For many years it was true: whoever says hybrid thinks Toyota Prius almost automatically, because the compact model of the Japanese was for a long time the only offer with the more environmentally friendly double drive consisting of gasoline and electric motor. Meanwhile, the pure electric cars dominate the discussion and hybrids are often considered “plug-in” because the larger and rechargeable batteries of these models allow purely electric trips of up to 50 kilometers. But the classic, lower-priced hybrid drive, in which a relatively small electric motor primarily serves to support the combustion engine when starting and accelerating, is not yet dead. And our test car is a very good example of this.
In the Kia Niro, in addition to the 1,6 liter petrol engine with 77 kW / 105 PS, a less powerful electric motor with 32 kW / 44 PS works. You cannot simply add these values, but the system performance of both drives is at least 103 kW / 140 PS. The Korean drives accordingly fast. Of course, you notice the electric drive especially when starting off. Either it effectively supports the combustion engine and gives the rather weak gasoline engine that little bit of agility, or you can even roll the first few meters purely electrically even with a very sensitive gas foot, for example, so as not to throw the neighborhood out of bed in the early morning. The second main area of application of the electric motor: It supports the consumption-intensive acceleration.
Compared to the fourth-generation Toyota Prius, the mother ship of all hybrids, the Kia Niro has two advantages. First: While the power of the engines in the Prius is distributed completely flexibly via a planetary gear, the engineers of the Hyundai Group rely on a six-speed dual clutch gearbox. This allows a more "European" driving style than the counterpart working like a CVT transmission on the Prius. And secondly: While the design of the Prius polarizes and ultimately takes little account of the local taste, the Niro is optically much more pleasing. During our two weeks of testing, we even received some praise from passers-by and drivers for the work of the designers from the Hyundai Group under the direction of Peter Schreyer. Yes, both must be mentioned again: The Koreans rely on the German designer and at least visually make some Japanese brands look old. And yes, Kia belongs to the Hyundai group and is more likely to occupy the sporty and younger corner there. At Hyundai, by the way, the Niro is called Ioniq, which will not only be available in a hybrid version, but also from next year in a pure electric car variant and later even as a plug-in.
And what is the Niro like in everyday life? The fact that the Koreans are getting started with hybrid technology quite late compared to Toyota, for example, is the five-seater a very experienced car. Everything works flawlessly and thanks to the dual clutch transmission there is even something like driving fun. The relatively insensitive steering and the insanely comfortable driver hold can even be ache. In addition, thanks to its crystal-clear design, the Niro offers a surprising amount of space over its total length of 4,26 - also at the rear. The trunk with 427 liters, on the other hand, is slightly below average, but you can load up to 1.425 liters of luggage after folding the rear seats, almost a combined value.
Of course, the Kia cannot compensate for a fundamental disadvantage of hybrid technology: because of the two engines, you drive a relatively heavy car, which is noticeable when driving faster. Such vehicles are made for city traffic or cruising, if it is on the country road or even the freeway, consumption increases with the gasoline engine, which is then overwhelmed due to the weight of up to just under 1,6 tons depending on the equipment. Nevertheless: Anyone who adopts the typical forward-looking hybrid style with a light gas foot will be rewarded with consumption of around five liters per 100 kilometers.
A good value that fits the overall impression of this vehicle. The Niro, available from around 25.000 euros, is a real (positive) surprise in terms of optics and drive, as if Kia had many years of experience with hybrid technology. So it's good that friends of this drive now have another promising offer. (Peter Eck / SP-X)