So far this year two of the top three best-selling brands in Ireland were Korean. In fact the Asian siblings, Kia and Hyundai, had a larger market share than the combined passenger car sales of brands in the VW Group.
The Koreans aren’t coming – they’ve arrived. At Kia sales success is predicated on orders for Sportage and several cars with plugs. The EV6, once expected to be a niche all-electric flagship for the brand priced at over €50,000, is now a mainstay.
To bolster this success a new generation of the Niro crossover will hit Irish roads this summer. As with the current iteration it will come with a plug socket. Two flavours will land here: a PHEV and a fully-fledged EV.
The PHEV delivers 60km all-electric range from an 12kWh battery pack before turning to a regular hybrid format powered by a 1.6-litre petrol engine and a 62kW electric motor.
The all-electric version features a battery pack capable of a 64kWh usable charge. That should get you 480km on a single charge, according to Kia.
The first thing to discuss about the new Niro is the styling. The outgoing Niro was rather anonymous: this car has more character. There are design touches, particularly at the rear, which pay homage to Volvo SUVs; that’s a good move if you want to lure buyers from the leafy suburbs. The boomerang light cluster and silhouette bring to mind the Volvo XC40, with which it shares a similar stance. There’s a two-tone feature on the rear pillar that looks a bit overworked – and if it’s an options would be one to leave unticked – but otherwise it’s a smart looking crossover in either PHEV or EV guise.
Inside the cabin has been reworked, taking much of its tech and format from the Kia EV6 interior. That means a decent 10.25-inch touchscreen and a lower run of touchscreen controls that show either air-con or infotainment switches.
The shell seats from the front of the EV6 also feature in the new Niro, but it’s in the rear that there is the most noticeable interior improvement, with much-improved legroom and visibility from the higher set rear bench. Bootspace is also similar to the outgoing model, which means it will cater for everyday family needs.
On the road the PHEV is smooth in electric mode, with little disturbance from wind noise. That makes the racket from the 1.6-litre petrol engine all the more apparent when it kicks in to support the electric motor. It’s not any louder than hybrid rivals, but it does seem to start out in mid-range revs.
The EV is a much smoother proposition in terms of powertrain refinement and driving dynamics.
It’s not, however, a fast-paced affair even in so-called sports mode. Acceleration is on a par with the average non-electric family crossover, and seems slower than the official time of 7.8 seconds 0-100km/h time might suggest, which for most buyers will be just fine.
Much as many of us enjoy the electric surge when we kick down, it can drive passengers potty as they are jerked back into their seat only to be hurled into their seatbelt a few moments later as you realise your heading for penalty points. The electric see-saw is not a crowd-pleaser in a family car.
As to its driving style, the handling and suspension set-up is still tuned for comfort and ease. It’s a soft rather anesthetised affair, far removed from the sharper steering of the likes of the EV6. Clearly this is an intentional trait for both suspension and steering systems can be set up in these cars to cater for all tastes. Here it seems to be aimed at motorists trying to get from A to B with as little drama or effort as possible.
Of the two flavours our preferred choice would be the EV, though we can see how buyers concerned about the charging infrastructure in their area might opt for the safety net of PHEV.
While Kia’s outgoing Niro was a hit with many Irish buyers it fell flat on a few points. Its styling was forgettable, its back seats were a bit cramped, and its on-road driving ability wasn’t up to much.
This new iteration addresses the first two issues while amending the last to warrant acceptance that it fits the tastes of its customer base.
Pricing, as always will be key, but as yet the Koreans will not commit. Soaring raw material costs, massive rises in shipping and supply shortages mean that even with delivery just months away Kia regards it as foolhardy to pin a price to this car.
Nevertheless there’s a tight window within which it can exist. So long as the EV6 starts at €50,000 – and there is no guarantee a price rise isn’t in the offing for it – then the Niro needs to land at most in the mid-€40,000 range. Otherwise the EV6 is a much better buy, being better to drive, better looking and far more roomy inside. The outgoing models started at just under €40,000 for PHEV and below €42,000 for the EV.
If Kia can get the price right then this EV will continue the Korean product offensive and lead to more concerns amongst Europe’s old motoring establishment that once-household names are being swept aside by a new generation of Asian rivals.