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A Hy five for Kia’s new Niro 

MORE and more car manufacturers are now producing hybrid models – hardly surprising as this market is expected to reach 700,000 sales a year by 2020.

And good news for potential buyers is that the technology on these vehicles is improving all the time.

I’ve just been driving the latest example of this – a Kia Niro, the Korean company’s first dedicated and first hybrid of any description in the UK.

Built on a new platform – to be used solely for electrified vehicles – fit and finish is of a high quality.

The newcomer is a stylish looking crossover/SUV but not for those going off-road as there are no four-wheel versions.

With only a small per cent of SUV buyers venturing away from the tarmac this shouldn’t affect the Niro’s popularity.

What will tempt economy-conscious motorists into the Kia showrooms for a test drive is the Niro’s fuel efficiency.

With the power coming from a 1.6-litre petrol engine and a 44PS electric motor, this combination is capable of achieving combined fuel economy up to 74.3mpg with emissions as low as 88g/km.

A six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox brings swifter and smoother changes than the CVT transmis-sion in some other hybrids.

It also incorporates a sports mode to allow drivers to select gears manually.

Most of the time the petrol and electric power work together, picking away in silent electric only mode.

There is no sudden boost or jolt when the petrol engine kicks in.

This hybrid basically just drives like a normal automa-tic with the engine sound only rising when you kick down for sharp acceleration.

And if you find yourself stuck in slow-moving traffic the electric unit will work on its own again.

The Niro moves smartly enough away from the blocks with a zero to 60mph time of 11.1 seconds and offers a top speed of 101mph that is adequate enough to provide smooth cruising at maximum motorway speeds.

I liked the crossover’s high driving position in what is a spacious five-seater with quality interior finish.

There’s lots of room in front and rear, and with the battery placed under the rear seats there’s a good-sized 427-litre boot.

You get a smooth, comfortable ride in this model along with decent handling and good road grip on cornering.

In testing the Niro to the full I wasn’t expecting to get close to its best fuel economy figures.

Yet I still managed to achieve mid-50s mpg.

That fell miles short of the record-setting drive from Los Angeles to New York City in December.

Kia received a Guinness World Record title for the lowest fuel consumption across the USA from coast to coast (hybrid) when its Niro achieved 76.6mpg for the 3,715.4 miles run – using just 4.1 tanks of fuel (48.5 gallons).

The Niro arrived in the UK with a choice of four grades – 1, 2, 3 and First Edition with a plug-in hybrid version following later this year.

You get a high level of standard spec on Kia mo-dels and the Niro is no exception.

Every model has a lane keep assist system, hill-start assist control, cruise control and speed limiter.

Entry-model 1 spec inclu-des 16-inch alloy wheels, dual automatic air conditioning, automatic windscreen de-fogging, LED daytime running lights and tail lights, a 3.5-inch TFT supervision cluster, all-round electric windows, electric exterior mirror adjustment, a DAB radio, USB and AUX ports and trip computer.

Step up to the test car 2 model and this adds leather-covered steering wheel and gear shifter, black cloth and leather upholstery, roof rails, privacy glass on the rear windows and tailgate, chrome interior and exterior door handles, reversing sensors, an under-floor tray, rain-sensing wipers, and electrically adjustable, heated and folding door mirrors with LED indicators.

Grade 3 brings 18-inch alloy wheels, black leather upholstery, front parking sensors, heated front seats and steering wheel, a power-adjustable driver’s seat plus powered lumbar adjustment on both front seats, stainless steel scuff sill plates, upgraded audio system, larger navigation screen and wireless mobile phone charger.

First Edition model is distinguished by its grey leather trim and white interior inserts, and also a smart key and engine start/stop button, heated outer rear seats, ventilated front seats and an electric tilting and sliding sunroof on top of its additional active safety features.

Prices start at £21,295 rising to £26,995, with the 2 test model costing £22,795.

There’s a lot to like in this stylish Niro – top marks to Kia for its impressive first hybrid crossover.