Kia goes for hybrid

gold

Kia Niro First Edition front static
Kia Niro First Edition front action
Kia Niro First Edition side on
Kia Niro First Edition rear
Kia Niro First Edition fascia
Kia Niro First Edition interior detail
Kia Niro First Edition rear seats
Kia Niro First Edition boot
Kia Niro First Edition badge

COMING in behind the front runners may be a big disappointment for any Olympic hopeful, but in the world of automotive technology not being first over the line can still get you the gold medal.

Such is the case with the all-new Kia Niro - the Korean company's first foray into the world of hybrid drive systems.

Rivals like Toyota have had hybrid models in the showrooms for years, so Kia is relatively late into a growing market.

But having looked at what the rest have been doing, Kia has come up with something completely different - a dedicated hybrid model with sharp crossover styling which owes nothing to other models in the company's armoury.

And that means that the Niro breaks the tape in the two fastest growing sectors of the market place in one car, satisfying both the increasing demand for greener vehicles and for compact SUV look-alikes in a smart, technically advanced package.

The Niro sits on a platform which has been developed specifically for electrically powered vehicles and is the first in a line which will eventually include plug-in hybrid and full electrically-powered models.

Essentially, the Niro, then, is a second-generation hybrid and comes with a more advanced power regeneration system than earlier rivals plus a smooth, six-speed, dual-clutch auto transmission rather than the noisier, continuously variable transmission systems favoured by the competition.

The hybrid power train comprises a 1.6-litre, 104bhp petrol engine paired with a 43bhp electric motor which is powered by a lithium-ion battery tucked out of the way under the rear seats. Together they provide average economy of 74.3mpg according to "official" fuel consumption tests. CO2 emissions range from 88 to 101g/km. depending on wheel size.

Out in the real world, take it easy on the loud pedal and you can expect a mixed driving average of 55-60mpg - we achieved 57mpg over a route which included dual carriageways, country roads and town driving.

And it's in town where you can expect to unearth the real benefits of the hybrid system. We clocked over 80mpg on a short city-centre drive when the Niro was operating almost exclusively on battery power.

Put the potential benefits of the hybrid system to one side and the Niro is a more than competent family car with reasonable, if not scintillating, performance. Top speed is just over 100mph and you'll hit the 60mph mark on the digital speedo from rest in a tad over 11 seconds.

Ride is generally well damped and body-roll well controlled, but the lower grade models offer the smoothest progress on less than perfect surfaces - they come with 16-inch alloys rather than the 18-inchers of the top of the range versions.

Inside there's plenty of room for five people and their luggage and the interior is pleasantly trimmed and extremely well equipped even in the entry level version.

At launch the Niro comes in four variants - levels 1, 2 and 3 plus a First Edition model at the top of the range. All have the same drive train and mechanical spec.

All models from the £21,295 entry level version up come with a lane departure warning system, hill start assist, cruise control, automatic air con, electric windows all round, DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity and a trip computer.

For an extra £1,500, Level 2 adds sat nav via a seven-inch touch screen, reversing sensors and rain sensing wipers while the £24,695 Level 3 has full leather trim, heated front seats and steering wheel, driver's seat power adjustment, a bigger touchscreen, wireless android mobile phone charger and an eight speaker JBL sound system.

Costing £26,995, the First Edition has had the extras book thrown at it, including take-it-or-leave-it high gloss white plastic trim inserts. Personally I'd leave it, but it may appeal to some potential buyers.

There's also an electric sunroof, smart key with push-button start and ventilated front seats. Of far more value, however, are the autonomous emergency braking, smart cruise control and blind-spot detection systems fitted to this model, some of which can be specified as a £350 option on lower-grade versions.

In all, the Niro is a lot of car for the money and offers all the advantages of advanced hybrid technology at a price which is pretty much comparable with rival petrol or diesel only models.

It might have taken the Korean company a while to join the hybrid race, but the arrival of the Niro proves that developing the right technology is a distance event rather than a sprint.

In that respect, Kia could well have struck gold.

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