Kia Niro: Silence is golden

Kia Niro Electric 3

What is it?

Niro might sound like good name for a guard dog, but attached to one of the latest Kias to arrive in Australia, it’s the title of a trio of small crossover hybrids — that come as a normal hybrid, plug-in hybrid and an all-electric model. 

They date back some years, with the first being unveiled in 2016 at the Chicago Auto Show. The next year they were sold domestically, then exported to several other countries.

Now they’re here. While a bit dated in looks and some features, the good news is they already have a history of being problem-free.

And, of course, they come with Kia’s seven-year warranty.

Kia Niro Electric 2

What’s it cost?

We got to glide about in a Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV) as well as a full-electric (EV) which are almost identical in looks, bar the tailgate badge, wheel designs and a blanked-out grille on the EV.

They also come in S for standard or Sport versions, although and like many other brands, ‘sport’ simply translates to upgraded equipment.

The Hybrid S costs $39,990, the Sport $43,890, PHEV S is $46,590, while the Sport option $50,490, EV S is $62,590 and the EV Sport $65,990.

That’s without the on-road charges, which vary from state to state. 

For your money the S trim gives you an 8.0-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, six-speaker audio, fabric trimmed seats, powered driver’s seat, 16-inch alloys, keyless entry, climate control, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera. 

Safety gear includes seven airbags, AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane departure warning with lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control and lane follow assist.

The ‘Sport’ has a 10.25-inch touch-screen with satnav, 18-inch alloys, smarter upholstery, LED headlights, blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert, steel pedals, tyre pressure monitoring and an electro-chromatic rear-view mirror.

Kia Niro Electric 7 scaled

What’s it go like?

PHEV is powered by electrics and a 77kW/147Nm 1.6-litre petrol engine which drive the front wheels though a dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission.

Mounted on the trannie is an electric motor that contributes 44.5kW/170Nm for a combined output of 104kW and 265Nm. 

The electric motor, in turn, gets its power from an 8.9kWh 360 volt lithium-ion battery.

That’s all foreign lingo to generations accustomed to kiloWatts and Newton metres, but the times, as Bob Dylan said, are a-changin’.

Push the ‘start’ button and you get something inspired by Simon and Garfunkel: The Sound of Silence.

Turn the rotary knob to ‘D’ and off you go, noiselessly. It’s a bit unnerving for a bloke accustomed to a starter motor firing up a combustion engine — but hey, we’re in the age of progress.

Or reverse progress if you visit a car museum and see the all-electric cars dating back some 100 years.

Anyway, the electrics will run the neat SUV along with the traffic for more than 50km before the petrol motor kicks in.

Or, if you want to beat the twerp in the WRX away from the lights, you can floor the loud pedal and both electric and petrol motors combine to whisk you to 100km/h in 10.0 seconds.

The all-electric (EV) will do the sprint in about 7.5 seconds — and has a driving range of 450km — which is more than adequate for most daily needs. 

Both PHEV and EV can be recharged at any of a lot of stations dotted all around Australia, or from your own home’s regular plug. 

Fuel economy on the PHEV was impressive. After a week’s use with the engine working most of the time, we averaged a very impressive 4.9L/100km. 

On the EV, there’s no such thing as fuel consumption.

Both vehicles have alloy wheels designed to minimise wind resistance, and even the tyres are special.

The PHEV Sport ran on Michelin Pilot Sport 4 and the EV on Michelin Primacy 3s. 

Accommodation in the Niro is surprisingly generous.

It’s got more usable space than you’d think, plus lots of head and legroom, good instrumentation, including how much distance is left (on the EV) and luxuries like leather trimmed steering wheel, powered driver’s seat, dual-zone climate control and a decent audio system.

Clever packaging of the battery packs make for plenty of cargo space with 410 litres in the Hybrid, 324 litres in the PHEV and 451 litres in the EV.

 With rear seats folded that space increases to 1408 litres, 1322 litres and 1405 litres, respectively. 

The ride is pleasantly comfortable with a front Macstrut set-up and a tail-end that uses a multi-link arrangement.

Handling is also pretty good, despite the considerable mass of the batteries in both examples.

No problems giving either model a bit of a belt through the corners, though few owners are likely to drive them in a sporting fashion, even if they are the ‘Sport’ model.

A good feature of the EV is the ability to increase or decrease braking power via paddle shifts on either side of the steering wheel.

With practice, there’s barely a need to use the brake pedal. As well, there are selectable driving modes.

So they’re well-constructed and well proven vehicles, and it all comes down to the question: do you really need an electric vehicle, or a hybrid, or a mix of the two?

You can, for example, get the utterly delightful Kia Stinger GT-Line sedan for about the same price as the Niro PHEV. 

But it won’t return 4.9L/100km.

Or for some $15K more, you can get the Niro EV – and never have to spend a cent on petrol.

Kia Niro Electric 5

What we like?

  • Silence
  • Economy
  • Comfort
  • Space
  • Build quality
  • Warranty

Kia Niro Electric 4

What we don’t like?

  • Comparatively high prices

Kia Niro Electric 8

The bottom line?

The Niros are pro-green planet, different, efficient – and pricey.

Buy one and you’d be seen as a person concerned about the future of Planet Earth.

Your decision. 

Kia Niro Electric 6

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Kia Niro, priced from $39,990
  • Looks - 7/10
  • Performance - 8/10
  • Safety - 8/10
  • Thirst - 9.5/10
  • Practicality - 8/10
  • Comfort - 8/10
  • Tech - 8.5/10
  • Value - 7/10