AT a time when it appears that crossover models are taking over the world, Kia has just introduced a flashy hybrid vehicle that fits in neatly and delivers impressive economy figures along the way.
Priced from £21,295, the five-door, five seat car is called the Niro and it features an all-new 1.6-litre 104bhp petrol engine accompanied by a 43bhp electric motor.
Together they help to achieve combined fuel economy up to 74.3mpg with carbon emissions from 88g/km.
Buyers can choose between four richly-equipped trims called ‘1', ‘2', ‘3' and First Edition and all features are included as standard with no hidden add-ons to bump up prices. This is something that Kia does exceptionally well.
From any angle, the Niro looks the business with sharp athletic styling befitting a compact crossover but with Kia's design trademarks very apparent too. It boasts the brand's tiger-nose grille, a long bonnet, elevated headlights, bold wheel arches, high-mounted C-shaped tail lights and a roof spoiler.
Move inside and there is lots of quality soft touch materials and a very modern, upmarket and clutter-free layout.
The wide dashboard has become a familiar feature in modern Kia cars and offers an upper display section housing the instrument panel and touchscreen and a lower section where the likes of heating and ventilation switches can be found.
Storage options are good with a generously sized boot which has a 427-litre capacity that can be increased to 1,425 litres with the 60:40 split folding rear seats dropped flat. Elsewhere, there is a good sized glovebox, central bin, cup holders and practical door pockets.
All models benefit from excellent connectivity systems and for the first time in a Kia, Android Auto is available which links android smartphones to Google Maps navigation, Google Play music, hands-free calls and texts plus voice recognition.
Being a hybrid, the information panel includes plenty of details about charging levels, energy flow diagrams and battery regeneration stats as well as the more traditional readouts.
Each model comes equipped with lane keep assist, hill-start assist and cruise control with speed limiter. Grade ‘2' adds a seven-inch touchscreen navigation system, a reversing camera and all the Kia Connected Services featuring TomTom. Step up to grade ‘3' and you will see the introduction of an 8-inch touchscreen navigation system, a wireless mobile phone charger and premium eight-speaker sound system.
Finally, First Edition models gain autonomous emergency braking, blind spot detection with rear cross traffic alert and a smart cruise control.
Some of these additional safety features are available on the lower trims via an Advance Driver Assistance Systems pack costing £350.
We tried two versions of the Niro on a road route that included fast dual carriageways, sweeping country lanes and plenty of busy stop/start town centre driving.
First up was the range-topping First Edition, priced at £26,995 which can sprint from 0-60mph in 11.1 seconds, tops out at 101mph, has combined fuel economy of 64.2mpg and carbon emissions of 101g/km.
The first thing to say about the Niro is how spacious the interior is. The cabin offers enough room for five adults to stretch out in comfort with ample leg, head and shoulder space.
The First Edition is also kitted out with grey leather upholstery, some snazzy white interior inserts, heated rear seats, ventilated front seats and an electric tilting and sliding sunroof.
The car starts up with a pleasant chime sound which notifies the driver it's ready for the off - unlike some cars where you sit there staring at the panels questioning whether the car is powered up or not.
The Niro is fitted with a six-speed twin clutch automatic gearbox rather than the whining CVT boxes fitted to many rival cars and it delivers a more instant response when bursts of sharp acceleration are needed.
The transmission is a vast improvement on the alternative and a Manual Sports mode allows you to take extra control of the gear changes.
Comfort levels are impressive and the driver benefits from excellent all-round visibility thanks to the high-seated driving position.
The Niro proved an absolute delight to drive and cruised along effortlessly at higher speeds. Bends can be attacked with confidence, although the two higher grade cars are fitted with 18-inch wheels which increase noise levels within the cabin and can make the vehicle feel a little floaty at times.
But that aside; the Niro was most impressive. The steering was precise and the petrol engine and electric motor worked smoothly together at all times.
The car can also operate in all-electric mode for short distance when setting off, under gentle acceleration and when descending slopes or braking, but the switch to petrol-assisted mode is very smooth in all instances.
Another very clever, and eco-conscious feature worth noting is the driver-only heating system which directs the heated or cooled air to just the driver when no other passengers are on board.
Next up was the ‘2' grade Niro costing Â£22,795. This car has the same 0-60mph sprint time and maximum speed, but is more economical with combined fuel efficiency of 74.3mpg and carbon emissions of 88g/km.
Despite being a little more basic inside although certainly not bland, this car also delivered a very enjoyable ride and it was more refined thanks to smaller 16-inch wheels which reduced the road surface noise to a minimum.
And once again the test car was an able performer on both fast roads and whilst meandering through the congested traffic.
Kia has announced its pledge to reduce the average CO2 emissions of its line-up by 25 per cent before 2020 and the new Niro is certainly a clear indication of Kia's drive towards a greener future.