Niro comes to the UK in a four-model line-up badged '1', '2', '3' and 'First Edition'. All are equipped with modern comfort, luxury, connectivity and driver assistance features. Every version has a Lane Keep Assist System, Hill-start Assist Control, Cruise Control and a Speed Limiter. Every Niro also has a DAB radio and is able to support Bluetooth smartphone connectivity and music streaming.
Niro is the first Kia with Android Auto, which works with Android smartphones running 5.0 (Lollipop) or higher. Android Auto connects the user's smartphone to the car's infotainment system and, through pre-downloaded apps, gives access to a variety of services such as Google Maps navigation, Google Play music, hands-free calls and texts and voice recognition.
In addition to its connectivity and driver assistance systems, grade '1' comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, a high-gloss black radiator grille with a black and chrome surround, dual automatic air conditioning, an automatic windscreen de-fogging system, LED daytime running lights and tail lights, a 3.5-inch TFT supervision cluster, all-round electric windows and electric exterior mirror adjustment, USB and AUX ports and a trip computer.
Grade '2' adds a 7-inch touchscreen navigation system with European mapping, a Reversing Camera and Kia Connected Services linked to TomTom. This provides up-to-the-minute information on traffic hold-ups, weather, speed camera locations and local points of interest. Kia Connected Services is free for seven years from the time the car is bought. Grade '2''s extensive standard specification also introduces high-gloss black trim highlights and a leather-covered steering wheel and gearshifter, black cloth and leather upholstery, roof rails, privacy glass on the rear windows and tailgate, chrome interior and exterior door handles, reversing sensors, an under-floor tray, rain-sensing wipers, a ventilation duct in the rear of the cabin and electrically adjustable, heated and folding door mirrors with LED indicators.
Further additions for grade '3' are an 8-inch touchscreen navigation system with European mapping, a wireless mobile phone charger and an eight-speaker Premium sound system with an external amplifier. The step up to grade '3' also brings 18-inch alloy wheels, black leather upholstery, front parking sensors, heated front seats and steering wheel, a power-adjustable driver's seat plus powered lumbar adjustment and stainless steel scuff sill plates.
Meanwhile, the top-of-the-range 'First Edition' version adds Autonomous Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Detection with a Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Smart Cruise Control. This model is also distinguished by unique grey leather trim, white interior trim inserts, a smart key and engine start/stop button, heated outer rear seats, ventilated front seats and an electric tilting and sliding sunroof.
Autonomous Emergency Braking and Smart Cruise Control are optionally available on grades '1', '2' and '3' in an ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) package. With these features fitted, Niro has been awarded a five-star crash-test rating by Euro NCAP.
The design features the subtly sculpted surfaces and sharp lines that instantly mark Niro out as a modern Kia, and includes the latest evolution of the brand's 'tiger-nose' grille as well as the familiar broad C-pillar. A wide stance gives pointers to the car's stability and low centre of gravity, while a long bonnet, short overhangs, elevated headlights and a rising shoulder line are other Kia hallmarks. The body tapers towards the rear, where bold wheel arches, a squared-off bumper with a diffuser section and high-mounted C-shaped tail lights emphasise Niro's crossover stance. There is body cladding beneath the front and rear bumpers, along the sides and around the wheel arches. A subtle roof spoiler aids the car's aerodynamics.
At 4,355 mm long, 1,805 mm wide and 1,535 mm tall (1,545 mm with roof rails), the compact Niro sits between the cee'd hatchback and the all-new Sportage SUV in size. Yet with a 2,700mm wheelbase and short front and rear overhangs it provides generous interior space.
The styling of the high-quality interior features a wide dashboard set out on horizontal lines, with an upper display sector that houses the instrument panel and infotainment screen at the same height, separated by a cabin-wide trim line from the lower control area, where the heating and ventilation and driver assistance switches are located.
While it pairs a petrol engine with an electric motor like the majority of hybrids, drive to the front wheels is through a six-speed double-clutch automatic gearbox (6DCT) rather than the more commonly favoured continuously variable transmission (CVT). This gives more direct and immediate response with greater refinement, and incorporates a Manual Sports mode to allow keener drivers to select gears manually.
