AN ESTATE car? Or a mini-MPV? The debate rumbles on. Wiser bods than I say it is patently an estate car, but Kia is defiant: this is a compact crossover. End of.
In truth, it doesn’t matter. You can call it a van with windows if you like. It isn’t that important.
What is important is what marks this car out as a true pioneer, and it’s not the shape of its body, but rather what’s under the tin.
Kia Niro is the company’s first dedicated hybrid in the car. For the uninitiated, a hybrid has two power plants (in this case, a petrol engine and an electric motor). They generally offer better economy and lower emissions and together with electric vehicles are seen as the eco-cars of the future.
But two powerplants equal more expense so hybrids often have a premium price meaning they don’t always appeal to the average person in the street.
Hybrids are chosen by trendy types who want to be seen to do the right thing.
Niro, it seems, might help to broaden the appeal of this fashionable mode of transport. At more than £22,000 for the test model (and even £21,495 for the entry-level Niro) they are not exactly cheap.
But examine the price of less-green conventional crossovers and you see how the Niro makes sense. Actually, it is temptingly priced.
And, being a Kia, you will find Niro stacked to the brim with specification. Alloy wheels, part-leather upholstery, high-gloss trim, six-speaker stereo, 7in touchscreen satellite navigation, USB and Aux ports for media devices, Bluetooth with voice recognition and music streaming, stability control, lane keep assist, anti-lock brakes. I could go on but you get the picture.
Any preconceptions you have about Kia being miserly are way out of date. Next thing, you’ll be suggesting Skodas are rubbish, which they haven’t been since about 1978.
So, how exactly does the Niro shape up? It’s a decent-looking motor which looks more like a tall and capacious estate car than a crossover, but it does have telltale chunky black wheelarches - motor designer’s code for a crossover.
It is part of Kia’s pledge to reduce the average emissions of its cars by 25 per cent by 2020 and is the company’s first hybrid model in the UK.
Most company’s dip their toes in the hybrid market with a small car - we might have anticipated a Rio hybrid, perhaps - but Kia often do the unexpected. And it usually pays off.
It looks reasonably big and solid on the outside but inside it is massive. Yet it returns the sort of economy that comventional big estates and crossovers can only dream of: between 72mpg and 74mpg on urban, country and combines routes. Emissions are 88mpg, which is bad news for the DVLA since you won’t need to pay for a tax disc.
On the road, it is a reasonable performer. It is quiet around town, especially when the electric motor is in play, and even at motorway speeds it is comfortable. There is a great graphic display which shows which part of the powertrain (petrol engine or electric motor or both) is performing at any given moment.
Essentially, if you want a big estate (or a crossover) with great economy and even greater space, Niro should be on your list. Just don’t tell the Kia dealer it’s an estate. You could be there all day.
Kia Niro ‘2’ 1.6 GDi
PRICE: £22,795. Model starts at £21,295
ENGINE: A 1,580cc four-cylinder petrol engine generating 141bhp via front wheel drive, plus a 56kw electric motor
PERFORMANCE: Top speed 101mph and 0 to 60mph in 11.5 seconds
COSTS: Town 74.3mpg; country 72.4mpg; combined 74.3mpg
WARRANTY: Seven years, 100,000 miles
Summary: Estate or crossover? It looks like an estate but it is a crossover. But it is what’s under the bonnet which makes this car special.
Toyota Yaris Hybrid: £16,795. Not quite as big but offers slightly better economy and a cheaper price. Niro is a better looking car, though
Nissan Leaf: £26,180. Not a hybrid, this is a full EV (electric vehicle) which means you have to plan your journeys to allow for recharges. Cheaper to run. More to buy.
BMW i3: £32,330. Expensive but it is a BMW and has a boot bigger even than the Kia. Zero emissions and very cheap running costs. But it is expensive. A statement car.