Having reached Italy, it soon became time to turn around and leave. Ultimately, it was an adventure to look forward to with no fewer than 80 tunnels to pass through before reaching the Italian Lago Maggiore in the northern Alpine foothills. It’s a stunning location with past grandeur and an enduring beauty that shall long outlive the civilisation that’s been built around it. The lake is host to magnificent palaces, once built to entertain and dine the world’s rich and famous, but now a tourist trap with old-world charm.
Meanwhile, the Niro had become our ever-dependable companion. Always ready and never skipping a beat. And, despite my previous comment to the contrary – “it wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding” -1 had also discovered the joys of the Sport mode with optional manual gear shift. This function transforms the car and offers what feels like twice the pulling power of the car in regular driving mode. The Niro Hybrid is particular scant of driver options, so, actually, it’s pleasantly easy to live with and understand in comparison to other cars that feature a dozen options.
Sport mode serves up the electric torque in combination with the petrol engine, and in combination there’s the full 147Nm available. While that still isn’t very much, especially in a car of this size, it’s enough to ensure a smile can be had and, more importantly, a mountain can be climbed.
However, this is at the expense of fuel consumption, which quickly tumbles to mid-40s while climbing a hill. Of course, downhill is a different story and the Niro recuperates its battery reserve while also managing to remain in electric mode for the majority of a downhill stint. Unfortunately, this is marred by the interruption of the petrol engine that chips in unnecessarily and while the gearbox is still in a low gear. The resulting whine is enough to make anyone with any mechanical sympathy wince, as the revs soar and it sounds like it’ll go ‘pop’. It doesn’t, by the way. This oddity aside, I’m impressed by the Niro’s ability up a mountain where a non-assisted petrol engine would typically struggle. The electric oomph certainly helped and, frankly, I wouldn’t have wanted to be without it.
Moving along from Italy and into Switzerland via the Grand St Bernard Pass, there was yet more stunning scenery to behold and more mountains to climb. Average fuel economy had now averaged out to around 55mpg – less up hill, more down hill.
Switzerland is a true wonder. It’s breathtaking combination of seemingly unspoilt mounts combined with the hauntingly peaceful echo of cow bells is simply bewildering. In addition, houses appear not to have boundaries and are instead placed at the edge of large open fence-free fields. This adds to the sense of freedom and the people are welcoming too. However, there’s a rather large caveat here and that is everything is ten times more expensive than we in the UK are used to. A mid-size bag of crisps in a nondescript supermarket in a small town, for example? That’ll be the equivalent of £4.50 thank you very much. Because of this, we wisely fuelled up the Niro in Italy before leaving its borders. Sadly, the expense of Switzerland grated a little, and having been put off by the €180 cost for two persons to travel up a ski lift to see a glacier that was covered by cloud, we soon left and made our way back to France where prices aren’t so exorbitant. A classy Swedish meatball feast from IKEA later and we were back on familiar territory.
We filled the Niro with goodies in France too, including twenty or so bottles of wine, as well as many foodie gifts for people back home. This really put the Niro’s load capacity to the test but it managed to swallow up all our three- weeks’ worth of luggage, shoes, coats, food and drink with relative ease. The under-boot floor storage proved useful, although some of the divisions provided were limiting rather than helpful, being a touch too narrow for anything more than a small bag of coffee beans. However, that’s not to say the overall package isn’t practical – it is – and that’s one major benefit of having the crossover styling. One thing is for certain, boot capacity is far superior to that of a Toyota Prius, which is arguably this car’s closest rival, excepting the Hyundai loniq.
After a 400 mile cruise, the Niro managed its way back to Blighty. Overall, we’d averaged a fairly healthy 55mpg, which is especially good considering the 80mph speeds we travelled at for most of the French motorway stint. My hope is this should improve with local use, but we shall soon see.