The Kia Niro has always had a bit of a strange spot in the line-up, hasn’t it? After all, here’s a vehicle with definite small or compact-crossover vibes, but with a body shape that was somehow reminiscent of the Kia Rondo people mover. Styling-wise, it had its moments but there wasn’t a huge variety of eye-catching details to really write home about. Sure; there was the tiger nose grille and some headlights that bore an obvious resemblance to the items on the Sportage crossover but you probably wouldn’t select the old Niro in a “which car defines our look?” query over at Kia. It has to be said that its main claim to fame was the variety of powertrain types, a list that included a fully-electrified (BEV) model. That’s great, but then the Niro’s Hyundai Kona
cousin came along, eventually got a BEV variant of its own AND had a very unique look, helping it gain a massive following.
Well, Kia has set out to change that in a big way with the all-new 2023 model and by the looks of things, they are no longer content to let their cousins from ‘round the way steal all the spotlight in the BEV crossover game.
As it often is in the world of passenger cars, the new Niro’s massive headlights and vertical taillights are the defining factors that have it looking like nothing else, not even other Kias.
Oh, except one thing, and it actually has nothing to do with any other Kias, but something from a different automaker entirely. Those contrast-colour side blades you see aft of the rear doors? You can’t look at those and tell me you don’t see a Smart ForTwo – or if you really want, the ForTwo’s not-for-North-America ForFour sibling. I actually don’t mind the look, but it seems Kia is a little self-conscious of it because you can only get the two-tone look on one trim – the Limited seen here -- and only with a single base colour choice: Snow White Pearl. Personally, I’d like to see how a pair of darker carbon-coloured side blades set against a red or blue base colour would look.
Speaking of looks: the feature is actually about more than just that, as it serves as a pass-through for rushing air, providing better aerodynamics and better range, the latter of which is a claimed 407 km; I started with my battery at 97 per cent charge and 378 km of range. After driving 100 km, my computer told me I had 227 km remaining at 60 per cent charge; that’s off the pace a little bit, but range anxiety was never really an issue for me during my time with the Kia Niro EV. When hooked up to a DC fast charger, meanwhile, the Niro will go from 10 to 80 per cent charge in about 45 minutes at speeds of up to 85 kW.
For me, though, more than just how fast the Niro can charge, it was about the manner in which it does so and by that I mean how it physically hooks up to a charger. There’s no need to painstakingly dodge bollards at a Petro-Canada fast charger in order to get a side-mounted charge port aligned with the (annoyingly stiff) charge cable; just drive in nose first, and you’re good because that’s where the charge port is located, and where it should be on any EV. So thank you, Kia, for doing it right.
While the exterior, with its flashy headlight lenses and side blades and two-tone 17-inch wheels is a head-turner, the interior can’t quite match it. For a long time, Kia’s buttoned-down interiors with their dark tuxedo-like ambience worked; now, however, times have changed and things are going brighter and a little more, well, fun. Look no further than the Hyundai Ioniq 5
to see just what I’m on about. Sure; Kia has tried to brighten things up a little by adding a splash of colour ahead of the front passenger and having twin digital displays for your gauge cluster and infotainment, but that’s about it. I’m also not fully sold on the dual climate control/navigation control button bank at the base of the centre stack -- you can change what it controls with the press of a button. It’s here, of course, to help reduce clutter and while other efforts in that vein such as the transmission control dial do work well, this is a little finicky.
It is a comfortable place to sit, though; that roof is high so headroom isn’t a problem either front or rear and they’ve managed to jam the wheels into the corners and stretch the cabin for some pretty good legroom, too. Add handy features like a front trunk – it’s shallow, but I’m glad it’s here – and low rear cargo floor and you have a very practical and accessible small hatch…crossover…thing.
Power is rated at 201 horsepower and 188 pound-feet of torque, fine figures for a small car but down in the torque department to the old model. That’s too bad, but the new car isn’t slow, racing to the 100 km/h mark in about 6.5 seconds and always seeming to have the juice required to not leave you hanging during highway manoeuvres, especially in more responsive sport mode.
As responsive as the powertrain is, the handling is the highlight here. With its 64.8 kWh battery stuffed neatly into the floor, the centre of gravity is low and body roll is kept to a minimum. The steering could have a little more feel – it’s a little squishy as is – but the front end is responsive so the Niro EV is a pleasure to thread through town in, as it should be.
Far as I’m concerned, the handling, the power and even the interior accoutrements have me thinking compact hatchback as opposed to compact crossover. Many – probably including Kia themselves – will argue against that but to me, it has come to 2023 with a properly fleshed-out identity and with a base MSRP of $47,844 before incentives, it is about as attainable as you get in the current EV market. That’s a lot of win, right there.
2023 Kia Niro EV
Five-door compact hatchback
front permanent magnet synchronous EV motor, 201 hp, 188 lb-ft
WEBSITE: Kia Niro EV