As I wave goodbye to the Kia Optima PHEV, I welcome the Kia Niro Hybrid ‘2’. It’ll be an interesting change from a plug-in hybrid to a non-plugin, as I’ve gotten used to relying on the electric drive of the PHEV. It made light work of all my short journeys and proved that an electric range – even a ‘short’ 30-miles – is worthwhile. So, the question for the Niro is, can a hybrid cut it in a plugin world?
Weeks 1 & 2 Hybrid Travelling
After the luxuries of the Optima PHEV long termer, the Niro might seem like a step down – and it is, in many ways, but in others not so much. For example, while the Optima’s plug-in battery encumbers the boot with a large unusable space, the Niro is blessed with a good size load space that’s more practical and versatile for whatever you might throw in it. Shopping, buggies, or a kitchen sink all fit with ease.
The first week with the Niro was spent driving a short commute to work and, as the weather grew colder, economy was not great. Mid-40s to low 50s over six-mile maximum journeys wasn’t exactly highlighting what this car should be capable of, nor what it was when testing the car over a week’s loan earlier in the year. And the Niro has the same sticking points as found before, namely second gear is held for far too long, which makes for an often awkward and uneconomical acceleration, even if throttling right back.
Nevertheless, adding some longer journeys has offered an improvement in economy; namely by driving the car all the way from the UK to Tuscany, Italy.
Not your average trip, nor the ‘best’ environment for a hybrid – going over the Alps via the Petit St. Bernard Pass didn’t help improve the Niro’s average economy, having climbed to higher altitudes than exist in the UK. Downhill was a different story, of course, with the car not needing the engine at all and cruising on electric power alone plus gaining significant battery charge. Oddly though, the engine would start up on occasion at high revs due to the automatic gear selected despite the downhill nature of that particular trip.
Even the flats of northern France proved a struggle for the Niro, with economy stubbornly averaging around 55mpg. At 130km/h (80mph) the car finds it hard work keeping up with traffic and is a bit underpowered, making for uneasy and high-rewing change-downs even on slight inclines to hold its speed. Dropping back to 110km/h provided a similar effect and this implies it’s down on torque to pull it along.
However, turning off the motorway and travelling at a slower pace made things a little better. Into Italy and the Tuscan hills, for example, the average quickly raised to 62mpg and is showing signs that it can do more. Sport mode has also proven useful, as its extra power boost helps the engine climb hills with a burst of additional torque.
And so, over a 1,408-mile journey so far (and the car’s total miles reading just 1,534-miles), the car’s average fuel economy currently reads 60mpg.
I have deduced a few things so far. Firstly, the Niro is an excellent journey car. It’s comfortable and spacious to sit in for hours and it holds the road well no matterwhatthesurface. Overall economy is much what I expected after the Optima PHEV, although 75mpg was attained during my first drive of the car and, in a twin test with the Hyundai loniq Hybrid, similarly high mpg results were easily achievable. So what’s different this time? Well, the fact this car has done so few miles won’t help. Despite what ‘they’ tell you, engines still need some miles under their belt to ‘run in’ before performing at their optimum. Likewise, travelling faster than UK speeds on the continent burns a lot of fuel, obviously. If you’re always running late or are in a hurry, the Niro hybrid system isn’t likely to offer the best economy around. It’s best to keep to flats, if you can. And, if you live in a hilly area, although the electric drive does provide some additional hill-climbing torque, the engine would struggle to pull the skin off a rice pudding.
As for the age old question as to whether hybrids are better on distance journeys than the stop-and-start of city driving, well, the Niro seems to be about as economical on a distance run as it is around town. It’s early days yet and I suspect as journeys become more UK centric than the winding Alpine hill- climbs, the all-important economy will steadily improve. One thing is already clear though, I miss the electric range of the Optima PHEV.