted automatically according to the demands on the powertrain. Just drive, Charlie Brown!

This hybrid marriage produces 139bhp backed-up by 195lb ft of torque with, courtesy of the electric assistance, green-edged CO2 emissions of 99g/km. The power is more than enough to push (pull, actually, as the drive is to the front wheels) the Niro to a top speed of 101mph and on the way passing 60mph from standstill in 11.1 seconds. Cruising motorways at the legal limit, all mechanical sounds fade away into the background. Aided by a 'proper' twin-clutch autobox, urban driving is a pleasure with more than an 'adequate sufficiency' (as Rolls-Royce are fond of saying) of urge. And while the default driving mode is Eco, there's a Sport setting along with manual-mode paddle-shifters for press-on conditions.

However, the electric contributions are strongly reflected in the HEV's real-world fuel consumption with the official combined figure of a wallet-friendly 54.3mpg. Over the course of a month's driving we averaged 49.4mpg. Driven in a more civilised manner — as most regular Niro drivers undoubtedly will — there's no reason why the high-fifties shouldn't be every HEV driver's 'norm'.

Theres a satisfying
quality running right
through the Niro
s
interior and plenty of
room to relax in the
shapely seats.
The driving position
can
t be faulted and it
gives a commanding
view over the bonnet and
indeed all around (you
even get a clear view
over your shoulder when
parking). Nice, also, to
have so much headroom
(class-leading, as it
happens)...”
Kia has convincingly proved that you don't need to spend mega money to enjoy plenty of the top kit in your car. The range-topping '4' trim HEV proves the point. Not only is the cabin tastefully appointed and generously specced in the comms department but the rear seats offer two-stage heating while the front chairs serve up three-stage heating as well as three-stage cooling. If you haven't yet chilled in cooled seats be assured they are a real game-changer — on a hot summer's day or when you're stuck in heavy stop-start traffic you can't get enough of them. To paraphrase the title of Every Home Should Have One from the Seventies British comedy, every car should have them!

There's a satisfying quality running right through the Niro's interior and plenty of room to relax in the shapely seats. The driving position can't be faulted and it gives a commanding view over the bonnet and indeed all around (you even get a clear view over your shoulder when parking). Nice, also, to have so much headroom (class-leading, as it happens): a full fist of it plus good elbow room and knee- and shin-friendly footwells with a restful left-foot rest.

Eight-way power adjustment of the driver's seat along with electric lumbar support and a two-setting memory recall all further boost the appeal to your body. On the move the HEV's also agreeably refined; unless you stamp the accelerator, the petrol engine's soundtrack remains politely muffled. The dash uses a good-looking mix of materials and there plenty of tactile soft-touch finishes for your fingers to explore.

Visually the main draw for your attention (apart, of course, from the multi-mode seven-inch TFT instrument cluster directly ahead of the good-to-grip multifunction wheel) is the flush-fitting, 10.25-inch touchscreen centred in the fascia. This is the hub for comprehensive comms including built-in SatNav with foolproof spoken directions, widescreen crispy-detailed 3D mapping and straightforward menus. The instrument panel shows a variety of core info and must-haves such as the posted speed limit (helpfully repeated on the active mapping) and a large roadspeed readout. Helpfully, both screens are set at the same height so glancing between them can be done with minimal distraction.

Incidentally, the dual-zone climate settings can also be brought up on the main screen and easily adjusted on the go via the strip of rotary knobs and switches below the display where you'll also find the 'hard' menu jump buttons for speedy mode switching. Also putting in an occasional and welcome on-screen appearance is the feed (with guidelines) from the rearview camera.

For a car measuring
a socially responsible
4.3-metres nose to tail
the Niro manages to
conjure up impressive
space for those
occupying its back
seats — even six-footers
will be made to feel
welcome with more than
a fist of headroom along
with equally generous
legroom. Two-stage
heated rear seats,
plenty of room for
fidgety feet, and restful
backrest angles seal
the comfort deal...”
The infotainment system is slick and intuitive to use, keeping you effortlessly in the loop with speed camera warnings and real-time traffic and weather updates. Naturally there's Android Auto and Apple CarPlay both with voice control, WiFi smartphone charging (that starts charging automatically as necessary and warns if you're about to leave your phone behind when you exit the car), along with Bluetooth connectivity, DAB radio, and a punchy JBL sound system. A handy app also let's you remotely check stuff like trip data as well as send destination inputs directly to the HEV's navigation system.

Not only is the cabin cleverly packaged for passengers but there are plenty of 'hidey-holes' for you and your passenger to tidy away your personal stuff: decent-sized, long bottle-holding door bins, a drop down glasses holder, damped glovebox, siamesed cupholders, a usefully big storage box under the front centre armrest, and a front tray-cum-bed for your mobile with 12v, USB and USB fast-charging jacks.

