Kia is today adding a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version of the Niro crossover to the parallel hybrid models launched in 2016. The PHEV is priced at £27,995 on the road after taking into consideration the Government plug-in car grant of £2,500.
With potential fuel economy of well over 200mpg and CO2 emissions of just 29g/km, the Niro PHEV is easily the Korean company's most efficient car to feature a combustion engine ever. It will be a cornerstone of Kia's drive to reduce the average CO2 emissions of its range by 25 per cent, based on 2014 figures, by 2020.
The PHEV is a stand-alone model in the Niro line-up, based on the mid-range (grade 3) Niro parallel hybrid (with ADAP). Standard features include the latest connectivity and active safety technologies, including Kia Connected Services featuring TomTom, wireless smartphone charging, autonomous emergency braking and lane-keep assist. It also offers Android Auto and Apple CarPlay which, via pre-downloaded apps, link smartphones to navigation, music, hands-free calls and texts and voice recognition services.
The Niro PHEV is also equipped with a 4.2-inch colour TFT supervision cluster, a reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors, roof rails, privacy glass on the rear windows and tailgate and LED tail lights and daytime running lights. It has special 16-inch alloy wheels with aerodynamic plastic covers, dual automatic air conditioning, an automatic windscreen de-fogging system, all-round electric windows and electrically adjustable folding door mirrors with LED indicators. A DAB radio, USB and AUX ports, a leather-covered steering wheel and gearshifter, black leather upholstery, chrome interior and exterior door handles, rain-sensing front wipers and an under-floor tray are also standard. The front seats and steering wheel are heated and there is eight-way power adjustment and powered lumbar adjustment on the driver's seat.
It is available in six colours, including optional Gravity Blue which is exclusive to the plug-in Niro. The standard paint colour is Rich Espresso, while other options are Clear White, Graphite, Midnight Black and White Pearl.
The Niro PHEV features the same 1.6-litre direct-injection petrol engine as the parallel hybrid, but in the plug-in model this is paired with a more powerful 44.5kW (60bhp) electric motor. The Niro PHEV is capable of travelling up to 36 miles on the energy stored in its batteries, which means many owners will be able to complete their daily commute without using a drop of petrol or producing any tailpipe emissions.
The petrol engine develops 104bhp and 147Nm of torque, and conforms to Kia's policy of adopting high-efficiency downsized power units for all new models. In the Niro range it marks the first combination of an Atkinson combustion cycle, cooled exhaust gas recirculation, direct petrol injection and a long-stroke specification for maximum efficiency. The Atkinson cycle holds the intake valve open longer than in a normal Otto cycle engine and also reduces the compression ratio to extract a greater proportion of energy from the combustion process rather than wasting it as heat. Efficiency is further aided by an exhaust heat recovery system which speeds the engine warm-up process.
The 44.5kW (60bhp) electric motor is powered by an 8.9kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack rather than the 1.56kWh system in the parallel hybrid. Together, the two power units produce 139bhp, with 265Nm of torque available in first gear for rapid acceleration from standstill. The Niro PHEV can cover 0-60mph in 10.4 seconds and has a top speed of 107mph.
The greater energy storage capacity of the PHEV's batteries allows the car to travel up to 36 miles on electric power alone. As a result, its official CO2 emissions figure is just 29g/km, so business users pay only 9 per cent company car tax in 2017-18, while the certified fuel consumption figure is 217.3mpg. A brake energy recovery system recoups energy normally dissipated as heat and stores it in the batteries for use later.
Drive to the front wheels is through a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox (6DCT) rather than the continuously variable transmission (CVT) used by most hybrids. This gives more direct and immediate response with greater refinement, and incorporates a Manual Sports mode to allow keener drivers to select gears manually.
A Transmission-Mounted Electric Device (TMED) allows the combined 139bhp of the two power units to be transferred to the drive wheels simultaneously, with minimal energy losses. This differs from the power-split system typical of CVT transmissions, which convert a portion of engine output for delivery through the electric motor, resulting in a loss of energy. TMED allows the hybrid system to access battery power directly at higher speeds for swifter response.
The Niro PHEV is equipped with a number of technological innovations to help it use the power in its battery pack in the most efficient way and top up its batteries on the move.
