Saturday 3 December 2016

Kia's lesson in picking a horse for the course

Niro hybrid works best on shorter trips

Published 30/10/2016 | 02:30

Kia Niro
Kia Niro

The Kia Niro is a crossover/SUV that just happens to be a hybrid. And that means you have a choice, or a dilemma, depending on whether you are of a glass,half-empty, or half-full, disposition.

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Let's go half-full, first, shall we (even if I'm a lifelong member of the half-empty club myself)?

The Niro is a smart enough looking compact 'SUV' without redefining the style book in any major way.

It's on its own platform and contrives to generate a fair balance of comfortable, easy driving, which is really all you want from a vehicle like this.

I wouldn't consider it the sharpest drive on the road but I think we need a reality check here. Who drives cars like this for their handling and ride? Not many buyers, that's for sure, though I admit I do look for it myself and am probably hung up on it. So for me, this was nice and solid, no wallow, no gymnastics; an urban SUV from bumper to bumper.

And the fact it is not tall or muscular is a plus for me; there are enough of those around.

You get a decent cabin and I had a fine driving position; there was good rear-seat room and boot space. It's all modern and straightforward; nothing too dramatic or demanding anywhere.

And, importantly, you get an automatic transmission. Don't underestimate how important that is for a lot of people, especially those driving in congested traffic.

It also puts the price in some perspective - a diesel, automatic equivalent would cost a few thousand more. Another reason to take a second look at the price is the level of equipment.

Yet the most noticeable facet of driving it was the quietness. I suppose I've grown so accustomed to the low-level hum/rumble of a diesel that, with this, around town it sometimes felt like I was driving an electric car, such was the low-key presence of the 1.6-litre petrol.

The only drawback is you hear everything else, too - traffic and tyres - especially from the boot area.

It was difficult to know when the engine kicked in or when the electric motor was running the show. And that's why I like hybrids; they don't go all fussy on you and trumpet when the engine is running or not.

There is a little display on the Niro you can bring up which shows you what's powering the wheels at any given stage.

Even though we've had hybrids for yonks now, I still consider them to be real wonders: an engine, an electric motor, a battery and a computer working as a team to use energy (petrol, electric) on the move as efficiently as possible.

The key thing with the Niro was that the hybrid set-up felt quite at home in urban driving. And the fuel consumption mirrored that. So there is a strong argument for it, if you don't do too large a mileage each year.

Ideal, I'd say, for the mums or dads of a young family who commute, drop children off to school, etc.

But there is the 'half empty' side, too, and it best describes the tank after a trip to the midlands. As soon as I got into the 100kmh/110kmh level of driving, the consumption went up because, obviously, the engine was working a lot more compared with the higher level of battery usage on shorter, lower-speed drives.

The longer sessions took me on several trips and a pleasant skip to Drogheda. I kept it in Eco mode virtually all the time. Sport mode added pep, but I didn't want to push too hard to keep my driving more reflective of everyday motoring.

Eco, however, did give me a sluggish response from the engine when I asked for a bit of acceleration. My overall consumption went out to 5.3 litres per 100km as a result. It was closer to 4.5 in several earlier city drives. That's where hybrids sparkle, while they fade a bit on the longer drives.

So you see why my half-empty/half-full analogy applies.

Yes, I'd buy it, or the likes of it, for commutes and town driving. Why not?

But I'd buy its Sportage diesel stablemate, or one of its ilk, if undertaking 20,000km a year or more. I think we need to start thinking more like that. A lot of people don't. I mean a lot. It's diesel or nothing for many, who barely get into top gear some weeks. It's ridiculous but the sales figures underline our addiction to diesel.

So this might be a little bit of education for us all. You can have an SUV and a petrol-hybrid in equal measure, if you are clever enough to match the horse to the course. Either way, you are half-way there.

FACTS & FIGURES

Kia Niro hybrid compact crossover. Powered by combination of 1.6-litre petrol engine (105PS), lithium-ion battery pack, 32kW electric motor; 6spd auto/double-clutch transmission; 88g/km (€180 road tax); claimed 3.8 litres/100km

Standard spec (EXL) includes: leather upholstery, dual air con, heated front seats, satnav, rain sensor, Android Auto, 'pedal-type' handbrake, rear-view camera.

Price: From €29,095 (includes VRT rebate).

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