Kia Niro PHEV long-term test: the seven-month verdict

Published: 28 October 2020

► Ben Whitworth lives with a Niro
► Ours is the plug-in hybrid version
► Check out our regular reports

It’s normally at the end of the first month that I think I have the full measure of a long-term test car. Not so the Niro. As early as the first week, I knew that Kia’s plug-in hybrid was a winner.

You wouldn’t guess that from looking at the Niro, given that Kia has hidden the sophisticated 6.6-pence-per-mile hybrid powertrain beneath some of the least engaging sheet metal currently available anywhere. It certainly lacks the visual zing of the Sportage, Proceed, Soul and Stinger. Intentional, perhaps, to woo buyers who might be put off by something less anonymous and more adventurous.

And its ho-hum design is perfectly matched by its unexceptional driving dynamics. Getting from here to there in the Kia is everything to do with transport and nothing to do with driving. An overly firm ride for a family car, accurate but lifeless steering, ponderous handling – they all conspire to ensure you focused on achieving smooth and relaxed progress. Likewise, you have to ignore the numerous bings, trills and bongs that interrupt proceedings with irritating regularity.

But none of this detracts from the overall brilliance of the PHEV’s ability to meet our every motoring demand with ease. Ours was in mid-range ‘3’ specification, but that in fact involves a generous amount of safety and convenience equipment. I appreciated its intelligent mix of physical and touchscreen controls. The Bose sound system was phenomenally good. iPhone syncing and Apple’s CarPlay integration were seamless. The huge cabin effortlessly swallowed people, dogs, bicycles, DIY and gardening supplies.

Its 35-mile battery range meant school runs and work commutes could be covered on silent electric power, while on longer trips the hybrid system intelligently juggled petrol and battery propulsion. The 1.6-litre, turbo-free Atkinson-cycle motor may have been a little gruff, but it hated a drink and when it joined forces with the e-motor, progress was engagingly brisk. Plugging the Kia in to our Chargemaster-supplied wallbox whenever it was on the driveway meant a full charge in just two-and-a-quarter hours. As a result I visited fuel stations just four times in eight months.

In short, the Kia felt tailor-made to address every element of our motoring needs. Our fuel bills melted away, we didn’t have to compromise our motoring routine in any way at all, and I got a real kick from driving something that was as relevant as it was intelligent.

By Ben Whitworth

Logbook: Kia Niro PHEV 3

Price £31,945 (£32,530 as tested)
Performance 1580cc hybrid four-cylinder, 139bhp, 10.4sec 0-62mph, 107mph
Efficiency 202mpg (official) 95.0mpg (tested), 29g/km CO2
Energy cost 6.6p per mile
Miles this month 1569
Total miles 6020


Month 6 living with a Kia Niro PHEV: designed to make life better

Techy But Dull
There’s a small but insistent part of me that really wishes the Niro had a dash more style and panache. It’s no looker, and this awkward frumpiness is made all the more apparent because I think most other current Kia cars – from Soul to Stinger – look superb.

Niro LTT boot

Open Wide
Okay, the upshot of those slightly cumbersome big-hatch-small-SUV proprtions is that the Niro is impressively cavernous. Flip down the split rear seatbacks and the extended boot will easily swallow bicycles, lawnmowers and even a six-foot-long chest of drawers.

Niro LTT screen

‘Leccy vs Unleaded
There’s a lot of data to interrogate in the Niro’s info system. But one annoying oversight is its inability to record separate energy usage, making it impossible to calculate the independent cost-per-mile for electricity and petrol when both have been used on a journey.

Niro LTT plug

Shining Light
There are a lot of small but smart details on the Niro but my favourite is the illuminated charging hatch. Unlike brightly-lit service stations, many charge points are located in poorly illuminated public car parks or on dark driveways. Handy when arriving home late.

By Ben Whitworth

Logbook: Kia Niro PHEV 3

Price £31,945 (£32,530 as tested)
Performance 1580cc hybrid four-cylinder, 139bhp, 10.4sec 0-62mph, 107mph
Efficiency 202mpg (official) 86.9mpg (tested), 29g/km CO2
Energy cost 6.2p per mile
Miles this month 444
Total miles 4451


Month 5 living with a Kia Niro PHEV: small-ish and great-ish

Kia Niro LTT driving

I drove my mother’s elderly dog to the vet’s last week. Not exactly a winning Top Trump card in the Dream Drives deck, but after three weeks of either walking or cycling, the 10-mile return trip with Stinkyboy Alfie left me buzzing. I savoured every moment, and drank in every aspect, no matter how small. Starting, appropriately, with the Niro’s key. Its asymmetrical shape makes it easy to press the right button without needing to glance at it. And it reminds me of Bodie and Doyle’s Pye PF8 walkie-talkies in The Professionals.

