Latest Niro plans to be hero with Kia’s market-leading cushiness
Had you told Iain Robertson a decade ago that Kia might become the UK’s No.1 selling car brand, the shock would have been palpable but understandable, as his belief in the marque has long exceeded that for parent Hyundai, because Kia possessed a playfulness and engaging quality that made it quite different to its stablemate.
Although it is more a measure of the sheer nuttiness of today’s new car scene than any notable progression by Kia, the firm’s stance on electrified transport has been less frenetic and more stable than any of its rivals and, while affordability will always remain the final stumbling block, the South Korean player has always seemed to have an extra ace up its sleeve to turn it from also-ran to most desirable. I cannot help myself, I admire Kia and I find that, when asked, recommendation of ownership becomes an easy second nature decision.
Yet, I have known this brand since the outset of its UK journey. In its earlier pre-Hyundai days, having acquired the rights to the front-driven Lotus Elan, which it renamed R42, or contemplating the importation of the President luxury saloon, complete with reclining rear seat and pop-through leg space for the pampered FT-reading chauffeured executive, it has seldom feared to tread novel ground. The collapse of the Asia-Pacific economy that shook South Korea to its foundations forged the link with Hyundai, from which financial investment Kia has grown like Topsy. Its run-of-the-mill mainstreamers have seldom been less than likeable and, despite inevitable platform sharing, have managed to carve their own vital UK niche, in some areas much to the chagrin of Hyundai.
It is abundantly clear that Kia has always intended to avoid being gimmicky, while retaining an inherent fascination with ultimate creature comforts. Now exceedingly well-integrated with its parent, the arrival of the Genesis range, which, to be frank, I feel is one range too many for an already bruised and confused market, does present the opportunity to expand the very cushiness that it feels is essential to its forward progression. However, this tale is not about the castaway brand, concentrating as it will on the enticing Niro model line-up that has transitioned from Subaru Levorg sliver competitor to three-way electrified first choice crossover.
Kia’s role in electrification has been evident for several years and its dogged desire to maintain the push, even though sales interest was very thin on the ground, has verged on wilfulness. Yet, by maintaining a presence, as the environmental situation has become more critical, it has become perceived as the justified forerunner, a position that I would not deny it. While there was nothing wrong with the conservative previous generation Niro, the new model whisks it into the stratosphere, with Audi-like metal strakes, intriguing side flashes and enhanced dimensions that warrant its overall range place just below the charmed Sportage. No longer a trace-kicker, the Niro is now a defined hero.
Flexibility is its key. Recognising that circumstances could change its fortunes, Niro is available in mild hybrid, full plug-in hybrid and BEV forms, because smart money suggests that covering the odds is wise. With a reliable 290mls of EV range for the top version, supported by consistent test performance, both HEV (138bhp) and PHEV (180bhp combined, with an electric-only range of around 40mls) versions rely on the enhanced efficiency 1.6-litre direct injection petrol motor that provides lively performance, cracking the 0-60mph sprint in less than 10s but topping out at around 115mph. The BEV version is somewhat livelier, zipping to 60mph in around 7.5s, although the top speed is pegged at just over 100mph for the sake of battery longevity.
The extra length, width and height allowed by the new platform provide Niro with class-leading accommodation. However, remember that extra cushiness sought by Kia? Well, you get it in the front passenger seat, which, with the depression of a single button, rises and reclines to an organically relaxing position that Kia calls ‘relaxion’ for those ‘essential moments’ of in-car living…like several other carmakers, turning the car’s cabin into a lounge-like living space is a gimmick, with which I am not entirely happy, although I can perceive the benefit marginally, should the user be awaiting a battery top-up/refill that can occupy a sniff under an hour from zero to 80% capacity at a public recharging point.
The dashboard is a modern stylish digital delight that is driver configurable across the pair of touchscreens but also features a large 10.0-inch head-up display ahead of the driver that contains pertinent driving and mapping information. It is all very clean and tactile, the use of recyclable materials providing a satisfying blend of soft touchpoints, while cracking open the rear hatchback reveals a spacious and flexible load deck, supported in the BEV version by a ‘frunk’ large enough to contain the cabling choices for recharging and probably a squishy sportsbag for good measure. If you want to be bamboozled by Kia’s long list of safety addenda, which can almost match the number of acronyms employed by Mercedes-Benz in its more advanced models, just ask at your local dealership, although you can be guaranteed that the salesperson will not know the full range…checkout the brochure instead!
Prices are expected to start at around £27,000 for the entry-level HEV, with the BEV anticipated at around £35,500, the PHEV version slotting between them, which highlights a moderate increase over the outgoing model. The new line-up is more spacious for the disabled motorist and lends itself rather well to suitability as a business transport option, keen Kia pricing helping its case.