2023 Kia Niro EV first drive review: practical style

by decwells
2023 Kia Niro EV first drive review: practical style

If you want to see how quickly the electric car landscape has changed over the past few years, check out the redesigned 2023 Kia Niro EV.

When the first-generation Niro EV was introduced for the 2019 model year (following hybrid and plug-in hybrid Niro variants), it was a pretty big deal. The Niro was Kia’s first EV not based on a conventional petrol model, and the first intended for high sales volumes.

The second-generation 2023 Niro EV boasts more technology, more space and more extroverted styling than its predecessor, but it’s still very much in the shadow of the Kia EV6. Once Kia’s main EV attraction, the Niro is being refocused as a more affordable option to take on the Chevrolet Bolt EV/Bolt EUV, Volkswagen ID.4 and Nissan Leaf.

Kia plans to offer the Niro EV in trim levels called Wind and Wave, but hasn’t revealed pricing for either. Note that the previous-generation 2022 Niro EV started at $41,245; the new model may see a price increase due to its updates. And because it’s assembled in South Korea, the 2023 Niro EV won’t qualify for the revamped federal EV tax credit, Kia confirmed.

Design and interior

Like the previous generation, the Niro is part of a three-part series that also includes the Niro Hybrid and Niro PHEV (plug-in hybrid models). All three maintain the long-wagon shape of the first-generation Niro, but with much bolder styling.

Where the previous Niro was a nice mix of car and SUV styling elements, the 2023 Niro is the result of the same fearless design department that produced the EV6 and the 2023 Kia Sportage. The traditional car “face” has been rearranged with a visor-like element, protruding grille and hexagonal lighting elements. Contrasting trim panels break up the profile view and hide “Air Blade” elements around the taillights which, Kia claims, reduce aerodynamic drag.

Kia has used sustainable materials to further reduce the Niro EV’s environmental impact.

Kia also got creative with the interior design, opting for lots of curved surfaces that blend together to create a nice visual flow between the dashboard and door panels. The dashboard screens are also well integrated, so it doesn’t look like designers just nailed a couple of iPads to the dash, like in some other cars. Kia also claims the interior is 100% vegan, using sustainable materials such as recycled wallpaper (in the headliner) and eucalyptus leaves (in the seats) to further reduce the Niro EV’s environmental impact.

The redesigned Niro EV is 2.5 inches longer than the previous generation model, and its wheelbase has grown 0.8 inches to 107.1 inches in total. This amounts to a fairly compact vehicle with ample interior space for its size. The Kia has more headroom and legroom in both rows than a Chevy Bolt EUV or Nissan Leaf, albeit less than the VW ID.4. Likewise, the Niro EV’s 22.8 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats up and 63.7 cubic feet with the rear seats folded beats the Chevy and Nissan, but trails the VW.

Interior of the 2023 Kia Niro EV.

Technology, infotainment and driver assistance

The standard infotainment system includes a 10.25-inch touchscreen and 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster in the same housing to create the appearance of one continuous screen. Wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also standard (Kia doesn’t offer wireless versions with this touchscreen), along with wireless phone charging. The complement of USB ports includes one USB-C and two USB-A ports for the front seats, and a pair of backrest-mounted USB-A ports for rear-seat passengers.

The lack of wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is inconvenient, but at least the front USB ports and phone tray are well placed for plugging in. The infotainment system itself was also easy to use, with a fast-responsive touchscreen and sensible menu layouts.

Safety features include forward collision warning (with pedestrian detection), automatic emergency braking, lane assist, a driver attention monitor, rear cross traffic alert, safe exit alert and standard rear occupant alert equipment, as well as blind spot collision avoidance for pulling out of parallel parking spaces.

The infotainment system was easy to use, with a responsive touchscreen and sensible layout.

Adaptive cruise control is also standard, with stop-and-go functionality and navigation-based curve prediction, which standard systems from Honda and Toyota lack. Kia’s Highway Driving Assist II system, which adds automatic lane centering for highway driving, is also available and boasts a machine learning function that adapts the system’s responses to your driving style, Kia claims.

With its ability to control acceleration, braking and steering while still requiring drivers to keep their hands on the wheel, Highway Driving Assist II roughly matches the capability of the ProPilot Assist system available on the Nissan Leaf and the VW ID.4’s available Travel Assist system. But the Chevy Bolt EUV can be equipped with Super Cruise, which allows for hands-free driving on designated stretches of highway (that system isn’t available on the Bolt EV, though).

