Wednesday 21 March 2018

Power to the people

Kia's plug-in hybrid version of the Niro gives Campbell Spray a glimpse of an electric vehicle future

SWITCHED ON: The Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid will start saving you money from day one
SWITCHED ON: The Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid will start saving you money from day one

My partner was enthusiastic and she didn't even know how much fuel we were saving.

Perhaps it was all the little fripperies like leather seats, heated steering wheel (and last week, for the first time, I found this extra I usually derided was a boon), reversing camera and very easy infotainment system. But eventually she wouldn't be tempted. "It's too big for us," she decided, and I am half-thinking that is because the replacement for Sam, our beloved collie/lab cross who died before Christmas, is a quarter of his size and doesn't need the whole back seat to sprawl out on.

However, at first glance you wouldn't think the Kia Niro has the space inside that it does. It looks a trim crossover, with quite relaxed styling.

Yet passenger space front and back is really excellent and the luggage area may be quite high but is more than adequate and folds pretty flat for bulkier loads.

It is very much a family car, even when the family is made up of quite large teenagers.

Yet the best part of the Niro I was driving until last Tuesday was its economy, and that's because it was a plug-in hybrid with more than 52km available from the rechargeable electric battery and another 700km from a full petrol tank which powered a 1.6-litre engine. However, over a very mixed 200km, I found that I still had about 10km of battery driving available and more than 600km in the tank. That is impressive and was gained by watching the throttle and, where possible, using the car to brake itself and - in turn - regenerate the battery supply.

There is a coasting guide control (CGC) and predictive energy control (PEC) on board which uses navigation systems to help you drive better and cheaper. It seems to work and gets easier every time you do it, and the great thing is that you are hardly aware of moving between the power sources with the seamless dual-clutch automatic system (against the more normal CVT) which can be switched over to an active sport mode.

The plug-in version makes more sense than a conventional hybrid as long as you have your own secure power supply. I'm lucky in having a proper ESB-installed box at the back of the house but, even if you don't, the Niro can be charged from a normal electric power supply.

Following the launch of the Niro HEV in late 2016, the Plug-In Hybrid version is now priced at €35,995. This includes a €2,500 VRT reduction, with a further €5,000 saving available as the Niro PHEV also qualifies for the SEAI grant for environmentally friendly vehicles.

Kia is a very reliable brand and came third out of 27 in the 2017 UK Driver Satisfaction survey. The Niro will do it no harm whatever. If used almost entirely in electric mode it is possible to get over 210mpg.

This is exciting and you have absolutely no range anxiety as there is a 43- litre tank, which will get you 700km, backing you up.

The Niro totally delivers at what it does in a nicely understated but brilliantly comfortable way. In terms of space and ability, it puts the Toyota Prius plug-in in the shade.

So for €31k you get a massively well-appointed vehicle, with almost a premium feel about it, which will start saving you money from day one.

It is the best stepping stone I have seen so far into the new world that we are promised for 2030, when only electric vehicles will be sold new. With Kia's seven-year warranty in place, there is very little that can go wrong for you for five years before that time. It was a car that pampered me, taught me to drive more economically, and made me feel the future was getting that bit closer.

I would have gone for it but then I still miss Sam and wanted a bigger dog anyway. But don't tell Ziggy. He may be just a little Jack Russell but he tries his best and I don't think he has forgiven me for getting him neutered the other week. Would you?

Sunday Independent

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