NOT many people were giving hybrids much of a chance five years ago.
They were seen as nothing more than a sop to the green brigade while not living up to their promise of stratospheric economy. And they cost a lot.
They would just fizzle out, wouldn’t they? Looks like we got that one wrong. Progress has been steady with sales doubling and this will speed up even more as car makers race to put more hybrid models into the showrooms.
For proof of the way things are going look no further than Kia.
The Korean company is committed to building 22 electric and hybrid models by 2020 and has made a statement of intent with a bespoke hybrid rather than bolting an electric motor to an existing model. Niro will be sold only as a hybrid or plug-in electric car.
In size it sits between the Cee’d hatchback and Sportage but doesn’t have the full blown SUV styling, falling into the mould of Crossover with a small ‘c’.
While its Hyundai partner has gone for a hatchback hybrid with the Ioniq, Kia believes growth over the next decade will be in crossovers and the evidence so far justifies the thinking.
As a first effort Niro shows a lot of promise. Apart from the bespoke body, which is still every bit a Kia, the hybrid gets a new 1.6 litre direct injection petrol paired with a 32kW electric motor and mated to a six speed automatic gearbox and is capable of 74mpg in level 1 and 2 trim but drops to 64mpg on level 3 and 4 which run on bigger 18 inch wheels. Size really matters here.
The upper figure is good although some way off the 86 of the sector leading Toyota Prius and you will have to be careful which model you choose to get away without paying road tax.
In fact the UK launch was a tale of two cars. The all singing and dancing First Edition Niro is packed to the gills with kit and so it should be for 27 grand, but doesn’t quite dip under the magic 100g/km line for zero road tax. That said is anyone going to worry about £20 a year but they will think twice about the plunge in economy.
The top of the range Niro rides on 18in rims and is stiffly sprung yet it is not an uncomfortable ride and holds the road well, navigating twisting B roads without any drama. There is a good feel to the steering but the level of road noise is disappointing.
There are all sorts of graphics monitoring the energy flow and at the end of a 65 mile run the computer recorded 55.4mpg with 20 per cent of aggressive driving! No better than a diesel but no worse either.
No two tyres are the same and that was proved when we dropped down to level two.
This sits on 16in alloys and has a far better ride with less road roar and no loss of control.
It also has lower emissions at 88g/km for zero road tax and is 10mpg better than the two top grade models.
Buyers face a model dilemma. Levels 1 and 2 have the more comfortable ride but levels 3 and 4 have more kit so it might be worth specifying 16in wheels.
While the base model has automatic air conditioning, all round electric windows and DAB as part of a good spec it is level 3 that sounds the most impressive with parking sensors, heated front seats, power adjustable driver’s seat, black gloss cabin inserts and wireless phone charger as part of the package.
The handbrake is engaged by an archaic foot pedal but we have to put up with it because the Americans love it and that is Kia’s second biggest market.
Niro will provide good family transport as there is plenty of space for five adults with enough leg room in the back for six footers.
Kia is on for another sales record and is confident it can pick up 5,000 Niro sales next year without stealing too many from other Kia models.
Kia Niro First Edition
Engine: 1.6 + electric motor; 139bhp
Performance: 0-62mph 11.1secs; 101mph
Economy: 64.2mpg combined
Emissions: 101g/km. Tax £20
Insurance group: 12
Price: £26,995 (starts £21,295)