SOMETIMES when you get in a car for the first time, it just feels ‘right'.
The first time I got into the Kia Niro was in the early hours of the morning for a 200-plus mile trip to Heathrow. It was pitch dark, extremely wet and the temperature was only just above freezing.
However, the Niro felt ‘right'.
The Niro is Kia's first dedicated hybrid model, a compact crossover, based on a platform which will only ever be used for the company's electric vehicles.
It has a new powertrain featuring a 1.6-litre, 104bhp, petrol engine and a 43bhp electric motor matched to a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission specially engineered to work with hybrid powertrains. Together, the two produce 139bhp and an ample 265Nm of torque - available in first gear from the off.
Officially, it returns 74.3mpg and tax friendly CO2 emissions of 88g/km though in just over 530 miles, I managed just 46mpg - and that was with the Niro's sensors telling me my ‘driving style' was 100% economical and 0% aggressive.
For a purpose-built hybrid, it's not a bad looking car either with a wide stance and Kia's now trademark long bonnet, short overhangs, elevated headlights and rising shoulder line.
The body tapers towards the rear, where bold wheel arches, a squared off bumper with a diffuser section and high-mounted C-shaped tail lights emphasize its sporty stance. There's also a subtle roof spoiler.
Its crossover credentials are also highlighted by body cladding beneath the front and rear bumpers, along the sides and around the wheel arches.
Despite its compact size, it's a roomy beast with space for five people including plenty of head and legroom in both the front and rear. There's also 427 litres of luggage space, which expands to 1,425 with the split rear seats folded.
This spaciousness is reinforced by the Niro's layout - a wide dash board set out on horizontal lines as in the new Optima and Sportage. There is an upper display sector with the instrument and infotainment screen at the same height, separated by a cabin-wide trim line from the lower control area, where the heating, ventilation and driver assistance switches are located.
It's neat and accessible and quality, soft-touch materials maintain the ever-improving quality of the Kia range.
A partially-electric car does not have to be a basic car, and Niro is available with the most advanced connectivity services and active driver aids. Every version has a Lane Keep Assist System, Hill-start Assist Control, cruise control and a speed limiter.
The four-model line-up in the UK begins with grade ‘1' which has 16-inch alloys, dual automatic air conditioning, an automatic windscreen de-fogging system, LED daytime running lights and tail lights, a 3.5-inch touchscreen, all-round electric windows and electric exterior mirror adjustment, and DAB radio.
The Grade ‘2' model I was driving adds more glossy cosmetics, roof rails, rear privacy glass, auto wipers, a seven-inch touchscreen navigation system with European mapping, a reversing camera and Kia Connected Services - free for seven years - featuring TomTom.
As well as being well-equipped, it's an enjoyable, refined drive, especially around town. Kia's engineers have done an excellent job of suppressing engine and wind noise, which really only becomes noticeable at high speeds. That's said, it's extremely comfortable at UK motorway speeds.
The automatic gearbox isn't bad but, on the move, can be frugal with its power. Though there's brisk acceleration from standstill if you want to overtake, you need to have plenty of time and space to build up to it - even in sport mode. It's perhaps better to slip it into manual mode and use the paddle shifts to control the power yourself.
The Niro's wide stance and low centre of gravity means there's little body roll and fully independent suspension all round aids the sureness of its handling while smoothing out most of the lumps and bumps.