Kia Niro Hybrid
Kia reckons that this Niro PHEV Plug-in hybrid model offers the best of both worlds, combining fashionable 'Crossover' looks with exemplary hybrid efficiency. It's not, perhaps, the kind of car you'd expect from this growing Korean brand but in its own way, it promises to be a very appealing one.
At the heart of the Niro's plug-in powertrain is a high-capacity 8.9 kWh lithium-polymer battery pack, growing in size from the 1.56 kWh battery pack found in the normal Niro Hybrid. The PHEV variant's battery pack is paired with a more powerful 44.5 kW (60bhp) electric motor (offering almost 40% more power, up from 32 kW) compared to the Hybrid model. The battery and electric motor are paired with the Niro's efficient 1.6-litre 'Kappa' four-cylinder GDI engine, which independently produces 104bhp and 147Nm torque. The total power and torque output for the Niro Plug-in Hybrid's powertrain is 139bhp and 265Nm, enabling the PHEV derivative to accelerate from rest to 62mph 10.4 seconds (1.1 seconds quicker than the standard Niro) on the way to 107mph flat out. With greater capacity and electric power output, Kia engineers claim a pure-electric driving range of up to 36 miles. This Plug-in Hybrid variant is supposed to be able to return an average fuel reading of 217.3mpg. Charging a Niro Plug-in Hybrid takes 2hours 15mins using a 3.3 kW AC charger.
Inevitably of course, you're going to need to adopt a very relaxed driving style in order to realise the quoted driving range, but this Kia's whole demeanour encourages that anyway. As do assorted dials and gauges that include an 'energy flow meter' in the instrument binnacle and various diagrammatic graphics on the centre dash infotainment screen. If you really must push things along and use the full output that engine and electric motor can together provide, you'll find that like most hybrids, this one doesn't take particularly kindly to being hustled along.
We're not sure if Kia's designers in Korea and California deliberately set out to blur the boundaries with this design between Focus-style family hatch and 'Juke'-style small Crossover. That's certainly the kind of look we've ended up with here. You might not immediately pigeon-hole this Niro as any kind of Crossover, but Kia is keen that you should look a little closer and pick out the detail features that would usually identify more lifestyle-orientated models of the Juke-genre.
The exterior and interior design of this PHEV Niro variant has been adapted to differentiate it from the ordinary Hybrid version. Exterior alterations include a satin chrome grille surround, as well as special chrome brightwork with a clean metallic-blue finish, applied to thin 'blades' in the front and rear bumpers. The Plug-in Hybrid model is available with 16-inch alloy wheels as well as full-LED headlamps and dedicated 'Eco Plug-in' badging.
The interior of the Niro Plug-in Hybrid is upholstered in leather finished with blue stitching, plus there's a special blue surround for the dashboard air vents. This derivative features a 7.0-inch full-TFT driver instrument cluster, displaying key information about the powertrain - such as the battery's state of charge - as well as offering suggestions for a more efficient driving style. The dashboard is fitted with Kia's latest 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment and navigation system, configured for the Plug-in Hybrid model to display current electric-only range and the location of nearby charging stations. Boot space falls though - from 427-litres in the standard Hybrid to 324-litres here.
And in summary? Well, if you started out wanting to buy a Plug-in Hybrid, you probably weren't expecting to be considering a small Crossover. Get over it. Here's a contender that does a pretty good job in combining fashion and frugality and it's well worth your consideration.
Overall, this is a car that delivers on Kia's promise to develop its products with quality and segment-leading technology. That doesn't necessarily mean it'll be right for you, but there's no doubt of one thing: in terms of the kind of wishlist that a buyer in this part of the market might have, the Niro PHEV ticks a lot of boxes.Click here to find out more about our Kia Niro Hybrid range
We think that the IONIQ is the most impressive car that Hyundai has yet brought us. Here, one design can offer buyers the choice of parallel hybrid, plug-in hybrid or full-electric motoring - and do so at pricing that significantly undercuts the competition. Plus, as we'll see, it offers some genuine advances over rival eco-models already out there on the market.
Following a full test, we can confirm that what Hyundai is offering here is very impressive. The parallel hybrid version that most will choose features a 104bhp 1.6-litre Kappa petrol unit that the Koreans say boasts 40% thermal efficiency; apparently, that's very good. It works with an electric motor situated under the rear seats, that powered by a 1.56kWh battery. The combined hybrid system puts out 139bhp, 17bhp more than a Prius. The IONIQ also delivers its performance more smoothly than a Prius too. There's the automatic gearbox that all hybrids of this sort have to have, but in this case, it's a modern DCT dual-clutch affair, rather than the jerky belt-driven CVT auto unit that Toyota persists with. In an IONIQ Plug-in, there's obviously much more potential for extended full-electric use, thanks to the greater capacity of a considerably larger 8.9kWh battery that drives a pokier 61PS electric motor. Despite that, total system output remains pegged at 141PS, so ultimate performance is pretty much the same as it is with the ordinary Hybrid variant. The final option is the full-Electric IONIQ model, which uses a 120PS electric motor powered by a 28kWh battery.
And efficiency? Well, you buy a car like this expecting exemplary running cost figures and, by and large, this IONIQ doesn't disappoint. The parallel hybrid version that most will want manages 83.1mpg on the combined cycle and 79g/km of CO2. That's not quite as good as a Prius, but it's not far off and, of course, an IONIQ is quite a bit cheaper to buy. Of course, there'll be few CO2 issues if you opt for one of the other two IONIQ powertrains. The Plug-in Hybrid variant puts out just 26g/km of CO2 and is supposed to be able to return a combined cycle reading of 130mpg - those figures based on NEDC calculations assuming that owners will be making full use of the 39-mile driving range potential provided by this variant's 8.9 kWh battery. That's significantly further than you can go in other rival Plug-in models. A pricier Prius Plug-in, for example, offers a rated 30-mile range. Charging an IONIQ Plug-in Hybrid takes 2hours 15mins using a 3.3 kW AC charger. What else do you need to know? The 174 mile range of the full-Electric version? That's impressive.
