[This article was first published on businesstimes.com.sg]
A facelift for Korea's hybrid crossover has a less powerful engine, but that's cause for celebration.
DRIVING a hybrid car in Singapore can make great sense, as our urban stop-start traffic conditions mean you can drive it regularly on electric power alone. That leads to any number of benefits, from helping you save money on fuel, cutting your emissions or even just having to stop for petrol only every three weeks.
But the drawback is that hybrids tend to cost more than a regular car, so the financial benefits, at least for the first few years, end up getting cancelled out.
Someone forgot to tell the Koreans, though, because they want to challenge the notion that hybrids must be expensive to buy. To that end, Kia has introduced its updated Niro Hybrid crossover.
It comes with several new features and a slight cosmetic facelift, but the biggest change to the Niro is a new powertrain that develops 130 horsepower, down from 141 previously. Normally a drop in power would be cause for remonstration, but this time it's good news because it sees the Niro drop to Category A in the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) system.
Cat A's premiums tend to significantly undercut those in Cat B, meant for cars with more power than 130hp or engines bigger than 1.6 litres, so the revised Niro Hybrid now costs S$107,999 with COE for the entry-level EX model.
In contrast, the pre-facelift Niro was retailing for S$114,900 back when it was launched in 2017, when it had a S$57,000 Cat B COE. The higher-spec SX version tested here costs an extra S$6,000, at S$113,999, but it offers a host of new features.
The new pricing puts the Niro in competition with such cars as the Mazda 3 Elegance Hatchback and the Skoda Octavia 1.4 Ambition Plus, both fine choices that offer great value for money, but neither are full hybrids that can offer the ability to drive on electric power.
Depending on how you view the world, that could be a big selling point because it means that the Niro's claimed average fuel consumption figure of 4 litres per 100km is very much a realistically achievable target.
As far as hybrids go, only the Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid can match the Kia's attractive price tag, undercutting it by S$1,000. The Hyundai is effectively the Niro's twin, but presented in a sleeker hatchback body style, and it's also been recently facelifted. Otherwise, the next hybrid up the price ladder is Toyota's Prius C, a smaller compact hatchback that goes for S$137,988 with COE. The uber-popular Toyota Prius meanwhile retails for S$156,988, but its 1.8-litre engine attracts a Cat B COE.
What do you get in one of Singapore's most affordable hybrids though? Quite a fair bit, actually. The base EX version throws in a decent number of features, including seven airbags, a new 8-inch LCD infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and Lane Keeping Assist, a system that uses a camera to look for lane markings so the Kia can help you stay between them by steering itself.
Meanwhile, the SX model adds a sunroof, ventilated front seats, a wireless smartphone charger in the centre console, keyless entry with an engine start-stop button, a blind spot detection system and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, a system that watches out for oncoming vehicles when you have to reverse out of a parking spot.
Cosmetic changes to the updated Niro are limited to a slightly redesigned grille and bumpers, and repositioned front daytime running lights. The biggest revision is of course under the bonnet, where Kia has reworked the hybrid powertrain so that it now develops 130hp.
But despite being down on power, the Niro doesn't feel at all lethargic. Being a hybrid means you still get that brisk acceleration sensation from the electric motor's instant torque, and the car's 0-100km/h sprint time remains the same as before at 11.5 seconds.
The Niro is certainly not a sporty car by any means, with noticeable understeer when going through corners, but its six-speed dual-clutch gearbox does have a Sport mode for quicker, more urgent shifts if you want a little bit more excitement.
As a practical proposition though, the Niro ticks all the boxes as a family crossover. There is plenty of headroom and legroom for five occupants, and the boot space is generous, at 427 litres, expandable to 1,434 litres if the rear seats are folded down.
It all adds up to make the Niro a truly attractive package indeed, both in a practical and financial sense. If you've ever hesitated to go down the hybrid route because of the higher upfront cost versus a regular car, then there's no longer a reason to worry, because the Kia Niro has put that excuse to bed once and for all.