A Korean cracker

by Gazette Reporter
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Hybrid cars have been seamlessly slipping into the national car fleet with numbers almost doubling in the last year. Enter the new Kia Niro with a smart new look and hints of a crossover coupled with a thrifty hybrid drive system. Michael Moroney gives the low-down on the Korean brand’s first hybrid

Kia’s first hybrid, the new Niro gives a hint towards a crossover design even if it’s not intended for anything other than tarmac driving.

This compact estate type car sits proud with a little more roof height than you would expect, while still meeting Kia’s target of being aerodynamic to given good fuel efficiency.

The Niro gives Kia a new model segment in terms of its size being smaller than the new Sportage while having a larger footprint than the cee’d hatchback. These features alone give it identity of its own. Then add Kia’s first hybrid drive system and the Niro becomes a little more special.

I’ve had the Niro out and about with some lengthy country driving in addition to a city commute. The feeling is one of a spacious smaller car with a good level of economy from its petrol/hybrid engine.

Kia uses its existing Kappa 1.6-litre petrol engine as the main power source for the Niro and this is a smooth performer.

This engine uses a new exhaust heat recovery system, which speeds engine warm-up by routing coolant to a heat exchanger in the exhaust system, saving fuel. The hybrid drive system then extends the range of the car without having to pull in to tank up.

When I got into the Niro the car’s range was rated for 783km and I almost achieved that. The Kia quoted economy figure at 26km/litre (3.8l/100km or 74mpg) is impressive in itself. It’s nearly achievable, while being about 20% off target, which is a better real world economy figure than some of the competing diesel cars.

Out on the road the Niro four driving modes. When starting out from a stop, the hybrid system is in the launch mode and relies entirely on power from the electric motor. This helps reduce fuel use in stop and-go traffic.

As you begin to accelerate mildly the system also uses power exclusively from the electric motor. I found that there was adequate power for the size of the car.

When you press the pedal harder, you enter acceleration mode and here the power of the petrol engine and the electric motor are combined to get you to a more stable cruising speed.

At this steady cruising speed the system goes into power-assist mode. I found that this was close to 80-km/hr and this is where the petrol engine became the main source of power.

Like all hybrid system there is a regenerative mode where power is sent from the specially designed brakes that convert this deceleration power into electric power to store it in the battery for the starting off mode.

From the driving seat you quickly start to develop new and possibly more environmentally conscious driving habits. That’s no bad thing and while there is no range anxiety as you would have with a full electric car, you become more aware of how you could drive more economically.

You will notice some of the mode changes as the system is not just as refined as some of the competition, while in economy terms it is very effective. You’ll also notice the power difference when you change from the power to the eco mode on the dash button. Eco makes sense in a Niro, good sense that is.

On the inside the control are similar to other models in the Kia range with a large centre touch screen that offers a number of functions as well as doubles as a screen for the reversing camera. The standard leather seats are firm and long enough to give good support and good adjustment meant that I was quickly comfortable. Storage spaces are a little tight and could be bigger for what is designed to be an economical family commuter car.

The boot is adequate for a car of its size and thankfully Kia are fitting a space saver spare wheel in the floor of the boot. Seat folding is easier and gives the boot significantly more load space, while rear legroom is reasonable for a car of this size.

Kia uses a foot operated parking brake in place of handbrake. I found this a little unusual because it seems retro in a car that’s packed with lots of technology. In practice it’s effective and Kia claims that its design means a lighter mechanism that adds to the overall low weight of the Niro, even though its battery pack on its own weighs 33kg.

Kia has loaded on the safety features in the new Niro and they claim that using new high strength steel on 53% of the Niro’s body structure gives more security at lower weight. Kia is using aluminium for the bonnet, boot door assembly, front bumper back beam and several chassis elements, including front knuckles, front lower arms and brake callipers, all to lower the Niro’s weight.

The Niro comes with seven airbags as it has airbags for driver and front passenger, driver knee, first row side airbags, and first and second row curtain airbags. ISOFIX child-seat points are fitted as standard to the second row of seats. Kia expects that the Niro will come through the Euro NCAP crash tests with high marks.

That’s because they are fitting the Kia Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) system as standard along with Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and electric motor-driven power steering.

Kia is offering a selection of its DRiVE WISE Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) as options for the Niro. These options include Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, Smart Cruise Control (SCC), which automatically adjusts the Niro’s speed to maintain a safe distance from vehicles in front and Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS).

Other safety options include Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS) to detect the position of the car in relation to lane markings and to correct the steering line, as well as Blind Spot Detection (BSD) and Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), which warns against other cars driving behind the Niro in car parks while reversing.

The entry price is €29,095 rising by €700 to the higher specification ADAS model with the full safety package. This Niro is both economical and going to be competitive in terms of running costs with many equivalent diesel cars. Add the Kia 7 year warranty deal with a packed specification and all of a sudden the Niro Hybrid takes on a new perspective and one that’s worth looking at.

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