You probably haven't seen a TV ad for the Kia Niro. It's not a glamorous model in the Kia lineup, but the small crossover stacks up around 4,500 sales a year. Not enough to make it a big player, but it's a respectable figure. Kia hasn't been just fiddling since the Niro launched in 2017, instead, we're getting this all-new model for 2023, and that comes as somewhat of a surprise. Kia expects more than 70 percent of sales to be the electric version, and that's why we were eager to get behind the wheel.
Like its predecessor, the 2023 Kia Niro offers hybrid, electric, and PHEV drivelines. Unlike its predecessor, the new Niro has some style. Kia has stepped up the design of this little offering from the tip of its Tiger Nose to the aero blade at the rear. That aero blade is about the only thing it has in common with the Audi R8.
You can get the blade in body colour or grey (the black blades are for HEV and PHEV models, grey is EV exclusive), but the aero blade is about more than just style. It helps direct airflow around the sides of the Niro, improving aerodynamics and helping boost range. That same channeling of the air cuts wind noise in the cabin to nearly nothing and makes the drive more stable on the highway as well. Impressive results for such a small change.
Niro is larger for 2023, though only slightly so. At 4,420mm long and 1,825 wide it is 65 mm longer and 20 mm wider. The result is more cabin space in every dimension, but a footprint that is still compact enough. It's slightly larger than Kia's Seltos
(a gas-only model), to give you a better idea of the size.
Kia has made an interesting move in the Niro's cargo hatch. It doesn't have a flat floor with the seats folded, and there is quite a dip from the trunk opening to the floor. Does that make it slightly more inconvenient to haul long items with the seats down? Maybe. Does it give the Niro much more usable space every day when the seats are up? Absolutely. It also solves the common crossover problem of your groceries rolling out when the (power) hatch is opened. The total volume is 646L with the seats up and 1,805 with them folded.
Under the 20L front trunk compartment of the Niro is a 201 hp (188 lb-ft) electric motor powered by a 64.8 kWh lithium polymer batter. DC Level 3 Fast Charging can boost it from 10 to 80 percent in 45 minutes at 85 kW, and it has 11 kW Level 2 home charging.
Total range is 407 km, up from the 385 km the same-size battery managed last year. A heat pump is standard on Premium+ and Limited, helping you keep the range up when the weather is hot or cold. We averaged around 13 kWh/100 km on our drive route mix of high-speed highway, mountain roads, and city traffic, a figure that impressively trounces the 18.6 kW/100 official combined rating.
With more power than most gas crossovers its size, despite some extra weight the Niro EV feels brisk on the road. It has more than enough power for passing and merging, even in Southern California traffic, and was small-car zippy on mountain climbs.
One of my colleagues complained that the Niro "understeered at the limit," an observation that completely misses the point of this vehicle. Even if Kia tunes the suspension with more stiffness than some competitors, a move meant to give you a more "sporty" feel behind the wheel.
The ride is a bit on the stiff side for the segment, but it's not uncomfortable and it's not choppy over expansion joints and bumps. The steering has a pleasant weight to it, light enough for easy parking and firm enough for stability on the highway.
Like every Kia, the Niro EV comes very well-equipped. Smartphone locking, climate control, and digital key are all part of the package. You can start or stop the charging process and see the battery level as well.
Premium is the entry trim. With this EV, Kia is launching a new system of trim names to recognize that it is bringing in buyers new to the brand. Exterior goodies include 17-inch alloys, LED lights front and rear, and tinted rear glass.
Inside, the standard seats are cloth but they are heated. A 10.25-inch digital dash is standard, along with a 10.25-inch centre screen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard. This one rings the register at $44,995, the same as last year.
Standard driver assists include blind spot and rear cross-traffic alerts, Highway Driving Assist lane guidance, adaptive cruise, and forward collision avoidance.
Premium + adds a watt-saving heat pump, rear parking sensors, and a power tailgate. Kia also adds a power driver seat, synthetic leather seats, and a faux-leather wheel with heating, too. It's a leather derived from eucalyptus fibres instead of petroleum, part of Kia's move to increase sustainability that includes a recycled pop-bottle headliner. The leather alternative doesn't feel quite like leather, but it is pleasant to the touch. At $47,995, this is a significant $2,700 less than the same kit last year.
Top of the 2023 Kia Niro EV line is the $52,996 Limited. With parking collision avoidance, advanced collision and highway driving assists, and remote smart park it adds some very desirable driver assists. It also gives front-seat passengers ventilated chairs and heats the rears, and adds a head-up display, Harmon Kardon audio, and Kia's Vehicle-to-Load high-power outlet.
While compact crossovers are a growing segment, for EVs it's still a relatively empty one. Niro's closest competitor is the Chevrolet Bolt EUV. It offers a starting price of around $4,000 lower and can be optioned with GM's Super Cruise hands-off driver assist. It's also around 300 kg heavier, significantly smaller, offers 180L less cargo space behind the back seats, and makes popular features optional extras that quickly close the price gap.
None of the changes will turn the Kia Niro EV into a showroom superstar, but they do earn it a serious look from anyone considering a compact EV. Impressive efficiency, excellent highway noise levels, and loads of equipment make it appealing, but it's the looks that might snag people who hadn't considered it before. It's still not exciting, but it's not boring anymore either. You'll be able to order this solid commuter option soon, and deliveries should start in the first quarter of 2023.
2023 Kia Niro EV
BODY STYLE: Five-Door Compact Crossover
DRIVE METHOD: Single electric motor FWD
MOTOR: 201 hp @ 6,000-9,000 rpm; 188 lb-ft 0-6,000 rpm
EV RANGE: Estimated 407 km. 64.8 kWh Li-Po battery
CARGO VOLUME: 646 litres beind rear seat, 1,805 with rear seats folded. 20 litres in front trunk
PRICING: Base: Premium $44,995. Premium + $47,996. Limited $52,995 (as tested)