Unlock and unplug. Drop down into the plumply upholstered seat. Seatbelt and smartphone. Flick out the key – no pushbutton start-up here – and twist. Pretend I don’t hear the cheesy bingbong welcome. Glance down to the right of the gearlever and toggle the powertrain selector to full-electric EV mode. Silence the Virtual Engine Sound System for full stealth approach. Drop into D, breathe on the accelerator and with a faint whirr, dog and I are off.

Although I love the Niro’s superb Bose audio system, and the way it instantly hooks up to my phone, I turn off Depeche Mode’s 101 and drive in silence. Up to 50mph the Kia is enjoyably brisk in electric mode, although the smooth double-clutch gearshifts that interrupt its linear acceleration still feel odd in an electric car. I’m accustomed to the slightly too-firm ride quality now, and I know the chassis, steering and suspension are only loosely acquainted with the concepts of dynamism and athleticism, so I concentrate on smooth inputs, maintaining momentum and getting the crook canine to the vet’s practice as comfortably rather than as quickly as possible.

Alfie perks up the moment he sees the vet. He’s a sucker for a vet with a French accent who’s generous with both her treats and her drugs. So what we all thought might be his last trip out of the house turned into a drugs run for him and a driving fix for me. Good result all round, I’d say.

By Ben Whitworth

Logbook: Kia Niro PHEV 3

Price £31,945 (£32,530 as tested)
Performance 1580cc hybrid four-cylinder, 139bhp, 10.4sec 0-62mph, 107mph
Efficiency 202mpg (official) 84.5mpg (tested), 29g/km CO2
Energy cost 6.4p per mile
Miles this month 48
Total miles 4007


Month 4 living with a Kia Niro PHEV: the silent workhorse

Banish those guilty memories of hedonistic cars I’ve lived with in the past. Forget about the Caterham 160, the Mazda RX-8, even the Renault Clio Trophy. Right now, with so much of the mobility that we took for granted suddenly reduced to walking pace, the Kia Niro plug-in hybrid is an entirely appropriate car for those rare occasions when driving is the right thing to do.

Quick, near-silent and visually low-key, it could have been tailor-made for slipping out on these few crucial runs, collecting and delivering groceries and medication for my mother and in-laws. And in a time-rewound world of empty skies, unoccupied roads and deserted villages, these all-electric journeys made it feel even more advanced and sophisticated than usual.

This handful of very short trips made me realise just how much I missed driving the Kia, and how its movement and pace had become such integral parts of my daily life.

By Ben Whitworth

Logbook: Kia Niro PHEV 3

Price £31,945 (£32,530 as tested)
Performance 1580cc hybrid four-cylinder, 139bhp, 10.4sec 0-62mph, 107mph
Efficiency 202mpg (official) 84.5mpg (tested), 29g/km CO2
Energy cost 6.4p per mile
Miles this month 2301
Total miles 3925


Month 3 living with a Kia Niro PHEV: the miles roll on

Kia Niro LTT driving

A lot of Niro miles covered this month and its logbook is filling up with pros and cons. 

Bad first. Regen paddles: after persevering with them for the first month I find them counter-intuitive and difficult to modulate smoothly. Pedals: need recalibrating. The top centimetre of travel on both throttle and brake pedals is too sensitive. Headlamps: even on full beam the yellowy projection is feeble. Bings: it trills, bongs and pings on start-up, when reversing, and during manoeuvring. Ride quality: the too-firm lumpy ride is at odds with the Niro’s easygoing nature.

But now the good. Sport mode: brings together both petrol and electric powerplants to make short work of overtakes. Packaging intelligence: the cabin mixes generous passenger accommodation with plenty of storage areas. Ergonomics: excellent touchscreen infotainment system and button-laden cabin look incongruous but they work very well together. 

By Ben Whitworth

Logbook: Kia Niro PHEV 3

Price £31,945 (£32,530 as tested)
Performance 1580cc hybrid four-cylinder, 139bhp, 10.4sec 0-62mph, 107mph
Efficiency 202mpg (official) 84.5mpg (tested), 29g/km CO2
Energy cost 6.4p per mile
Miles this month 2301
Total miles 3925


Month 2 of our Kia Niro PHEV long-term test: what’s the fuel economy like?

