The 2023 Kia Niro is new from the road up and represents an integral part of Kia’s electrification initiative. While there are hybrid and plug-in hybrid units, it’s the all-electric Niro that’s the interesting proposition. You see, it enters the market at a more affordable price point than many of its competitors, which makes it more mainstream.
The Niro Premium EV starts at $44,995 plus taxes. Deduct the Federal rebate and the price dips below $40K. Now, if you live in Quebec and deduct that incentive the price drops below $33K. At this price, it’s rivalling a similarly-equipped, gas-powered unit. By way of reference, the front-drive, non-hybrid, Ford Escape starts at $32,849. This is about time, as the EV market really does need to be driven from the affordable end of the price ladder if the adoption forecasts are to come to fruition!
As is usually the case, the test car was a loaded Niro Limited. The $8,000 price hike over the Premium (up to $52,995) pushes it out of the affordable range. Yes, there are some very nice features, including a sunroof, Harman Kardon sound system, a heads-up display and on the list goes, but, frankly, most are surplus to real need. The saving grace, at least if you want some of the usual niceties, is the middle ground is found in the Niro Premium+. It adds a more reasonable $3,000 to the base price, but brings the likes of a wireless phone charger, heated steering wheel and heated rear seats. It also upgrades to a heat pump. More in a moment.
Niro’s interior is dominated by the two 10.25-inch screens housed under a single pane of glass. The first display relays all the information the driver needs, including driving range. The second screen delivers all the right infotainment functions including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It also houses one of the best range graphics. The range and nearest charge point appear in a clear picture. More manufacturers should make this important information as accessible and easy to grasp!
One of the key reasons to pick the Niro Premium+ is it dispenses with the electric heater and goes with said heat pump. It uses 1.75 kilowatts of power compared with 5.5 kW for the electric heater. This change reduces the hit on the driving range by 68 per cent, so it’s worth the upgrade price alone.
Move rearward and the riders are treated to one of the most spacious seats in the segment. There’s plenty of head-, leg- and shoulder-room in all positions. There’s also 646 litres of space with the seats up and 1,805L with the 60/40 split/folding seatbacks down. The issue is the seatbacks do not fold flush with the floor, so there is a significant lip. The ability to raise the level of the floor when the seats are folded would solve the problem. Up front, the frunk adds another 20L and provides the space needed to store the charge cable.
The Niro EV features a 64.8 kilowatt-hour battery that delivers a driving range of up to 407 km. In spite of the cold temperatures during the test, a fully-charged battery routinely showed 350+-km as the available range. When plugged into a 350-kilowatt DC fast charger the battery can be charged from 10 to 80 per cent in under 45 minutes; a Level 2 outlet takes seven hours to fully replenish the battery.
There are a couple of other plusses. If the owner uses the charge schedule to take advantage of lower cost electricity and to pre-condition the cabin, but the plan suddenly changes there’s a handy “Charge Now” button that overrides the timer. Second, and the only real reason to move up to the Niro Limited, is to access the same vehicle-to-load feature as the EV6. Now, if you go glamping and plug a 55-inch TV into the Niro, it can entertain the campground for roughly 1,500 hours!
The battery powers a front-mounted electric motor that twists out 201 horsepower and 188 pound-feet of torque. While the numbers look so-so on paper, the performance is fairly described as peppy out on the road. No, it’s not drag race worthy, but there’s plenty of pop for everyday driving. Eco does blunt things so much it’s a pain, so save it for those times when the battery needs to be limped to a charger. Normal delivers the power and responsiveness needed in an urban environment; Sport adds more spice to the drive and actually makes the Niro feel lively. Under normal conditions, it rates 1.9 city/2.3 Hwy Le/100 km in ‘fuel’ economy.
Regenerative braking is an important part of the range equation. Niro has a variety of regen levels and modes including Smart. It automatically calculates the amount of regen required based on information from the forward-facing radar and navigation system. It works, but Kia’s i-Pedal is the better choice. It replicates a one pedal drive, so it brings the Niro to a standstill and holds it there once stopped.
The latest Niro rides on a stronger platform, so it provides a better base for the suspension. The ride is comfortable in the city or on the highway and it’s quiet thanks to the isolation, insulation and use of the acoustic (laminated) windshield and front side windows. These measures effectively block extraneous noise and bring a near Lexus-like hush to the drive.
On the flip side, Niro is not challenged by a twisty road. The built-in roll-control sees it hold a flat attitude through a corner. This is supported by the feel and feedback from the electronically-assisted steering. No, it will not be mistaken for a sports car, but the combination does manage to deliver a drive that does not disappoint.
The new Kia Niro EV is smarter, bigger, bolder and more powerful than the rather nondescript ride it replaces. This blend of attributes is enough to make it a very viable player. However, the fact it’s affordably priced and it is well-equipped for the money is, perhaps, its strongest asset.