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A bold move

Kia kick-starts its green car strategy with the Niro, Pierre Fava says.

The car industry has inevitably moved towards producing greener vehicles and the thrust that we have seen in these recent years is testament that this is the future of the motor vehicle. The cars of tomorrow will not only have a reduced carbon footprint but also green technology in their power plant.

I was curious to see how a car in this category from a Korean manufacturer would drive. To be honest I was pleasantly surprised with the package that Kia have managed to produce and the whole experience was far above my expectations.

For starters the vehicle comes with a 75mpg fuel consumption which is most certainly a big plus with today’s fuel prices. This is a very impressive figure and one that Kia should be proud of but my first intuition led me to think that this figure would come at somewhat of a sacrifice on other attributes the car had to offer.

The Niro is clearly an urban crossover vehicle but Kia has come up with a first for a new class of cars, the HUV, hybrid utility vehicle. A very clever design gives rise to plenty of room inside the cabin and decently sized luggage space to match.

When I collected the car, as I always do, I asked the salesperson not to explain any of the car’s gadgets to me as I prefer doing this myself – this is because it gives me a clear indication on how user-friendly the car I am testing is. I must say that the Niro passed this test with flying colours as the ease of use of both the infotainmant system and all other controls were within my grasp only after a few minutes of having been in the car.

The size of the new Niro is just below that of the Sportage and thus creates a new segment within the Kia family. The Niro comes equipped with a 1.6-litre petrol engine that has been specifically designed for use in hybrid vehicles.

The interior of the car is dominated by an eight-inch TFT screen which offers all the information you need about the car. All the entertainment and Bluetooth connectivity are controlled from here. The Niro I drove came equipped a parking assist system consisting of parking sensors and a reverse camera which comes in handy when reversing into tight spots or into a garage. A very useful array of connection slots are available just in-front of the gear selector, including two 12V sockets, a jack socket and USB port. All these are handy when connecting both an MP4 player or your phone to listen to music and also when charging multiple devices when on the move. The Niro is also equipped with Bluetooth connectivity for both your phone and for music so there are various possibilities of connecting devices to the car’s infotainment system.

The Niro offers a very comfortable ride and impresses even when driven on Maltese roads

The interior of the car was clad with dark grey leather which gives this car an air of quality. The quality of the materials used inside, both on the dashboard and on the door panels looked very durable and everything around the driver was soft to the touch, something which is not always available on cars of this category. It is evident that Kia have tried very hard to come up with a package that would appeal to a very wide audience and both to business and family users.

The platform used for the Niro was engineered for a hybrid powertrain and is specific to this model, having been independently developed using a global development programme. Having fully independent multi-link rear suspension with dual lower arms the Niro offers a very comfortable ride and impresses even when driven on Maltese roads. The car manged to absorb all bumps and shocks that the roads had to offer remaining very well composed along the way.

The Niro also offers all the modern electronic driver aids that are presently available on the market. These include Kia’s vehicle stability management and electronic stability control providing both safety and traction under all conditions. All of this combined to a drag coefficient of just 0.29CD make the Niro more aerodynamic than similarly sized vehicles on the market.

The Niro’s petrol engine delivers 102bhp maximising efficiency by combining the Atkinson Cycle, cooled exhaust gas recirculation, direct injection and what Kia calls a “long-stroke-narrow-bore specification”. This set-up is then combined to a transmission-mounted 32kW (43bhp) electric motor which is in-turn powered by a 1.56kWh lithium ion polymer battery and works in tandem with the petrol engine to produce a total of 139bhp and 195lb ft of torque. A very impressive output for a car in this segment category.

This set-up gives an impressive 75mpg fuel consumption combined with a CO2 emissions 89g/km for the model having the 16-inch wheels. The car can also be equipped with 18-inch wheels which, while looking more stylish will give rise to a higher CO2 emissions and a harder ride. This is always a balance between looks and ride quality and it is up to the owner to make a choice here – when asked I always suggest a smaller diameter wheel with tyres having a higher profile as these prove to be the better option for the Maltese roads.

I was very impressed with the package Kia has managed to produce. The build quality and interior, coupled with the excellent overall outside visibility, make the Niro a driver’s car. The new technology being offered by Kia is a bold move for the car manufacturer, a move in the right direction in today’s world.

What Kia has manged to achieve is testament that this car maker invests a lot of time and money into building its cars. Both the coolness of having the hybrid badge on the car coupled with the good looks, excellent build quality and the overall dynamic package make the new Niro a car well worth to try out when looking to buy your next new car.

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