The petrol engine is a new 1.6-litre direct-injection (GDI) unit, specifically engineered for use in hybrid cars. It develops 104b hp and 147 Nm of torque, and conforms to Kia's policy of adopting high-efficiency downsized power units for all new models. The engine marks the first combination of an Atkinson combustion cycle, cooled exhaust gas recirculation, direct petrol injection and a long-stroke specification for maximum efficiency. The Atkinson cycle holds the intake valve open longer than in a normal Otto cycle engine and also reduces the compression ratio to extract a greater proportion of energy from the combustion process. Efficiency is further aided by an exhaust heat recovery system which speeds the engine warm-up process.
The combustion engine is paired with a 32 kW (43.5 bhp) electric motor developing 170 Nm of torque and powered by a 1.56 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery. Together, the two power units produce 139 bhp, with 265 Nm of torque available in first gear for rapid acceleration from standstill.
Niro is a parallel hybrid, which means that most of the time the petrol and electric power units work together. However, it can operate in all-electric mode for short distances when setting off, under gentle acceleration and when descending slopes or braking. A brake energy recovery system recoups energy normally dissipated as heat and stores it in the batteries for use later. The switch between all-electric, hybrid or petrol engine-only modes is seamless and varies according to the load being placed on the powertrain at any given time. This advanced powertrain ensures Niro is capable of up to 74.3 mpg, with CO2 emissions from 88 g/km.
The in-house 6DCT gearbox incorporates a new Transmission-Mounted Electric Device (TMED) which allows the full output of both power units to be transferred in parallel to the drive wheels, with minimal energy losses. This differs from the power-split system typical of CVT transmissions, which convert a portion of engine output for delivery through the electric motor, resulting in a loss of energy. TMED allows the hybrid system to access battery power directly at higher speeds for swifter response.
There will be no combustion engine-only version of Niro. Its all-new platform has been engineered exclusively for electrified vehicles, and a plug-in hybrid version (PHEV) will be introduced for the 2017 model year.
The platform has been designed to accommodate present and future electrical components within a compact vehicle footprint without intrusion into the spacious interior and luggage area. A slightly raised crossover-style seating position makes getting in and out easier and provides a superior view out.
The structure is particularly strong and includes 53 per cent advanced high-strength steel, which ensures that rigidity and safety do not compromise weight. This is aided by extensive use of aluminium for the bonnet, tailgate panel, front bumper back beam and several chassis elements, including the front knuckles, front lower arms and brake calipers. Even the parking brake pedal, which is made of fibre-reinforced plastic, contributes to the weight savings. To ensure body integrity and rigidity in critical areas, hot-stamped steel is used to reinforce the A- and B-pillars, roof rails and wheel arches.
Thanks to the long, 2,700mm wheelbase there is generous space for five people plus 427 litres of luggage space (373 litres with luggage undertray), even with all five seats occupied, thanks to the location of the battery pack beneath the rear seat. This expands to 1,425 litres (1,371 with undertray) with the 60:40 split rear seats folded. The 45-litre fuel tank is located alongside the battery pack beneath the rear bench.
By re-engineering certain existing components, Kia has been able to ensure that Niro has a unique chassis specifically designed for a hybrid while being the equal of the brand's other compact models for ride comfort, handling and refinement
Niro's road behaviour begins with fully independent suspension all round, based on MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link arrangement with dual lower arms at the rear. It has been tuned to deliver maximum on-centre steering feel, high-speed stability and immediate response to steering inputs.
Capitalising on the experience gained through the development of two generations of Optima hybrid (neither sold in the UK) plus the Soul EV, Kia has been able to give Niro consistent and linear deceleration characteristics and feel unusual in an electrified car. Electronic Stability Control and Vehicle Stability Management, which collectively control skids when cornering or accelerating on surfaces with uneven levels of grip from left to right, are standard.
In keeping with every Kia, Niro comes with a unique-in-the-UK seven-year or 100,000-mile warranty, subject to wear and tear conditions. The warranty - the best on any hybrid available in Britain - is fully transferable should the car be sold before the time or mileage limits have been reached.
Niro is available with Kia's Care-3 and Care-3 Plus servicing packages, offering retail customers fixed-cost, inflation-proof servicing for three or five years. All work is carried out by trained technicians using genuine Kia replacement parts and specified oils. All packages cover the car, not the owner, so are transferable should the vehicle be sold.