Kia Niro Hybrid: Detuned but still in tune

Kia detunes the Niro Hybrid significantly, but its performance magically remains unchanged

The Kia Niro Hybrid comes with premium features such as ventilated front seats, wireless phone charging and a hold function for the parking brake.
The Kia Niro Hybrid comes with premium features such as ventilated front seats, wireless phone charging and a hold function for the parking brake.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
The Kia Niro Hybrid comes with premium features such as ventilated front seats, wireless phone charging and a hold function for the parking brake.
The Kia Niro Hybrid comes with premium features such as ventilated front seats, wireless phone charging and a hold function for the parking brake.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
The Kia Niro Hybrid comes with premium features such as ventilated front seats, wireless phone charging and a hold function for the parking brake.
The Kia Niro Hybrid comes with premium features such as ventilated front seats, wireless phone charging and a hold function for the parking brake. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Six years ago, a power cap was introduced to remove "upmarket" cars from Category A of the vehicle quota system.

It was decided then that cars with more than 130bhp belonged in Category B, along with models with engines bigger than 1,600cc.

This move to improve the social equity element of the quota system has, as foreseen, had some unintended consequences.

One of which is that many petrol-electric hybrid models ended up in Category B, making them more costly. This, of course, made them less popular, which is not good news for the environment.

Carmakers however, are good at adapting to rules. Two years after introducing the Niro Hybrid - its first petrol-electric car here - Kia has rolled out a detuned variant.

The new car has the same engine and motor pairing as the 2017 model, but it makes 130hp and 170Nm of torque - down from 141hp and 265Nm.

This qualifies it for Category A, but does it still qualify as the car you would want to buy?

At one glance, you know the detuned car is going to be a laggard, especially when the original was no Usain Bolt to begin with (it went from zero to 100kmh in 11.5 seconds).

But surprisingly, the latest Niro Hybrid feels fairly brisk and breezy at the wheel. There is hardly any hint of reluctance when you apply pressure to the right pedal, no matter what speed you are at.

Even more surprisingly, Kia claims the car's century sprint remains unchanged at 11.5 seconds, while its top speed rises by 2kmh to 164kmh. This is nothing short of miraculous.

On the flip side, the car is rarely running on an all-electric mode. The engine is always engaged, unless you crawl along at 10kmh or slower.

As a consequence, its fuel consumption is higher than the original Niro Hybrid. The test car manages 18.5km a litre, versus the previous car's 20.5km a litre.

Well, 18.5km is still pretty decent for a 1.6-litre non-hybrid crossover, but it is nowhere near Kia's claimed 25km per litre.

  • SPECS /KIA NIRO HYBRID

  • Price: From $110,999 with COE

    Engine: 1,580cc 16-valve inline-4 paired with electric motor

    Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch with manual override

    Power: 130hp at 5,700rpm

    Torque: 170Nm at 4,000rpm

    0-100kmh: 11.5 seconds

    Top speed: 164kmh

    Fuel consumption: 4.0 litres/100km

    Agent: Cycle & Carriage Kia

The other thing that makes you pause is its sticker price. At up to $120,999, it is about the same price as when the original version was launched in January 2017.

At that time, its Category B certificate of entitlement was about $20,000 higher than the current Category A premium. However, the first car had a carbon rebate of $30,000, whereas the current car gets an emissions rebate of $10,000. So, it squares off.

The car has more features to sweeten the deal, such as lane-keeping assist, 8-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert (for the SX variant).

The Niro Hybrid has also been given a nip and tuck. The car's bumpers have been restyled, with its daytime-running LEDs arranged in a double-arrow layout.

On-board amenities are still class-leading, with premium features such as ventilated front seats, wireless phone charging and hold function for the parking brake.

Still unconvinced? Well, look at it this way - if not for its Category A status, it would have cost $10,000 more.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2019, with the headline 'Detuned but still in tune'. Print Edition | Subscribe