Another day, another round of teasers for Skoda’s first performance SUV
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What’s this? This one’s called the Niro. And no, it doesn’t take its name from the despotic Roman emperor nor the electronic dance act (wrong spelling, for a start). It is, in short, a mild petrol-electric hybrid crossover. Is it just a Sportage in a fancy frock? Hardly. The Niro’s bespoke platform has been specifically engineered to support electrification. So where does it fit in the Kia range? Above a Cee’d, below the Sportage and kind of alongside the Soul. It’s actually shorter and lower than the best-selling Sportage, although it has a 30mm longer wheelbase to allow for more room in the rear. UK prices and specifications aren’t confirmed as yet ahead of its on-sale date later this year, but expect it to cost around £22,000 and have an option of trim grades like any other Kia. Plus, of course, the company’s seven-year warranty. Sounds good. What’s powering it? A 1.6-litre GDI petrol engine up front, with a 32kW (43bhp) electric motor and 1.56kWh lithium ion battery supplementing its efforts. So the internal combustion engine’s rather meagre outputs of 104bhp and 108lb ft are boosted to 139bhp and 195lb ft. Drive goes to the front wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
It’s not very exciting, then? No, not really. It’s a smooth enough powertrain, the Niro has a decent ride and there’s a semi-‘command’ driving position and impressive levels of noise suppression (although the tyres become a touch rowdy at motorway speed), but it takes an age to get up to modern-day traffic speeds and the handling is tidy, if unspectacular. In short, it’s ideal for its target market. You want an easy-to-drive, efficient SUV-like machine that’s really good on fuel around town? Then the Niro’s for you. But what’s the alternative? If you don’t mind its crazy melted styling, the Toyota Prius is the obvious candidate. And the Niro has that licked for practicality if space is your priority. Is it big inside? Big enough to take four tall adults in comfort, because there’s a load of legroom in the back and a ton of headroom to go with it. The 427-litre boot isn’t bad, either, although the cabin design is quite straightforward and not one of Kia’s finest efforts. The funky instrument cluster is interesting, though. And are you impressed with the exterior? Well, the Niro wears its ‘separated tiger nose grille’ front end better than the larger Sportage does, while the lower front and rear bumpers get their own design, which is eye-catching. Yes, it’s handsome enough. A word of warning on the alloy wheels, though; you need to stick with small ones to get the best economy from the drivetrain. Pick 16-inch rims and you get 74.3mpg and 88g/km emissions. Step up to the optional 18s and those figures are altered to 64.2mpg and 101g/km, meaning you’re no longer free from VED. Which is kind of the Niro’s USP. So stick with the 16s and you’ll have a perfectly pleasant, worthy hybrid crossover. The numbers 1580cc plus electric motor, 4cyl, FWD, 139bhp, 195lb ft, 74.3mpg, 88g/km CO2, 0-62mph 11.5 secs, 101mph, 1425kg