Test Drives

2019 Kia Niro Hybrid Review: Cat A For Affordable



Kia has brought a whole host of new features to its updated Niro Hybrid, but the most important one of all is a Category A COE

Photos: Jonathan Lim, Ben Chia, Derryn Wong

SINGAPORE

Hybrids are good, we all know that. But have you ever tried to shop for an affordable, full-hybrid car? The common refrain is that the Japanese models are the ones to plump for, but there isn’t an officially-imported Japanese hybrid that costs less than S$120k with COE.

That’s where the Koreans are beating the Japanese to the punch. This car is a good example – the facelifted Kia Niro, which is now Singapore’s most affordable hybrid SUV.

As details in our news story, updated its Niro Hybrid crossover, and while the facelifted model has some minor cosmetic changes and new features, its biggest selling point is its revised powertrain, which puts it now into the Category A Certificate of Entitlement (COE) class, for cars with an engine capacity of below 1,600cc and producing 130 horsepower or less.

The change is significant, because it drops the Niro’s price tag down to $107,999 for the base EX model, with a current Cat A COE premium of $30,000. In comparison, the pre-facelift Niro (which only had one variant, below) was going for $114,900 with a $53,000 Cat B COE back when it was launched in 2017.

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There’s various ways you can go with that information really. You can compare cars which are retailing for a similar price, and for around the same sort of money you’re looking at models such as the Mazda 3 Elegance 1.5 Hatchback Mild Hybrid, or the Skoda Octavia 1.4 TSI Ambition Plus. Both are fine choices, but neither offer the real benefits of a full hybrid, like pure electric motoring and the ability to go more than 1,000km before pulling into a petrol station.


READ MORE: It’s only a mild hybrid, but the Mazda 3 also makes for a compelling choice at this price point


Other full hybrids on the market tend to cost a fair chunk more, with the ubiquitous Toyota Prius retailing for $156,988, with a $40,009 Cat B COE. Even Toyota’s own Cat A hybrid, the compact Prius C hatchback, is going for a head-spinning $137,988.

In fact, only the Niro’s Korean cousin, the Hyundai Ioniq, is able to match its attractive price tag, undercutting it by a mere $1,000 – we drove the previous model (below) but a newly-facelifted version is now on sale at S$106,999 with COE.


READ MORE: The Ioniq is basically the Niro in normal car clothes, but does it drive any different?


So, for the (not a lot of) money you’re paying for the Niro, you’re getting quite an attractive package indeed. The model tested here is the higher-spec SX variant, which, at $113,999, is an additional $6,000 more than the EX version, and comes with a whole host of extra goodies. These include a sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats, wireless smartphone charger, keyless entry with engine start-stop button, Blind Spot Detection system, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.


 WATCH MORE: Check out our video review of the Niro Hybrid which explains all you need to know

 



But while those features are nice to have, it’s not like the EX is sparsely equipped either. The entry-level version counts among its equipment highlights a new 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, seven airbags, and Lane Keeping Assist function. Not too shabby for a base model really.

Aside from the new powertrain and additional features, the Niro has also been given a minor cosmetic touchup. It’s again of the ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-it’ variety, but the grille is now of a slightly different design, the bumpers have been restyled, and the front daytime running lights are now repositioned to the corners.

On the inside, aside from the aforementioned 8-inch touchscreen, it’s mostly business as usual. It’s a simple setup, very much like a conventional car, and only the display on the instrument panel indicating the battery’s state of charge, as well as the silence upon start up, provides any indication as to the Niro’s hybrid status.

Of course, a big part of the Niro’s appeal is the fact that it comes in the shape of a crossover, which is the hottest selling body style in the current era. This means that the Niro is immensely practical in terms of space utilisation, unlike some of its other rivals which are designed like more conventional cars. There’s plenty of legroom and headroom throughout the cabin, and the boot offers a generous 427 litres of cargo capacity, expandable to 1,434 litres with the rear seats folded down.

So far so good then, but how has the revised drivetrain transformed the Niro?

The engine and electric motor both make the same power as before, but the way the drive is blended together is different – one doesn’t simply add bhp to bhp for the system total output. 

Long story short, on paper power is down from 141hp previously to 130hp now, you’d expect the performance to suffer. However, since the Niro is hybrid, off-the-line acceleration is still pretty sprightly. It’s not a fast car by any means, but it feels suitably energetic to make city driving a fairly enjoyable affair. In fact, the quoted 0-100km/h acceleration time is the same, at 11.5 seconds.

In truth, this is not a car you win drag races with, and so by and large, in the urban environment in Singapore, the Niro’s 1.6-litre powerplant is more than adequate to meet most people’s needs. If you want a little bit more excitement, the six-speed dual clutch gearbox has a Sport mode, which executes gearshifts quicker and more urgently. There’s also a fair bit of understeer when you head into a corner, but overall it handles fairly neatly without much drama.

The Niro’s hybrid status means that despite its chunky crossover shape, it still manages to offer excellent fuel efficiency. Kia quotes an average of 4 litres per 100km, and over the course of our test drive, we came fairly close to meeting that figure. At that rate of consumption, and given the Niro’s 45-litre fuel tank, one could theoretically go up to 1,125km between fill-ups. That’s probably like visiting the petrol station once a month for the average driver.

From an objective standpoint, it appears that the Niro ticks a good many of the boxes for the average daily driver who only requires an A-to-B car. It’s practical, with plenty of room for the family, its hybrid drivetrain means that it is highly efficient and helps you save on our fuel bills, and its revised powertrain means that it is now as competitively priced as some of the more attractive petrol-powered offerings. If you’ve ever wanted to try green motoring, there’s now one more good reason to do it.

Kia Niro Hybrid 1.6 SX

Engine 1,580cc, inline four
Power 107hp at 5700rpm
Torque 170Nm at 4000rpm
Gearbox 6-speed dual-clutch
Electric Motor 43.5hp
Battery Lithium ion, 1.56kWh
System Power 130hp
System Torque Not stated
0-100km/h 11.5 seconds
Top Speed 164km/h
Fuel Efficiency 4.0L/100km
VES Band / CO2 A2 / 91g/km
Agent Cycle & Carriage Kia
Price S$113,999 with COE
Availability Now

Verdict: Updated Niro now a very attractive package with its Cat A pricing and additional features

about the author

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Ben Chia
He once belonged here, and then he went out to explore the Great Big World, including a stint working in China (despite his limited Mandarin). Now he's back, ready to foist upon you his takes on everything good and wonderful about the automotive world.