Kia Niro PHEV
A tame rebel
The styling is telling. The second generation of the Kia Niro looks modern and confident, but is never offensive or groundbreaking. From an SUV, the Niro has the tall build and from a regular car the refined look. The Niro is therefore taller than an average car, but lower than an off-road vehicle and is also referred to as a "crossover".
Space and equipment
Thanks to its tall build, entry is a little easier than average and the driver has little more visibility over traffic than in a traditional, low passenger car. Space in the front and rear is good. Note that this space varies slightly by engine. In the plug-in hybrid driven here, the battery is placed under the rear seat for a favourable centre of gravity (low and central). The fuel tank therefore had to move to the boot, making it the smallest of all the Niro's (but still perfectly usable).
The layout of the dashboard is in line with the other Kia's of this generation. A display behind the steering wheel and a screen centrally on the dashboard are encased together in a shiny black panel, making them appear to form a whole. Despite the modern look, the controls are immediately familiar. Where it makes sense, functions are controlled by a display screen and when more convenient, Kia opts for traditional buttons.
One thing does require getting used to: below the central display is a display that operates the infotainment or climate control system depending on the selected function. This is a very wide and slim display that is so sharp that it looks like physical buttons! Those who don't know that think they are missing a row of buttons.
The Niro offers everything that can be expected from a modern car in this segment in terms of luxury and safety. However, the Niro is never innovative in terms of electronics or ergonomics. In this way, Kia moves with the times while demanding no adjustments from the driver.
Unfortunately, a problem occurred during the test. Judging from the sat nav map, the drive seemed exceptionally slow, but in fact the image was frozen. After pressing random buttons to revive the system all screens went black. Switching the car off and on again solved the problem, but obviously this should not happen! Besides, the Niro uses the same audio, communication and navigation system as other Kia models, so this is not a brand new system that is still in its infancy. Fortunately, the rich, balanced sound of the Harman Kardon audio system actually stood out positively.
Plug-in hybrid: theory
As mentioned earlier, the Niro is available with hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric drive. For this test, the plug-in hybrid, also known as PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehcile), was used. Under the bonnet are a petrol engine and an electric motor. This electric motor and associated battery are much more powerful than those of the standard hybrid, allowing all-electric driving of up to 59 km. While driving, the battery is recharged with energy released during braking or coasting. The driver can determine in three steps how much energy is recovered. Here, the more the car decelerates when releasing the accelerator, the more energy is recovered. However, the main power source is a public charging point or the power socket at home.
By entering the destination in the sat nav, the available electricity can automatically be distributed as efficiently as possible over the trip. In addition, the driver himself can give preference to the petrol or electric motor.
The powertrain is largely the same as that of the previous Niro, differing only in details. For instance, the petrol engine uses second-generation "GDi" technology, injecting fuel at higher pressure and using lower-viscosity oil. The battery uses the same cells and chemistry as before, but by using more cells, it has a larger capacity (was 8.9 kWh is now 11.1 kWh). Subsequently, therefore, more energy can be supplied to the electric motor (was 43.5 kW is now 62 kW) and performance is much better than the previous Niro PHEV.
And therein lies much of the appeal of this engine variant. Drivers can opt for the peace and agility of electric driving, as well as the power of two engines that complement each other. With its generous power, the PHEV feels more powerful and willing than the standard hybrid and far superior to cars with only a conventional internal combustion engine.
Though there is one point of criticism: the interplay between the two engines is not always harmonious, making the drive feel artificial at times. Moreover, in electric mode, the Niro PHEV does not give the feeling of an all-electric car, as even then it is too often noticeable that the computer intervenes.
During the test, the promised electric range was achievable, partly because the weather conditions were very favourable (warm, dry, windless). Actual consumption, as with any other PHEV, depends on the frequency of charging. The more often electric is driven, the lower the fuel consumption. This is why a PHEV is mainly intended for users who mostly drive a fixed route and can charge at the start or finish line. When not charging consistently, the battery is just ballast and the standard hybrid is a wiser choice.
The plug-in hybrid has a larger battery than the standard hybrid, but a much smaller one than the all-electric Niro. And this is clearly noticeable in handling! The PHEV does not handle as sharply and lively as the hybrid, but it is significantly less weighty than the electric Niro.
The suspension manages to handle the PHEV's generous power output effortlessly. Even in tricky situations, the Niro responds safely and predictably. The Niro has no distinct sporty or comfortable character, but is meant to be a good-natured family car for the middle class.
The Niro is Kia's compact crossover. Intended as a family car, the Niro is progressive but not innovative. Because the Niro is not groundbreaking, the car is also pretty much flawless.
The plug-in hybrid is for those who want progress in modest steps. The PHEV offers many of the benefits of electric driving, such as high comfort and low fuel consumption. Because the petrol and electric engine can join forces, the plug-in hybrid performs much better than similar cars with only an internal combustion engine. Finally, the petrol engine gives peace of mind, because when the battery runs out, this semi-electric Niro just goes on.
The Kia Niro plug-in-hybrid is therefore like commissioned graffiti: the excitement is gone, but the idea remains. The answer to the question "who is the Niro plug-inhybrid for?" is therefore: for tame rebels.
- Spacious and functional
- Modern, but instantly familiar
- Stronger, quieter and smoother than conventional drives
- Infotainment crashed during test
- Awkward location of charging socket
- Interplay between both engines not always harmonious