Whatever IONIQ derivative you choose, on the road, you won't be expecting any handling fireworks - but that's not the point of this kind of car. The ride is good though, as this Hyundai gets an advanced multi-link rear suspension system - or at least the hybrid versions do; the full-EV model has a simpler set-up to free up bootspace. Talking of the full-EV model, its party piece is an impressively long operating range by battery class standards. Hyundai reckons this car will go nearly 20% further on a charge than a comparable Nissan LEAF.
You wouldn't say that this IONIQ is quite as eye-catching as a Toyota Prius, but in its own way, it's quite a smart piece of design, copying its rival's five-door design and size positioning somewhere between a Focus-sized family hatch and a Mondeo-sized medium range model.
Get inside and you might think a Prius was fractionally larger at the back - but there's not much in it. Otherwise, the IONIQ seems to have the advantage. It offers 100-litres more bootspace than the Toyota can provide, though the cargo area is rather shallow. And, as you'd expect, the backrest offers a 60/40split so that you can free up extra luggage space if you need it. The Hyundai also feels higher quality inside, not only compared to a Prius but also in comparison to a Nissan LEAF. A dash highlight is the 8.0-inch colour touchscreen, which includes Tom Tom navigation.
Hyundai has clearly thought very carefully before launching itself into the eco-vehicle market and this IONIQ looks a strong contender. No, the parallel hybrid version isn't quite as clean and frugal as a rival Toyota Prius, but it's much cheaper to buy, nicer to sit in and offers a significantly larger boot. All tempting selling points. We're also impressed by the extent to which the brand has been able to increase the operating range of the full-electric version. It brings pure electric motoring that bit closer to being viable for more buyers.
All in all, Hyundai has, here, provided eco-minded motoring at the kind of price you'd pay for something much more conventional. For a large number of family buyers, this car should merit a place on any shortlist.Click here to find out more about our Hyundai IONIQ range
Toyota has changed things again with its fourth generation Prius. Not content with the extraordinary success of this pioneering hybrid model to date, the Japanese brand has ripped up its own rule book and redesigned the entire platform on which this car sits, underpinnings that'll also be used for many of its future products. This MK4 model Prius is the first model to feature the revised architecture, benefiting from improvements in space, safety and handling.
Hybrids are known to be much heavier than traditionally fuelled cars because of the big pile of battery-cells that provide the electric power. What is crucial to handling though, is where the extra weight is positioned. Toyota's modular architecture allows the centre of gravity to be lower and closer to the middle of the Prius, which translates into a better balanced ride for passengers but not a car you would ever describe as 'sporty'. It takes a fraction longer to get going than the model it replaced, reaching 62mph in 10.6 seconds, but the emphasis is now on making this car appeal to business users, so a comfortable, economical ride takes precedence over speed.
That being said, efforts have been made to make the Prius a more pleasant car to drive. The nickel-metal hydride battery pack gets the electric motor turning first and only when the Prius starts to pick up speed does an updated version of the familiar 1.8-litre petrol engine from previous models fire up and seamlessly take over. The engine can be switched off if you need to run entirely on batteries, say, through Central London's Ultra Low Emissions zone. If you can afford more, a Plug-in model is being offered that can go up to 39 miles on electric power alone.
The Prius will will certainly stand out in Central London. The fresh styling is bold with more than a flavour of Toyota's hydrogen Mirai model, particularly towards the rear end. Like previous versions of the Prius, the design won't be everyone's cup of cocoa but, apparently, form follows fuel-efficiency. The body is said to scythe through the air with very little resistance and while the blacked-out rear pillar might play tricks on the eyes, the hump-backed shape that has become something of a Prius silhouette remains. The side profile suggests more of a saloon than a hatchback, but the flat surface on the rear acts as a spoiler that helps create the 'sudden drop' common in low-drag designs.
Inside, the cabin has been refreshed but continues with the theme of mounting all the useful displays and information in the centre of the cockpit rather than putting the dials directly in front of the driver. Instead of an instrument binnacle behind the steering wheel, the speed and other info is shown on an upper information display mounted just below the front windscreen. This gives a much greater sense of space inside the cabin than most rivals. While the wheelbase remains the same as the previous generation, the longer body and repositioned battery pack lend themselves to improved luggage space. The boot is over 500-litres in size and if extra space is needed, the rear seats can split 60/40 and fold down. This might not be quite as impressive a space as you'd get from, say, a comparably-priced Ford Mondeo Hybrid but, given the compromises that petrol/electric cars have to make in the pursuit of fuel-efficiency, it represents a significant improvement on the previous model, by almost 60-litres.
As eco-competitors like Vauxhall Ampera and Honda's Insight have come and gone, Toyota's Prius has retained its appeal amongst family buyers wanting to make an environmental statement - and sharpens those credentials in this much improved fourth generation guise. It still faces challenges from a raft of plug-in hybrid, electric and highly efficient diesel powered cars but arguably, the only ones that really come close to the quality and refinement of this MK4 model Prius are the other hybrids in the Toyota and Lexus ranges.
This car's use of the company's new modular 'Global Architecture' has enabled it to set a fresh benchmark for high-quality, low-cost family motoring. Lower, wider and longer than previous generations, the design now features improved handling and space - though there's a price to pay for that. The business customers that Toyota is increasingly seeking here should be receptive to this though, and better-heeled family buyers will want to try one too. As ever, it seems, there still is nothing quite like a Prius.Click here to find out more about our Toyota Prius range