Kia makes picking the specification easier by using trim numbers instead of names — in the HEV's case it's a choice between '2', '3' and '4'. Two for the surprisingly well-equipped entry-level model through to four for the all-the-bells-and-whistles flagship. Apart from the numerous items already mentioned, the range-topper HEV '4' equipment list includes black leather upholstery, keyless entry (both front doors), keyless start, one-shot-op tilt 'n' slide sunroof with blackout sunblind, heated steering wheel, auto-dimming rearview mirror, powerfolding heated door mirrors (on demand; auto-folding on locking and leaving), drive-off automatic door locking, electric parking brake with autohold, electric windows (one-shot up/down at the front), front and rear parking sensors, privacy glass (rear windows and tailgate) ambient lighting, ally pedals, and a set of eye-catching 18-inch alloy wheels.

Confirming the Niro's ability to protect you and yours in an unsafe world is a five-star EuroNCAP safety rating. Kia have also fitted plenty of worthy safety and assist features including a Forward Collision Avoidance system that's car, pedestrian and cyclist aware with full autonomous emergency braking, Blind Spot Detection, Rear-Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Keep Assist, Lane Follow Assist, Hill-start Assist, Electronic Stability Control, Intelligent Speed Limit Warning, six airbags plus a seventh for the driver's knees, speed-sensing automatic door locking, Isofix child seat tethers and fixings, tyre mobility kit, tyre pressure monitoring, LED headlights with LED daytime running lights and LED rear lights, auto lights and wipes, Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop and Go, and a speed limiter.

The ride is well-fettled
and comfortable,
noticeably so at higher
speeds. The all-
independent suspension
does a grand job of
ironing out less than
perfect blacktop and
minimising the effect of
allegedly
traffic-calming
speed humps.
The Niro
s compact
crossover body is not
just practical and easy to
place in traffic but even
when you pile into a
corner the well-managed
body control ensures
minimal lean. If you do
find yourself hustling
along the twisties
the HEV handles
predictably, always
feeling reassuringly
shipshape...”
For a car measuring a socially responsible 4.3-metres nose to tail the Niro manages to conjure up impressive space for those occupying its back seats — even six-footers will be made to feel welcome with more than a fist of headroom (a class-leading fist-plus of it) along with equally generous legroom. Two-stage heated rear seats, plenty of room on the tunnel-hump-free floor for fidgety feet, restful backrest angles plus a comfily padded centre armrest (twin cupholders are built-in) together seal the comfort deal.

Views out are panoramic thanks to deep, long windows, and cruising is restful. Dedicated rear-cab air-vents keep you well ventilated. And for those who can't bear to travel without their Acqua di Cristallo Tributo a Modigliani (the most expensive bottled water in the world) there are bigger than average bottle-holding door bins along with front seatback mesh pouches for those pesky personal items that never seem to find a permanent home.

The ride is well-fettled and comfortable, noticeably so at higher speeds. The all-independent suspension does a grand job of ironing out less than perfect blacktop and minimising the effect of allegedly 'traffic-calming' speed humps. The Niro's compact crossover body is not just practical and easy to place in traffic but even when you pile into a corner the well-managed body control ensures minimal lean. If you do find yourself hustling along the twisties the HEV handles predictably, always feeling reassuringly shipshape while benefiting from decent steering that's on the same page as the dynamics.

The brakes (discs all round; ventilated at the front) are confidently strong and progressive and despite having a regenerative feature to recover and harness energy when slowing to top up the battery, going though the initial 'regen' bite to the underlying 'conventional' bite behind them is barely noticeable — you can bank on always stopping cleanly without any drama (we mention this only because the regen brakes on some hybrids can feel snatchy as they're applied).

Usually the H-word (Hybrid) in a car's name warns you to expect less boot space due to the need to accommodate a battery pack. Not so the Niro HEV which boasts a practical 373 litres for your luggage (Kia have fitted the Niro hybrid's battery beneath the rear seats, so no loss of boot capacity). Lift the high-rising tailgate and there's more good news: easy-peasy roller blind luggage cover, no load-lip and a level floor that seamlessly merges with the folded 60:40-split rear seatbacks to create a continuous loadbay floor with room for 1,371 litres of cargo (load covers and net hooks are, of course, included).

Loading even large and heavy items that need pushing all the way to the far end is a doddle. But lift the split fold-back floor sections and you'll find an unexpected bonus: eight deep storage compartments for more than just overspill. What, you want to tow too? Fine — the HEV is good for a braked 1,300kg.

This 'greened' HEV Niro is the perfect practical crossover for those who still don't feel able to make the jump to an all-electric car but are broad-minded enough to dip their toe in the hybrid waters. It's satisfying to own and drive, feeling and responding every bit as good as any well-engineered conventional petrol-drinking car — but beating them hands-down for fuel economy and emissions. As Kia says: The power to surprise! ~ MotorBar
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Kia Niro 1.6 GDi HEV '4' DCT | 29,270
Maximum speed: 101mph | 0-60mph: 11.1 seconds | Test Average: 49.4mpg
Power: 139bhp | Torque: 195lb ft | CO2: 99g/km

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