Niro LTT trip

With an effective 35-mile battery-only range, the Niro tackles our daily school runs, work commutes and local trips in silent all-electric mode. It’s almost as if Kia’s engineers created the PHEV to meet our specific transport needs.

I’m still getting to grips with splitting electricity and petrol costs, but based on the single refuel (as opposed to recharge) this month it’s returning 80.5mpg. Impressive given the 725 miles accrued included a few pacey airport runs and some long four-up cross-country slogs.

That the Niro’s cabin is very spacious, decadently equipped and very comfortable also goes a long way towards compensating for its less than glamorous looks. Let’s call it frumpy and move on, shall we? 

By Ben Whitworth

Logbook: Kia Niro PHEV 3

Price £31,945 (£32,530 as tested)
Performance 1580cc hybrid four-cylinder, 139bhp, 10.4sec 0-62mph, 107mph
Efficiency 202mpg (official) 80.5mpg (tested), 29g/km CO2
Energy cost 7.1p per mile
Miles this month 725
Total miles 780


Month 1 living with a Kia Niro plug-in hybrid: the introduction

Kia Niro PHEV long-term test by CAR magazine

Why drive a plug-in-hybrid Niro, and not the all-electric e-Niro? It’s a good question, with a simple answer: there are none to be had.

At the start of 2019 Kia UK’s allocation of e-Niros sold out within weeks, leaving 3000-odd customers on a waiting list – including us. So rather than wait an age, we opted, like many would-be e-Niro buyers, to go for the next best thing, and sign up for a Niro plug-in hybrid until all-electric Niro supply resumes.

Electric vehicles may be the automotive sector’s current hot topic – part of environmental evangelist Greta Thunberg’s stark climate-change landscape – but let’s get some perspective here. The latest available figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show that year-to-date car registrations for 2019 were 2,162,143. Petrol cars accounted for the bulk of that, with 1,404,389 registrations, followed by diesel at 549,793 – a 22 per cent slump over the same period in 2018. By comparison plug-in hybrids and battery-electric vehicles – cars that need to be plugged in to recharge their batteries – amounted to just 30,254 and 32,911 respectively. Non-plug-in hybrids and mild hybrids accounted for the remaining 144,796 registrations.

So, at 2.9 per cent of market share, plug-in sales look modest. But with total vehicle registrations slumping 2.7 per cent, a 20 per cent sector jump certainly bucks the trend. Kia is confident it will have a plentiful supply of e-Niros to be part of that continuing growth.

Kia Niro hybrid interior

Don’t, however, think that we’re just drumming our fingers in the Niro PHEV, waiting for the e-Niro to arrive. Far from it. The hybrid is interesting enough in itself, and plenty of buyers won’t be treating it as a stop-gap. If things turn out as well as we hope, it should slip seamlessly into our busy daily routine. Its ability to cover up to 35 miles on a full charge means we will be able to complete the vast majority of local trips and commutes on silent and cheap electrical power.

It’s no looker – not one of Peter Schreyer’s best – but the high-riding Niro is spacious, swallowing children, dogs and the odd cello without complaint. And its mid-range ‘3’ spec means it comes laden with safety and convenience equipment. The only option we’ve picked is the £585 Horizon Blue paintwork; the total is £32,530.

I’ve only had the car two days and covered just 55 miles. First impressions are positive, though. Drawing on a combined 139bhp and 195lb ft of torque from the 1.6-litre direct-injection naturally aspirated petrol engine and electric motor, the 1490kg Niro’s performance is peppy enough; the two powerplants work seamlessly together; economy has hovered around 73mpg; the seven-speed double-clutch ‘box is smooth enough; and we’ve all enjoyed the intuitive connectivity, thumping sound system and comfortable heated leather seats. The miles will clock up quickly.

By Ben Whitworth

Logbook: Kia Niro PHEV 3

Price £31,945 (£35,530 as tested) 
Performance 1580cc hybrid four-cylinder, 139bhp, 10.4sec 0-62mph, 107mph 
Efficiency 202mpg (official), 73mpg (tested), 29g/km CO2 
Energy cost 8.2p per mile 
Miles this month 55
Total miles 55

By Ben Whitworth

Contributing editor, sartorial over-achiever, HANS device shirt collars

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