At €7,500 a pop, we expect your Niro to be plugged in
Understated, smooth hybrid from KIA
Don't take personal offence but the cynic in me believes that really deep down, most people don't fret too many grammes of C02 about the environment. To paraphrase that famous quote: "It's the money, stupid." We'll follow the most financially desirable route to buying a car - as we did in our droves in the years following diesel's low-tax canonisation in 2008.
Right now, the Government is banking on as big a turnaround to 'electrification' (hybrids, plug-ins, 'pure' electric cars) by heavily incentivising us into the eco-friendlies.
But how will we feel when we have to pay - yes pay - for ALL the electricity that powers tens of thousands of our 'electrified' cars? And will we be able to afford to go on subsidising such motors to the tune of (up to) €10,000 a go? Remember by 2030 we will, under current Government plans, only be allowed to buy 'pure electric' new cars. That could mean 120,000-plus of them a year.
Where is the revenue going to come from to support that volume? We know part of the answer: out of our pockets. But how and when and how much? The cynic in me says the Government still doesn't know. We could do with a better steer quite frankly. There is a lot of confusion.
Yet one thing is crystallising. There is a strong drift to hybrid. Which is why it's a good time for the likes of KIA to have this week's review car, the Niro petrol plug-in compact Crossover, on the market. That's because we (taxpayers) are making it, and its ilk, a serious financial option. We pay for a €2,500 VRT rebate and a €5,000 SEAI grant: €7,500 in total. Which means it costs just under €31,000 - the price of many a good diesel now enduring the daily snubbery of the Electric Right Orchestra.
The Niro also allegedly sips as little fuel as a robin in winter, while costing just €170 in road tax.
As you know there are hybrids (petrol engine, electric motor, battery) and plug-in hybrids (larger battery gives 'electric only' driving for 50kms).
But, and I have bored you with this before, you can drive a plug-in without ever taking the charging flex out of the satchel and consume all the petrol you like while flying under the Plug-In flag.
I'm not picking on the Niro. It's just there is no accountability for our €7,500. You need to be properly committed. So will you buy it for the money or as an eco-worrier? Me? I could have charged it at the airport; didn't fancy getting soaked; at the Talbot in Stillorgan - another car was charging, several other places (including at the house) - it was raining, snowing, too cold...
So I appeal, as I have before: if you are going to buy a plug-in then plug it in. Give those of us subsidising you the satisfaction of knowing you can commute your daily 30km/40km while saving planet Earth by using electric-only power.
If not, go buy an electric (taxpayers offer you €10,000 for doing so), hybrid, petrol or diesel (the new ones are mighty but we're not supposed to say that - treasonable) and be honest about where your real priorities lie. Rant over. I wouldn't say the Niro was the most exciting thing I've driven but it was impressive in its own way. With just the one high-spec model (leather is standard), it is an ideal size and shape to take four/five. Based on the same platform as the Hyundai IONIQ, it's taller, more crossover-like and far roomier than it looks.
Rear seat room was average for us, though. And while boot space wasn't great either (battery pack under rear seats), I still managed a good load of paper-filled black sacks for the recycling plant with the back seats folded flat.
The 1.6-litre petrol engine was noticeably easy on the juice given it was in use so often. We tend to forget that plug-ins have the hybrid advantage of boosting MPG by recharging batteries in transit, using only battery power, picking up energy from regenerative braking, coasting, etc.
Having said that my 5.7litres/100km was still a bit from the 1.3litres/100km they officially claim (you'd have to recharge every 40kms or so to get near that).
But I liked the Niro's simplicity, ease of use and handiness. The beige dashboard did reflect light on to the windscreen - quite irritating. And I dislike where they have the foot/handbrake.
Yet like any really proficient car, it improved a lot on acquaintance, earning a Top 3 best-driving position for me, with comfortable seats, excellent visibility, a smooth 6spd auto (though quite slow to kick down) while being easy to park and access.
I see it as the sort of car you just take for granted after a while.
That's real 'take-for-granted' - not the sort that merely assumes you'll charge your plug-in to help your pocket - and the environment.
FACTS & FIGURES
KIA Niro plug-in hybrid compact crossover, 1.6-litre engine, 43.5hp electric motor, combined 141hp; 8.9kwh battery, claimed 'pure EV' range of 50km; claimed 1.3litres/100km (217.3MPG), 29g/km, €170 road tax; 6spd dual-clutch transmission. Standard spec includes: leather seats, 7ins touchscreen, smart cruise control, lane keep assist, AEB, heated front seats, dual air-con, reversing camera, satnav with Tom Tom services and 16ins alloys. Capable of full charge in 2hrs 15mins.
Price: €35,995. Includes €2,500 VRT reduction but not €5,000 SEAI grant. With the grant it works out at €30,995.