Sophisticated technologies include regenerative braking, a driving style guide, an ECO-DAS (ECOnomy Driver Assistance System) featuring Coasting Guide Control, a Drive Mode Select button so that drivers can personalise the powertrain's dynamics, and an HEV (Hybrid Electric Vehicle) Select switch. It also has an intelligent heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system to save battery power.
HEV Select gives access to two driving modes via a button in the centre console. In EV (charge depletion) mode the car runs as a purely electric vehicle when the energy stored in the batteries is adequate, and is able to regenerate electrical power on the move to recharge the batteries. HEV (charge sustaining) mode allows the powertrain to balance the use of motor and petrol engine for a seamless combination of electric and internal combustion power. In this mode, a greater proportion of propulsion comes from the petrol engine and the charge level of the batteries is constantly being topped up for later use.
Drive Mode Select gives the driver the choice of Eco and Normal settings to obtain maximum energy efficiency or greater performance. This switch is also located in the centre console. A driving style guide delivers information through the instrument panel about how efficiently the car is being driven so that drivers can adapt their driving style as necessary.
Kia's regenerative braking system allows the car to harvest kinetic energy – energy created by motion – to top up the batteries when coasting or braking.
It is linked to Coasting Guide Control (CGC), which takes information from the navigation system so that the car can anticipate road conditions to reduce energy use and identify opportunities to harvest additional electrical power through coasting. CGC alerts drivers to the best time to lift off the accelerator and coast towards a junction, allowing energy to be regenerated. It also means the driver can brake later and maintain momentum when traffic conditions allow, reducing the likelihood of the need to stop at a junction or traffic lights. CGC operates between 37 and 100mph when a navigation destination is set. It can improve fuel economy by up to 3 per cent.
The advanced HVAC system has been adapted from that in the Soul EV, and allows only the driver's side of the car to be cooled when the other seats are unoccupied to minimise energy usage. It does this through a smart air intake, in contrast to rival systems which merely divert the airflow towards the driver when other vents are closed and consequently do not reduce energy consumption.
Two battery charging cables are supplied with the Niro PHEV; one with a standard three-pin plug allowing the car to be connected to a domestic socket and a Type 2 to Type 2 cable for connection to a public or workplace charging point. The charge time from fully depleted to 100 per cent charged is two-and-a-quarter hours.
The five-door, five-seater Niro PHEV is the world's first compact crossover plug-in hybrid and was a joint design between Kia's studios at Namyang in Korea and Irvine, California. The sleek crossover profile has a low drag coefficient (Cd) of just 0.30, while extensive use of high-strength steel and aluminium in the body construction helps to trim the minimum kerb weight to 1,594kg. Both are significant factors in the Niro PHEV's low fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
The design features the subtly sculpted surfaces and sharp lines that instantly mark the Niro PHEV out as a modern Kia, and includes the latest evolution of the brand's 'tiger-nose' grille as well as the familiar broad C-pillar. A wide stance gives pointers to the car's stability and low centre of gravity, while a long bonnet, short overhangs, elevated headlights and a rising shoulder line are other Kia hallmarks. The body tapers towards the rear, where bold wheel arches, a squared-off bumper with a diffuser section and high-mounted C-shaped tail lights emphasise its dynamic stance. The car's crossover credentials are further highlighted by body cladding beneath the front and rear bumpers, along the sides and around the wheel arches. A subtle roof spoiler aids the car's aerodynamics.
The PHEV features metallic blue flourishes on the front and rear bumpers. The plug-in charging point is on the left-hand front wing.
At 4,355mm long, 1,805mm wide and 1,535mm tall, the compact Niro PHEV sits between the cee'd hatchback and the Sportage SUV in size. Yet with a 2,700mm wheelbase and short front and rear overhangs it provides generous space. This is reinforced by the styling of the interior, which has a wide dashboard set out on horizontal lines. There is an upper display sector with the instrument panel and infotainment screen at the same height, separated by a cabin-wide trim line from the lower control area, where the heating and ventilation and driver assistance switches are located.
The car's platform has been engineered exclusively for electrified vehicles and has been designed to accommodate present and future electrical components within a compact vehicle footprint with minimal intrusion into the spacious interior and luggage area. In the PHEV, luggage space has been slightly reduced to 324 litres to make space for the enlarged battery pack, but this has been partially offset by a reduction in the size of the petrol tank from 45 to 43 litres. A slightly raised crossover-style seating position makes getting in and out easier and provides a superior view out.
