Baile Átha Kia to Kiarraí

Recently the AA’s Joe Langan undertook a journal from Dublin to Kerry in a Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle. Read on to find out how his journey went.

If you’re eager to join the electric vehicle (EV) revolution, you’re late.  Although some would have you believe electric cars are as old as internal combustion motoring, the fact is that for all practical purposes, private EV motoring has only been an option for most of us since around 2010, when genuine prospects from reputable manufacturers were first offered.

And in the last 8 years, the technology has matured hugely.  Rising fuel prices drove many to diesel but as the sheen fades from oil-burners, EVs have begun their slow, inevitable rise from single figure sales to a more familiar sight on Irish roads and as diesel sales drop off, petrol and electric sales are growing.  With the right incentives, electric sales could, like in Norway, dwarf diesel sales within a few short years.

My head is full of EV facts following Electronomous, a two-day event in Killarney in early May that gathers interested minds from the motoring world as well as academics, CEOs and manufacturers to discuss developments, trends and future technologies in the EV, connectivity and autonomy spaces.  Having attended last year’s event and come away with a massive insight into the amazing work being done around the world, including Ireland (who knew Tuam was such a centre for autonomous vehicle tech?), I was keen to take a look at Electronomous 2018 and what better vehicle to take there than the new Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid?

The Niro PHEV is not a new design; the Niro has been on sale as a regular hybrid since late 2016 and this model is virtually identical.  Having been designed from the start to accommodate hybrid batteries, the Niro doesn’t lose boot space to them and this new PHEV variant is no exception.

But while the regular Niro employs a 1.56kWh battery that’s powered by the petrol engine, allowing it to assist and, occasionally, take over from the petrol engine, the Niro PHEV has a much bigger 8.9kWh battery that can also be powered by a plug.  This enables it to run on electric power alone for up to 58km, meaning you need never use a drop of petrol.

“Pure” EV drivers may scoff at this, but the Niro PHEV and other plug-in hybrids present a simple solution for a world in transition from fossil fuels.  While Ireland, like every other country on the planet, has filling stations in every village, town and city, it’s an ideal “safety net” for those who want to drive an EV but also feel they want the security of a full tank of petrol if they need it.

Charging is a doddle; you get two wires with the Niro PHEV; the standard AC cable for use at charging points across Ireland and indeed Europe and a three-pin plug for use at home, often referred to by aficionados as “the granny cable”.  If you have an obliging granny, you can plug in your Niro PHEV to a standard household plug and get it fully charged in just over 4 hours.  At a charging point, it’s half that time and if you avail of Kia’s offer with Wallbox, you’ll get €600 off their range of home chargers thanks to a SEAI grant.

Of course, fast charging is just around the corner and with that, full EVs are going to make more sense.  Kia are ready for that too – a Niro EV will go on sale next year, just as new charging solutions start to make their way to our forecourts and car parks as well as homes.

But for now, what better car for 2018 than the Niro Plug-In Hybrid?  No compromise on space, comfort or specification.  The 440-litre boot swallowed all that a one year old might need and even with her child seat in place, the rear seat can take two more adults in comfort.  The legroom is comparable to the larger Sportage, the headroom is more than adequate and vision is excellent, assisted by a reversing camera and parking sensors.

The Niro PHEV not only has the standard, generous features of the regular Niro (8 inch touchscreen with satnav, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, climate control, heated seats and steering wheel) but also the Advanced Driver Assist System (ADAS), which employs a front-mounted sensor that, combined with cruise control, automatically maintains a constant distance from vehicles ahead and will come to an emergency halt if required.

Add to this the Lane Keep Assist feature already standard on all Niros and I found myself driving to a conference on autonomous cars in a car that can maintain a set speed and distance, brake and accelerate along any road or motorway without my intervention, keep the car within lane markings (LKA actually physically moves the steering wheel slightly if it thinks you’re about to cross a line) and brake to a complete stop quicker than I ever could.  All of this in a package that, thanks to government incentives, costs less than a Toyota Prius.

A car that’s partially electric and partially autonomous is perfect for 2018 and the Niro PHEV is an ideal way to dip your toe into EV driving.

Key Information

Price: €30,995 (including €2,500 VRT reduction and €5,000 PHEV grant)

Engine Size: 1580cc

Engine Power: 147bhp

Fuel economy: 1.3l/100km (220mpg) NEDC

Acceleration: 0-100km/h in 10.8 secs

CO2 emissions: 29g (Band 2-80g: €170)

Top speed: 172km/h

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Image via Michael McGillycuddy (Instagram: @michaelmcgillycuddy).

Joe Langan is Industry Research Executive at AA Ireland