Touring unplugged

by Andy Bryenton

Kia managed to shock and surprise everybody last year with the arrival of the speedy, slick and dynamically impressive Stinger, their answer to the best of Europe’s grand tourers. Now they’re back to surprise the world again, with a touring machine of a whole different stripe. Enter the Kia Niro, a combination of some of the hottest trends in modern motoring, and a definite one to watch.

When looking at the Niro without context, it’s easy to assume that the Korean automakers simply wanted something small, compact and sports utility shaped to fit into their range between the quirky Soul and the popular Sportage. In an era when even Range Rover has a ‘crossover’ and the Toyota CH-R is the new Corolla, it makes sense. But that’s not what the Niro is all about. Sure, it’s got that nifty ‘fun size’ sports utility shape, the same voluminous cabin with clever cubbies and storage spaces, the same higher driving position and nice safety features. But it’s also a plug-in hybrid.

With Elon Musk at the door and the mass production of Tesla cars at hand — soon — the addition of a crossover hybrid hits all the zeitgeist buttons. This particular combination of internal combustion and voltage power means that you can drive for 55 kilometres without using a drop of the go-juice, and even on the open highway you’ll sip a mere 1.4 litres per 100 kilometres.

That’s a sum measured in the change under the seat. However, the Niro doesn’t fall into that other trap of frugal hybrids — it’s not boring. In eco mode it may seem a touch leisurely, but hit sport and all 140 horsepower comes out to play. It’s no supercar, but it’s grin-inducing, especially as the electric motor joins in much like an old school turbo used to, kicking in a surge of added fizz. The dual clutch six-speed box keeps it smooth, while the twin power systems do their thing.

Arriving here in March, the plug-in Niro will join a pair of full-time hybrids in what is becoming a very interesting Kia range indeed.

For those who are more concerned with the cutting edge than the prestige of a label, this is where the smart money sits.