Better economy, higher electric range and lower tax from Kia’s plug-in SUV
Last year, Kia launched a conventional petrol-electric hybrid version of its Niro SUV. Now they’ve released a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) model with a charging cable in the boot that can fill the battery with 38 miles’ worth of pure electric motoring in two and a quarter hours.
Not only is the new car’s battery bigger than the one in the standard Niro hybrid, so is the 44.5kW electric motor. The 1.6-litre petrol engine remains unchanged.
From a driving perspective, anyone with experience of the old hybrid won’t notice much difference between that car and this new PHEV. Road noise apart, the new Niro hums around town in a similarly quiet fashion, unobtrusively divvying up the power between the electric and petrol motors in answer to driver demand.
Kia Niro PHEV
Price: £27,995 (after government grant of £2500)
Engine: 1.6-litre petrol and 44.5kW electric motor
Torque: 195lb ft
Gearbox: Six-speed automatic
Top speed: 107mph
Pure EV range: 38 miles
Charge time: Two hours 15 minutes
CO2, tax band 29g/km, 9%
Slot it into EV mode and the petrol engine will only chime in if you floor the throttle and the transmission senses it needs to drop down a gear. When it’s under continuing pressure to scurry along, however, the Niro loses some of its charm as the dual-clutch automatic gearbox keeps hold of the lower gears for too long. If you’re going for maximum acceleration, the price you pay is maximum engine noise.
Heavy, low-feedback steering and a shortage of front-end grip won’t add much pleasure on twistier roads either. but when it comes to ride quality it’s a harder task for the PHEV to conceal its 150kg heavier battery. To cope with that, Kia has had to beef up the suspension compared to the standard hybrid. The result is a jitteriness in town and noticeable difficulty coping with big bumps. On the positive side, the ride does get better at higher speeds, and that firm suspension does keep the body pretty level through corners.
Something the Niro PHEV shares with many other hybrids is a grabby brake pedal. This makes smooth driving in low-speed traffic more of a challenge than it should be.
Of course, you’ll only approach the headline fuel economy figure of 217mpg if your journeys are mainly short and you recharge the car before each trip. In the real world, the official 38-mile electric range equates to something closer to 25 miles. Still, if you plug the car in on a regular basis, you should be able to beat the normal Niro hybrid’s 50mpg everyday figure.
In space terms, the PHEV’s larger battery sits below the back seats and doesn’t cut down on the Niro’s good head and leg room, but it does snip around 60 litres out of the (quite shallow) boot’s capacity.
Up front, two adults won’t feel cramped. Nor will they be scornful of the dash plastics, but in that ‘fit and finish’ department Mini Countryman PHEV owners will feel more satisfied by their choice.
The PHEV has a unique trim level in the Niro range, and it’s a well-specced one too with heated seats, automatic lights and wipers and an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring.
Overall, the Niro PHEV will make economic sense if your lifestyle allows you to maximise its electric-only range, but its appeal will reduce in direct proportion to the number of longer journeys made. As a driving proposition, there’s very little difference between the PHEV and the hybrid, but the PHEV loses out on boot size and up-front purchase costs. There’s no shortage of conventionally-powered SUVs like the Seat Ateca and Nissan Qashqai that deliver strong economy at a lower price.
The Niro PHEV’s trump card is its crazily low official CO2 emissions figure which takes it into a very low benefit-in-kind tax bracket for company car users. Before you pick it, though, try and have a go in the comfier Hyundai Ioniq PHEV or the nicer-driving Mini Countryman PHEV: both of those are in the same tax zone.