The structure is particularly strong and includes 53 per cent advanced high-strength steel, which ensures that rigidity and safety do not compromise weight. This is aided by extensive use of aluminium for the bonnet, tailgate panel, front bumper back beam and several chassis elements, including the front knuckles, front lower arms and brake calipers. Even the parking brake pedal, which is made of fibre-reinforced plastic, contributes to the weight savings. To ensure body integrity and rigidity in critical areas, hot-stamped steel is used to reinforce the A- and B-pillars, roof rails and wheel arches.
The front seats save 1.3kg each thanks to their high-strength steel frames, yet they are still able to cushion occupants against bumps and vibrations as a result of their high-density foam, while specially profiled springs and pads provide high levels of thigh, hip and side support.
By re-engineering some existing components, Kia has endowed the Niro range with a unique chassis specifically designed for hybrids while ensuring it is the equal of the brand's other compact models for ride comfort, handling and refinement.
The driving characteristics begin with fully independent suspension all round, based on MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link arrangement with dual lower arms at the rear. It has been tuned to deliver maximum on-centre steering feel, high-speed stability and immediate response to steering inputs. Because each rear wheel is able to absorb bumps independently, shocks are less likely to be transmitted to the cabin than with a cheaper torsion beam rear axle, while the wide stance and low centre of gravity enhance stability.
Capitalising on the experience gained through the development of two generations of Optima hybrid (neither sold in the UK) plus the Soul EV, Kia has been able to give Niro consistent and linear deceleration and braking feel unusual in an electrified car. Electronic Stability Control and Vehicle Stability Management, which collectively control skids when cornering or accelerating on surfaces with uneven levels of grip, are standard. The Niro PHEV is also fitted with Autonomous Emergency Braking and Smart Cruise Control to assist the driver in avoiding collisions with other vehicles and pedestrians.
The car's exceptional refinement proved particularly challenging to perfect because of the hybrid powertrain. Contributing towards this are asymmetric engine mounts to minimise powertrain movements at the attachment points in the subframe, high-density under-bonnet insulation, an acoustic shield with a special support structure to improve the sound of the combustion engine when accelerating in the most commonly used speed ranges, and the adoption of a 6DCT gearbox in place of a CVT.
Road noise is minimised by high-insulation rigid bushes in the front subframe, high-strength steel in the rear wheel arches and additional insulation in the A- and B-pillars. The low drag co-efficient (Cd) of 0.30 contributes towards the suppression of wind noise, aided by laminated windscreen glass, a cowl over the front windscreen wipers, specially profiled door mirror casings and – as an example of the attention to detail of Kia's engineers – covers over the holes in the roof rails, which sit flush on the bodywork.
An environmental car does not have to be a fundamental car, and the Niro PHEV is available with the most advanced connectivity services and active driver aids.
Standard advanced driver assistance pack include Autonomous Emergency Braking with Smart Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist, Hill-start Assist Control and a Speed Limiter. There is an 8.0-inch touchscreen navigation system with European mapping, a reversing camera and Kia Connected Services featuring TomTom. This provides up-to-the-minute information on traffic hold-ups, weather, speed camera locations and local points of interest. Kia Connected Services is free for seven years from the time the car is bought. A wireless mobile phone charger and an eight-speaker JBL Premium sound system with a 320-watt external amplifier are also standard alongside a DAB radio and Bluetooth smartphone connectivity and music streaming.
The Niro PHEV features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which allow smartphones to be paired with the car via pre-downloaded apps. Android Auto works with Android smartphones running 5.0 (Lollipop) or higher and gives access to a variety of services such as Google Maps navigation, Google Play music, hands-free calls and texts and voice recognition. Apple CarPlay functions with iPhone 5 or newer and enables full Siri voice control of the phone's apps and functions while linking the car to Apple Maps, calls and text dictation, music streaming and audiobooks.
In keeping with every Kia, the Niro PHEV comes with a unique-in-the-UK seven-year or 100,000-mile warranty, subject to wear and tear conditions. The warranty is fully transferable should the car be sold before the time or mileage limits have been reached.
It is also available with Kia’s Care-3 and Care-3 Plus servicing packages, offering retail customers fixed-cost, inflation-proof servicing for three or five years. Both packages cover the car, not the owner, so are transferable should the vehicle be sold.
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|1.6 GDi 6DCT plug-in hybrid||