Second report: our Kia Niro Hybrid crossover is the perfect for photographer Pete


  • 4.5 out of 5

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    Verdict

    Picking the right level of electrification requires a razor-sharp focus on your usage pattern – and in this respect, we’re finding the Niro Hybrid an excellent choice. It doesn’t require plugging in, but it has a great mix of performance and efficiency – allowing us to enjoy the practical interior and the excellent cabin technology.

    • Mileage: 8,726
    • Economy: 46.6mpg
    • It must be hard for car manufacturers when they come to replace a successful model. Admittedly, Kia’s first-generation Niro wasn’t exactly the biggest-selling vehicle in the world, yet it had its dedicated followers, drawn in by the wide choice of powertrains – hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure electric – offered across the range.

      But as the miles pile on in our Niro Hybrid, I keep catching sight of the Korean car on my drive or in car parks and filling stations, and noting what an effective job Kia did of evolving such a solid formula. It’s a larger car than before, with a longer wheelbase that helps to deliver improved cabin space, and yet I think a lot of how it seems to have grown up is down to the styling details more than the overall increase in scale.

      • Top 10 best hybrid SUVs to buy 2022

      The car’s profile is basically the same as the old model’s, and the Niro’s sharp edges mean it still feels compact when you’re parking it. But the totally different front end and those narrow tail-lights, angled over the rear corners, give it a more planted look and, I would argue, a bit more premium appeal. 

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      The raised ‘blade’ C-pillar, which sits proud of the rest of the bodyshell, is another element that becomes apparent to you when you get closer to the car – the sort of thing that lifts any model beyond the norm.

      The Kia crossover is still doing a good job of transferring that grown-up appeal to the on-road experience. I’m a frequent user of motorways because they’re just the easiest, quickest way to get between the various photoshoots that Auto Express needs. 

      In this respect, the hybrid version of the latest Niro is the perfect choice; I wouldn’t get enough of a benefit from the plug-in hybrid model, given the high mileages of my average journeys, and a Niro EV would spend far too much of its time at public charging stations for my liking.

      The hybrid, on the other hand, feels entirely at home at motorway speeds – it’s a good example of how an electrified boost can really help what is a modest petrol engine. It never seems to struggle to keep up with fast-moving traffic, even with a boot full of camera kit, cleaning gear and often a hefty container of water for washing cars when photographing them on location.

      Efficiency has dropped a little bit in the colder weather, but I’m still seeing north of 45mpg from a car that I don’t have to plug in – and that figure creeps back up with reassuring haste the moment I leave the M1, M25 or M4 and switch to urban roads.

      It’s not perfect, however. The recent cold snap has exposed how the Niro can struggle a little in low-grip situations. It’s still keen to use its electric motor where possible – which helps it to maintain as much of that efficiency as possible, not a given for many a hybrid in cold weather – but the instant torque delivery of this unit can catch out the front tyres on an icy surface. 

      A switch to winter rubber from what is undoubtedly a set of eco-focused summer tyres would help improve grip and traction on slippery winter roads.

      Kia Niro Hybrid: first report

      A positive first impression of the new Kia Niro is spoilt by a transmission software glitch

      • Mileage: 1,509
      • Economy: 52.6mpg

      No, you’re not seeing double. Our photo does indeed show two identical examples of the latest Kia Niro on the Gibson driveway. But one was on its way out, and the other is the car we’re going to be living with for the next few months.

      We’ll explain why we’ve temporarily twinned our cars in a bit. But a proper introduction first; this Niro, the second-generation model, is yet another example of how Kia is right at the forefront of mass-market electrification. It’s a bit bigger than the car it replaces – something I’m keen to test during everyday use – and it’s still available with a comprehensive range of powertrains. Want a pure EV? Sorted. Think you can live with and make good use of a plug-in hybrid? Step this way.

      But the entry point to the Niro range is a hybrid, which offers milder electrification and more modest efficiency gains, but doesn’t need to be hooked up to a wallbox every night. And that’s what we have here. It packs a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine and a small electric motor for a combined total of 139bhp, and features a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and front-wheel drive.

      As befits a base-level model, performance is respectable rather than stellar; 0-62mph needs 10.8 seconds. And while it can’t quite dip below 100g/km for CO2 emissions either, the official figure of 106g/km is still more than adequate for a car of its size.

      If anything, it was the heavily revised cabin that made the best impression on me in the days immediately following our car’s arrival. The materials all feel much higher in quality than before, and I love the infotainment system, which seems to have been lifted straight out of the larger Kia Sportage and the far more expensive EV6.

      I was looking forward to getting going, then – but our car had other ideas. After a few days I noticed that the Niro was beginning to hold on to first gear for a strangely long time, and it had a tendency to over-rev, even after I’d taken my foot off the accelerator. It juddered under braking too – and to tell the truth, it wasn’t the biggest shock to me when, late one Friday night, the engine warning light came on.

      Keen to get to the bottom of things – and keep our new arrival moving – I studied the Kia’s built-in vehicle diagnostics system. After a couple of minutes it informed me of an error in the transmission control, and advised me to contact an authorised dealer.

      I needed the issue sorted sooner rather than later, so the following morning I took the Niro straight to Westdrive Braintree
      – the dealer where I’ve had previous Kias fettled. As usual, the service was first class, as aftersales manager Andrew Peck put the car straight into the workbays to reflash the software and flush out the error messages.

      We were duly handed back a fully functioning Niro, but Andrew did warn me as I jumped into the driver’s seat that, software reboot notwithstanding, there was a chance the issue could recur, especially if it were linked to the double-clutch gearbox.

      The initial signs were positive, as I made it home with the Niro in good health. But sadly, the issue returned a few days later. This time, without a work trip pressing on my timeline, I elected to keep the car at home until Kia’s own engineers were able to have a look at it.

      And that’s why you see two Niros on the driveway – because while waiting for this issue to be fully investigated, I’ve been given an identical car. It’s even conceivable that I may keep this one. It’s the same trim level as before; it has the same engine; it’s even the same colour. But thankfully, it appears to have no warning lights on.

      Model: Kia Niro 1.6 GDi HEV 4
      On fleet since: September 2022
      Price new: £33,745
      Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl petrol, 139bhp
      CO2/tax: 106g/km/£165
      Options: None
      Insurance*: Group: 21 Quote: £620
      Mileage/mpg: 8,726
      Economy: 46.6mpg
      Any problems? Software fault in transmission

      *Insurance quote for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

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