It's obvious, after only a short drive, that the new Niro is more than your usual hybrid.

We wrote about Niro last fall, after we had taken it for a test run for the very first time, in its home territory in Korea. Still in the making, and driven only in a strictly-controlled line, the car left little impression. Yet we knew that Niro had promise.

Finally, Niro unveiled its secrets and stepped into the spotlight, in all its beauty. Poetry aside, Niro will, without a doubt, garner admirers, who will find the car beautiful. Its shape came from the minds of an American and Korean design center, but some collaboration with the European designers wouldn't have hurt. Kia designers aimed to create a sports design in a car that would fit between the Sportage and Cee'd, in terms of size, and indulge with the spaciousness and practicality of small crossovers, and driving features of personal vehicles. Their goal was to combine ever more popular hybrids with small crossovers, which have been big sellers for years now. And if we dismiss spoiled European customers (as far as design is concerned), then their plan worked. Even though Niro offers a form that is different and dynamic (especially due to the sports roofline), it is its interior that impresses more than the exterior. Perhaps not so much with the design than the truly indisputable spaciousness and practicality.

Back seats offer a good deal of comfort, with plenty of space all around. Of course, the seats could be deeper by a few centimeters, but unfortunately that's become an issue even with European car manufacturers. Sitting at the back, however, will provide you with a USB as well as a 220 V outlet, which is just a teaser—the driver and the passenger up front will find a real power plant under the center console, featuring two 12 V outlets, USB/AUX ports and wireless mobile phone charging.

Kia designers aimed to create a sports design in a car that would fit between the Sportage and Cee'd, in terms of size.

Despite somewhat smaller seats, Niro is a pleasure to ride. The gauges, which are sadly not entirely digital, are easily legible, and the infotainment screen central to the dashboard is remarkably big. Niro prides itself on above-average equipment. The front seats can thus heat up and cool off, if you opt for leather upholstery. The navigation system is factory-installed, while the JBL sound system can be added at a further charge.

And the drive system? It's the best part of the car, along with its chassis. A 1.6 liter 105 hp atmospheric engine and a 44 hp electric motor add up to a system output of 147 hp and 256 Nm torque. Niro is a classic parallel hybrid, but one that uses the electric motor to help out its gas engine. This means that there are no buttons to induce a fully-electric drive, which would have had the range of 2-3 kilometers on a fully-charged battery. All propulsion constituent parts are tucked away underneath the hood: gas engine (Atkinson cycle), electric motor, transmission, two inverters, converter and electronics, of course. Unlike most hybrids, Niro prides itself on a dual-clutch transmission. The Li-ion polymer battery is located behind the fuel tank, under the rear seats. It may not be stellar, in terms of capacity, meaning it drains quickly, but at least it fills up fast. The result? An easy ride and favorable fuel economy (though gas consumption can vary heavily, depending on the weight of the foot), Niro scored an excellent 3.9 km per 100 km over a 50 km stretch of road, including highway. That is not to say that Niro isn't capable of a more dynamic ride. Better driving dynamics are also accommodated by an entirely new platform which is, thanks to aluminum use, much lighter than all of Kia's platforms thus far. As such, Niro is far from a tedious hybrid, though it's true that its maximum speed is a mere 162 km/h. On the other hand, it exhibits a notable towing capacity of up to 1300 kg.

Unfortunately, Niro safety systems are largely options, not serial equipment. You can choose from an emergency braking system with pedestrian and vehicle detection, smart cruise control with the ability to maintain safety distance from a vehicle in front, straying-from-a-lane detection system, blindspot detection, and detection of vehicles behind the car while reversing in a parking lot. Systems aimed at maximizing fuel economy also deserve a mention. The first, Coasting Guide, advises the driver about when to release the gas pedal, to avoid unnecessary braking before a junction or a section with a lower speed limit, while the second, Predictive Energy Control, charges the battery before a climb, to allow the electric motor to kick in full-throttle up the incline, or drains it so to fully charge it during the anticipated descent.

Dec. 19, 2016 Driving photo: Kia Niro

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