Friday, 23 December 2016

COLUMN – December 2016

Here is another chance to see my December column from The Local Herald and The Clitheroe Local. This month features a brace of Kias. First up is the executive saloon; the Optima. There is a new gearbox, and a slightly revised model line up. I'll also be testing hthe new Sportswagon in the new year, so keep an eye out for that. Secondly we have the all-new Niro; a plug-in hybrid crossover which could be a sign of things to come from the Korean marque. Read on to see how I found them both.

I have tested several Kias since I started this column some five years ago, and this month I’m going to test two more. Having spent considerable time and effort on brand image, the Kia model range is now full of cars you might actually want to own. Let’s see, shall we?

Up first is the latest Optima. It’s been revised, and is now available for the first time as an estate car; known as the Sportswagon. And the range-topping model is now the GT Line, which adds a sporting edge to the Optima and should, I expect, increase its appeal to consumers.

What hasn’t changed, unfortunately, is the engine. At the minute it’s still the same 1.7-litre, 139PS diesel unit that powered the previous model. It still feels underpowered in what is a rather large car, and I do wonder how this will work in the even larger Sportswagon. One would expect that some new engines could be on the horizon, and you could also consider the Optima Plug-In Hybrid, but for now it’s the solitary diesel.

What is new to the powertrain is the addition of a 7-speed double-clutch transmission (DCT). It featured on my test car and I have to say it did make the most of the limited 139PS on offer. It is delightfully smooth, and is an option box I’d be ticking.

The revised Optima looks great, with subtle updates inside and out keeping it fresh. The Optima range currently starts at £21,495, up to the GT Line at £29,395. Interestingly the Sportswagon is only a couple of hundred pounds more, and the Plug-in Hybrid costs £33,995 (before government grant). With extensive standard specification and improvements to technology (such as the Harmon Kardon Stereo on ‘3’ and GT-Line models) you really do get a lot of car for your money.

One of the newest models in the Kia range is the Niro. “Crossover by design. Hybrid by nature”. It sounds rather interesting. And the looks too are… well, interesting. It’s a little bit bug-eyed at the front; with headlights too small for what is a big, wide face. These visual features are also exaggerated when finished in signature ‘Ocean Blue’ paint.

The drivetrain in the Niro is a 1.6-litre, turbocharged petrol engine, a 32kW electric motor and a sizeable battery. And unlike most hybrid setups, which rely on a CVT transmission, the Niro has a 6-speed DCT. And that makes it a lot nicer to drive. Should you put your foot (and green hat) down, the Niro will go from 0-60mph in 11.1 seconds and reach a top speed of 101mph.

On the hybrid front, I think the system works very well. Fuel consumption on 16-inch/18-inch alloys is 74.3mpg and 64.2mpg and CO2 emissions are 88g/km and 101g/km respectively. Thanks to a host of sound-deadening, you barely hear the engine start and stop. It is seamless in transition and I found it maintained an effective balance between battery assist and charge. The Niro feels sprightly enough round town, and despite the larger 18-inch alloys of my ‘First Edition’ test car it was pretty comfortable too.

The battery lives under the rear seat, which means that boot space is uncompromised. The cabin itself is a nice place to be, with premium features we have come to expect from Kia. I wasn’t entirely struck on the gloss white plastics, but I think this does fit in with the ‘eco’ vibe.

Prices for the Niro are very reasonable too, starting at £21,295, up to £26,995 for the ‘First Edition’. And because the technology works, the Niro makes sense. It’s a family car that saves the family money too.

Dan

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