[TEST DRIVE] Kia's small SUV with big efficiency can get you where you need to go
GAPYEONG, Gyeonggi — If you’re thinking of buying an SUV but hesitating due to the bad gas mileage, Kia’s all-new Niro might be a good option.
The new Niro hybrid SUV, fully revamped since its previous model in 2016, boasts a fuel efficiency of 20.8 kilometers per liter (48.9 miles per gallon), making it the most efficient SUV currently available in Korea.
The Korea JoongAng Daily recently got a chance to get behind the wheel of the SUV's Signature trim, the highest level trim, to drive a 120-kilometer round trip from southern Seoul to a cafe in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi.
The exterior has been redesigned to the point that the reporter couldn’t recall the previous Niro model. The LED headlamps are appealing to the eye, which the company said was designed to mimic the look of a cardiogram.
The trunk capacity has been expanded to 451 liters, 15 liters more than the previous model.
Despite being a small-sized SUV, the inside was more spacious than expected. The back seats could be folded forward to lie completely flat, a major plus for any campers.
Driving was smooth and a quiet ride was guaranteed. Some engine noise was audible when the vehicle exceeded 100 kilometers per hour, but it wasn't loud enough to be of a nuisance.
One of the most notable parts of the test drive was when the reporter was about to enter a school zone. The car automatically activated its Green Zone Drive Mode, the electric-only driving mode, with which the company aims to "ensure zero-emission mobility." Drivers can designate their own specific zones in which the car will automatically switch to this mode.
Equipped with a 1.6-liter hybrid engine and 32-kilowatt electric motor, the SUV boasts maximum 141 horsepower.
But most of all, the biggest advantage of the small SUV is its excellent fuel efficiency, which comes in at 20.8 kilometers per liter, compared to 19.5 for the previous version, which Kia said is the best gas mileage among all SUVs currently sold in the country.
During the two-hour or so test drive, this reporter recorded 20.3 kilometers to the liter, attesting to the company's claim. Another reporter who participated the test drive recorded a fuel economy of 22.8 kilometers per liter, considerably better than the official figure of 20.8 kilometers.
The interior headlining is made from recycled wallpaper, while the seats were made from bio-based polyurethane with Tencel from eucalyptus leaves.
“Newly introduced cars always have a special type of smell, and that’s because of the three big carcinogens used in paint such as benzene, toluene and xylene isomers,” a spokesperson from Kia told the reporters. “But Niro uses a water-based paint for the door panels which are free from those harmful substances.”
Its sticker price starts at 26.6 million won ($22,200).
Kia aims to sell 25,000 new Niros in Korea this year, and the carmaker said it has already received around 17,600 orders during the first four days of its release.
The SUV is particularly popular among young drivers, with 46 percent of the orders from those in their 20s and 30s — 16 percentage points higher than its previous version.
Kia plans to release an all-electric version of Niro in the first half of the year.
BY SARAH CHEA [firstname.lastname@example.org]