Friday, July 19, 2024
First Reviews2023 Kia Niro First Drive Review: Boldly Green

2023 Kia Niro First Drive Review: Boldly Green

HEV, PHEV, BEV. Take your pick.

  • The 2023 Kia Niro starts at $31,845 in Canada and at $27,785 in the U.S., freight and delivery charges included.

  • Striking new design, more energy efficient than ever, roomier back seat.

  • Niro EV has less torque, some competitors are more affordable, glossy black interior surfaces quickly attract dust.

Design sells. It’s what can make a purchase emotional. It’s what makes the 2023 Kia Niro stand out in a sea of automotive conformity. Trends also sell, and the Niro’s greenness factor is definitely part of a growing trend as EVs are quickly gaining traction among car shoppers.

It all starts with the car’s exterior appearance. Inspired by the Kia HabaNiro Concept unveiled back in 2019, the second-generation Niro boasts bold, striking bodywork that not only gives it a space-age look, but a unique personality with distinct styling details. The most noticeable of those are the available contrasting trim panels that wrap around the front fascia and run through the lower portions of the doors, and depending on the trim level and paint chosen, up the crossover’s rear pillar as well.

As was the case with the previous first-generation vehicle, the 2023 Kia Niro can be ordered with one of three electrified powertrains, which broadens its list of competitors to include the Toyota Prius and Prius Prime, the Toyota Corolla Hybrid, the Hyundai Kona Electric, the Hyundai Elantra Hybrid, the Chevrolet Bolt EV and Bolt EUV, the Ford Maverick Hybrid, MINI Cooper SE, Mazda MX-30, the Nissan LEAF, the Subaru Crosstrek PHEV, and the brand’s own Canadian-market Kia Soul EV.

It’s also slightly bigger, riding on a 0.8-inch or 20-millimetre longer wheelbase. Overall length is up by 2.5 inches or 65 mm, width is up by 0.8 inches or 20 mm, while roofline height is unchanged. Front and rear track are a smudge wider as well, to go with the increase in body width.

As for interior dimensions, front-seat legroom and hip room are down a little, but rear-seat legroom and hip room are up noticeably, making the area more accommodating for passengers back there. Front and rear headroom is marginally better, and so is cargo room in the hybrid and fully electric variants, with a maximum volume of 63.7 cubic feet or 1,805 litres. Virtually no change in cargo room for the PHEV, with a max volume of 54.6 cubic feet or 1,546 litres, whose underfloor storage area is much smaller due to battery pack and fuel tank packaging.

The 2023 Kia Rio HEV or hybrid relies on a 1.6L inline-four engine, an electric motor, a 1.32 kWh battery pack and a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, developing 139 combined horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. These numbers are unchanged compared to the outgoing generation, but the automaker says the combustion engine received better cooling, reduced internal friction and improved fuel combustion, thanks to a compression ratio bump from 13:0 to 14:0. The result is a gain in fuel economy, with new city/highway/combined ratings of 53/54/53 mpg, or 4.5/4.4/4.4 L/100 km. The outgoing Niro HEV did not better than 50 mpg or 4.6 L/100 km on the combined cycle.

For those who’d like to experience fuel-free driving, but are not yet ready to take the fully electric vehicle plunge, the Niro PHEV is available as well. It gets the same basic powertrain as the hybrid, but with a more muscular electric motor and a 11.1 kWh battery pack, up from the previous gen’s 8.9 kWh lump. Output is pegged at 180 horsepower and 195 pound-feet, while EV driving range improves from 26 to 33 miles, or 42 to 55 km. Obviously, the PHEV is little more energetic at wide-open throttle than the HEV, and there’s an EV button we can press that shuts off the combustion engine—although the latter will activate itself again if we mash the go-pedal to get full power.

As for the 2023 Kia Niro EV, its electric motor drives the front wheels as before, and produces 201 horsepower along with 188 pound-feet of torque. The previous-gen Niro’s powertrain generated 291 pound-feet, so there’s a noticeable difference there. However, on the road, the new Niro EV doesn’t feel necessarily slower off the line, with less tire chirping, and should be easier to handle during the snowy season. The torque drop also helps prolong battery life and increase driving range, going up from 239 to 253 miles, or 385 to 407 kilometres. The battery pack itself increased from 64.0 to 64.8 kWh, while the on-board charger’s speed climbs from 7.2 to 11.0 kW.

On the highways and winding roads surrounding San Diego where we drove the Niro, it felt solid and more refined than ever, with seamless gas engine and electric motor transitions in the case of the HEV and the PHEV, of course. All three felt very quiet inside, although the California roads we travelled on with billiard-table smooth. The previous Niro’s road manners were already pretty good, and the new generation cranks it up a notch.

The 2023 Kia Niro’s cabin received an overhaul as well, boasting a similar design to the brand’s other new products. There’s the now-typical wide dash panel integrating both the digital driver instrument cluster and the infotainment system touchscreen, the latter now being 8.0 or 10.25 inches in diagonal size. The on-screen button zones are big and the system itself is packed with features. It’s compatible with wireless Apple CarPlay, but not with Android Auto for the time being. On the other hand, the expansive use of gloss black trim inside the vehicle will attract dust and will require regular cleaning. Or not, if we’re not neatness freaks.

Available features include head-up display, a power sunroof, 16- to 18-inch alloy wheels, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, power-adjustable front seats with driver-side position memory, a power liftgate, a digital key, a Harman/Kardon sound system, cloth or leatherette seat upholstery, wireless phone charging and LED ambiance lighting. Of course, the active safety feature list rounds up emergency braking, lane keep assist and blind-spot monitoring, among other things. A V2L system is also available on the range-topping EV trim, which allows owners to charge external devices or provide electricity while camping or during a home power shortage, for example.

The U.S. market gets Wind and Wave trim levels for the Niro EV, while the Canadian market will offer Premium, Premium+ and Limited variants. Meanwhile, the Niro HEV is available in LX, EX, EX Touring, SX and SX Touring trims, LX, EX, EX Premium and SX in Canada. As for the Niro PHEV, it will be sold in the U.S. in EX and SX trims, while Canada will get the EX only.

Pricing starts at $31,845 in Canada and at $27,785 in the United States, freight and delivery charges included.

Overall, the 2023 Kia Niro does everything well, as it did before. However, it gets a bunch of little improvements here and there, and the kicker is a bold new design that is sure to draw attention. End of the day, there could be a Niro for everyone, depending on how deep consumers are willing to dive into the EV waters. All three variants will arrive in Canada in the spring of 2023, and are already on sale in the U.S.


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