Kia on a charge with

electric power

Kia Niro, front action
Kia Niro, side action
Kia Niro, rear action
Kia Niro, side static
Kia Niro, dashboard
Kia Niro, boot (2)
Kia Niro, rear seats
Kia Niro, boot (1)

WANT a car that uses less fuel than the one you drive at the moment? 

Well, the obvious way is to choose something designed with economy in mind. The Kia Niro might well fit the bill.

It won't cost the earth (prices start at £21,295 and top out at £26,995) and the new Niro works hard to keep fuel consumption down, thanks to combining petrol power with an electric motor and big battery.

Without trying, you will see a figure comfortably the right side of 40mpg - even cruising the motorway at the same speed as all the Audis and BMWs in the outside lane.

But here's the thing; show a bit of restraint and that figure will charge towards 60mpg and you'll arrive almost as quickly and a lot less stressed.

I know because those figures - 43mpg, getting a move on and 57mpg with a little restraint - shone out from the Niro's dash after a drive in two versions of this Korean-built newcomer.

The economy choice is up to you (and applies to every other car of course, not just a new Kia) but is perhaps most sharply shown in something like the Niro because it really is not designed for all-out sporting action in the first place.

Instead we have a car designed from scratch - with an expensive to develop platform all to itself - to provide a family of five with enough space to travel in comfort with lots of luggage and not use too much petrol.

Helping achieve that hoped for economy (up to 74.3mpg official average, but less in the real world) is a 104bhp petrol engine and a 43bhp electric motor that drive the front wheels through a six-speed automatic gearbox.

It will manage short distances on battery power alone but most of the time the two systems are at work, with the battery recharging itself as you slow down and the electric motor turns itself to braking.

Even with both power sources at work the car feels simply fast enough, not fast - with 101mph flat out and 11.5 seconds to 62mph quoted. But it's all done with the minimum of fuss as the gearbox chooses the right ratio on your behalf.

Style-wise, the Niro is another entrant to the madly burgeoning ranks of crossover vehicles - cars designed to look like a loose mix of sturdy off-roadster and slick hatchback. The world can't get enough of them at the moment, so it would be churlish of Kia not to oblige.

You'd have to say the Niro is a very mild sort of crossover; looking almost as sleek and squat as a hatch and certainly needing no higher a climb into the driving seat. The result is that it slips through the air more easily than most crossovers, to the benefit of fuel consumption and wind noise.

There are four versions of the Niro, logically called '1', '2', '3' and First Edition.

All share the same engine and gearbox, although if you choose grades '3' or First Edition they come with smart 18-inch alloys and put out more CO2 (101g/km versus 88g/km) and use considerably more petrol in the official test (64.2mpg plays 74.3mpg).

Trying a version of both on some fairly undemanding Northumbrian roads, both cars showed a little over 43mpg. Slowing down and driving with economy in mind transformed that figure to 57.8mpg.

The smaller wheeled Niro rode the worse roads better than its more alloyed sibling, although you'll have to take the official economy drop if you fancy one of the higher-specced Niros.

All of the newcomers have dual zone automatic air conditioning, all round electric windows, DAB radio, USB and AUX ports and a trip computer. They've also all got cruise control and Bluetooth smartphone connectivity.

Move to level '2' (£22,795) and additions include a reversing camera and satellite navigation, while the £24,695 grade '3' brings a bigger touchscreen and powerful JBL sound system.

Top of the Niro tree is the £26,995 First Edition, with active cruise control, automatic emergency braking, electric sliding sunroof, leather trim and heated seats - front and rear, with a cooling facility in the two at the front.

So, any version of the Niro is unlikely to leave you feeling shortchanged on the fixtures and fittings front.

The usual Kia seven years/100,000 mile warranty is as good as it gets and the newcomer does well on economy too - even better when the driver helps out with a light touch on the pedal to the right.


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