Kia Niro: Is this the best small family hybrid SUV?
It might have been rather drab looking, but the first Kia Niro actually deserved more than a second glance because of the bits you couldn't see, writes William Scholes.
With the Niro, Kia took the brave step of offering the car with a choice of not one or two but three drivetrains. At the time, most car-makers thought giving drivers a choice went as far as having petrol and diesel options on the pricelists.
There was no diesel for the Niro; instead, it could be had in regular hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure electric flavours (the Ioniq from Kia's sister outfit Hyundai was similarly specified).
Fast forward from 2016, when we saw the first Niro, to today, and the automotive landscape has transformed. Diesel has almost become a niche offering as manufacturers - and customers - turn their attention to electrified cars.
The Niro, then, was something of a prophet, a car ahead of its time, and Kia is today widely regarded as purveyor of some of the best EVs and hybrids that money can be.
Maybe that's why the current Niro looks far less demure than the original. Its bodywork is a riot of sharp creases and angles, with in-your-face lights and, on higher-spec models, a contrasting colour for the C-pillar at the back of the car which would almost put you in mind of an Audi R8 supercar. Almost…
As ever, whether the Niro's new look is too bold or spot on will be in the eye of the beholder; it's certainly a confident treatment for an SUV-themed family car (the Niro isn't quite as large as a Sportage; think more Mini Countryman size) and not something you're likely to walk past in the car park.
Once again it is offered with hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric drivetrains. Except you can only order the hybrid and EV at the moment, with the very popular plug-in off-sale while the factory catches up with back orders.
The hybrids both use a 1.6-litre petrol engine and six-speed double-clutch automatic gearbox.
The 'regular' hybrid has a small 1.32kWh battery and its petrol engine and electric motor make a total of 139bhp and 195lb ft of torque. The official fuel consumption on the combined cycle for this car is a 64.2mpg, and even with some determined 'motoring journalist' driving, I couldn't get this to shift much below 60mpg in everyday use. Prices start just below £30k and reach to £34,660 for the full bells-and-whistles trim.
The plug-in, meanwhile, has a larger battery (11.1kWh this time) and bigger electric motor, with a total of 180bhp on tap and the same 195lb ft of torque. Drive gently and you should be able to get 40 miles of pure electric driving before the engine is called into action.
Pure electric Niros use a 64.8kWh lithium-ion battery and a motor with 201bhp and 188lb ft. There's a single-speed transmission and, driven judiciously, it is possible to travel 285 miles on a full charge. Niro EV prices start at £37,295 and stretch to £43,195.
None of the Niro variants are especially quick cars (the hybrid takes nearly 11.0 seconds to do 0-62mph) or even that much fun to drive. The chassis isn't set up to encourage swift driving on your favourite back road.
Instead, it's a car which encourages you to drive smoothly and gently, all the better to travel as efficiently as possible from A to B.
It is worth noting that the different versions each have different luggage capacities, due to how the battery is packaged. The EV puts its battery under the floor, yielding a volume of 475 litres in the boot. The regular hybrid has the battery under the back seat; this nibbles slightly at volume, which falls to 451 litres. Meanest of all is the plug-in. Its battery sits at the back of the car, under the boot, which gives it just 348 litres.
The EV also has a storage compartment under the bonnet, which is an ideal place to store charging cables.
The interior is fantastic, spacious with comfortable seats and an abundance of teen-pleasing USB charging sockets. The infotainment a doddle to set up and operate and the tech top notch. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is standard and there's a bunch of safety aid and driver assistance systems. The Niro is a car which feels well made from quality materials - as it should do, perhaps, given the price.
And being a Kia, it comes with a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
Rivals include the Toyota C-HR, Honda HR-V, and sister company Hyundai's Kona hybrid. But if you buy into the Niro's distinctive styling, its air of refinement, slick drivetrain and low running costs could clinch the deal.