DIESEL has become a demon, a bête noire for campaigners. Despite their lower fuel consumption, there are concerns many of us wheeze because of the soot particles diesels pump out.
True there are particulate filters in their exhaust systems designed to trap the soot but these eventually burn it off with a burst of heat and a resultant black cloud. This tends to happen on a long trip when the engine is working hard so it’s away from town.
There’s a new car tax (VED) regime coming in on April 1 that will see only zero emissions cars qualify for zero road tax while at present quite a few low emissions cars, including hybrids, do so.
After April 1, virtually every car will pay an annual minimum of £140, £10 less for alternative fuel (hybrid), while only purely battery-powered cars will get a £0 rating based on the idea they have no emissions. Try spinning that line to anyone who lives near a power station. True there’s the ability to charge them off solar panels but even those need to be manufactured, transported (quite possibly from China), and installed.
We now have the absurd situation where, after April 1, owners of a fuel-sipping Ford Fiesta get an annual VED bill for £140 while those with a gas-guzzling V8 petrol-powered Ford Mustang save more than £200. And if you buy a car with a list price (not sale price) of £40,000 or more there’s another £310 a year to pay for the five VED renewals after the first year, which will be hit by a penalty-first registration fee.
Of course, it can be demonstrated that hybrid cars can save on fuel. The test car that replaced the previous week’s petrol-engine Peugeot 3008 was a similarly sized Kia Niro, a petrol-powered hybrid with a natty dashboard graphic placing more leaves on a symbolic tree in response to the driving style having less environmental impact.
The reality was that the Niro delivered about a 30 per cent fuel consumption advantage over the Peugeot, bringing diesel economy to a petrol/battery-powered car.
There is, of course, more to the equation than mere money saving, or our non-scientific test. Measuring the extra implications of battery weight, complexity, and production techniques needs to be factored in and doubtless someone, somewhere has done it sensibly. It was once claimed that, over its lifetime, a hybrid Toyota Prius had a greater environmental cost than a V8 petrol-powered Jeep SUV. Maybe George Osborne remembered that when he announced the VED changes back in 2015.
Perhaps the biggest problem for Kia where the Niro is concerned is persuading people that they actually should pay a fiver short of £27,000 for the Launch Edition. It’s not that it’s poor value, more that people link Kia to the ’80s and ’90s poverty motoring that also brought us the likes of Proton. The difference is that Kia’s still here, Proton nowhere to be seen.
The Niro is a brilliant bit of kit, all leather seats (but heated front and back making it perfect for a trip on the coldest night of the year so far), premium equipment, and a great feel. It’s a superb drive, too, with a real spark although the stark figures reveal it to be slower than the Peugeot by some margin. It doesn’t feel it.
The extra shove of the electric motor makes up for the statistical lack of bhp and torque, too, so the car copes admirably with back routes, even when fully laden. Where the Kia may fall short is in the poorer boot space (those hybrid batteries have to go somewhere) and the lack of any towing ability. Kia may not see this as a disadvantage because the current range has the Sorento SUV, long regarded as an ideal tow car.
What the Niro shows is that a firm ready to embrace technology will succeed, no matter how humble its beginnings. As well as its hybrid gear, even the humblest Niro versions get lots of electronic safety bits while boasting a lower CO2 output than the upmarket versions by some margin.
This readiness to adopt tech solutions is why Kia has tripled sales in the last eight years and Proton has gone off-beam despite (maybe because of) owning technologically brilliant Lotus.
Maurice and Annette Hardy
Car: Kia Niro 1.6 GDi HEV First Edition DCT six speed
Does it fit your ego…
0-62mph: 11.1 secs
Top speed: 101mph
Bhp: 139 @ 5700rpm
Torque: 195lb ft @ 4000rpm
…and your wallet…
Combined: 64.2 mpg
CO2 emissions: 101 g/km
Best bits: proves technology can deliver