The Niro EV is also available with the Digital Key system previously seen on other Kia models and those from related brands Hyundai and Genesis. Digital Key lets drivers use a smartphone or other device in place of the key fob, although in the Niro EV it only works with iPhones, the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy phones for now.

The 2023 Kia Niro EV's Air Blade vents.

Management experience

The Niro EV has more power than other Niro variants. Its single electric motor sends 201 horsepower and 188 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels, compared to 139 hp and 195 lb.-ft. of torque for the Niro Hybrid and 180 hp and 195 lb.-ft. for the Niro PHEV (those versions are also front-wheel drive). A battery pack of 64.8 kilowatt-hours provides the juice.

Kia says the Niro EV will do zero to 62 mph in 7.8 seconds — faster than the hybrid and plug-in hybrid models, but not by much. Unlike the EV6, the Niro EV makes no pretense of being sporty. And it felt very quick for a normal car in real traffic anyway.

The Niro EV makes no pretensions to sportiness.

The Niro EV’s chassis also felt ordinary. The Kia didn’t go beyond its station in ride quality, and it wasn’t much fun on twisty roads, but it didn’t have any real problems either. We think it will be a perfectly satisfying daily driver – but don’t expect anything more than that.

Like other electric cars, the Niro EV uses regenerative braking to harvest energy under deceleration. Kia offers various levels of regeneration, which can be adjusted with steering wheel paddles, along with an automatic mode called i-Pedal. It is supposed to select the most efficient setting and will switch regeneration back at times when freewheeling is deemed better. While this sounds good in theory, it can also leave the driver guessing as to how much regeneration they will get, and whether or not they will need to use the brake pedal to slow the car down.

The 2023 Kia Niro EV's instrument cluster.

Range, loading and safety

Official range and efficiency ratings for the Niro EV have not yet been released, but Kia is aiming for 253 miles. That would put the Niro in the same ballpark as the 259-mile Chevy Bolt EV and 247-mile Bolt EUV without surpassing the Niro’s Kia EV6 sibling, which surpasses 300 miles in some configurations. An optional heat pump and battery heater should help maintain range in cold temperatures.

The Niro EV can charge quickly, but only at 85 kilowatts. That means it takes an estimated 45 minutes to go from a 10% to an 80% charge, which isn’t great considering many EVs can do the same in around 20 minutes. The Niro EV charges at 11kW from a Level 2 AC source, requiring seven hours for a full recharge. At least it’s closer to average, and the Niro EV can also power your devices thanks to its built-in vehicle-to-charge (V2L) capability, which draws power from the battery pack.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have not released crash test ratings for the 2023 Niro EV or its hybrid and plug-in hybrid siblings.

Like other Kias, the Niro EV gets an impressive 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and five-year, 60,000-mile limited warranty.

Rear three-quarter view of the 2023 Kia Niro EV.

How DT would configure this car

There isn’t too much difference between the Niro EV Wind and Wave trim levels, but the high-end Wave model does get Remote Smart Parking Assist and the inverter that allows for V2L power output, as well as some additional convenience features such as a power front passenger seat, ventilated front seats (heated front seats are standard on both models), and a memory system for seat adjustments. Highway Driving Assist II is also available on the Wave model, but as an extra-cost option. So if you want the most tech content, this is the one to go for.

While styling is subjective, we feel the Niro EV stands out visually, and Kia’s effort to use sustainable interior materials is noteworthy. The Niro EV also offers a decent amount of interior space for its size, and a decent amount of range. It should be a good companion to the EV6 in Kia’s lineup, but not a world-beater.

The EV competition has grown since the Kia Niro EV first appeared. The Chevy Bolt EUV is more fun to drive and is available with the more sophisticated Super Cruise hands-free driver assistance system, while the VW ID.4 offers up to 275 miles of range in certain configurations and is available with all-wheel drive. The Hyundai Kona Electric offers many of the same tech features as the Niro, with a range of 258 miles, though it’s unclear how long that will last. While it’s still quite a ways away, the 2024 Chevy Equinox EV’s $30,000 base price and more traditional SUV packaging could undermine the Niro EV’s value argument going forward.

So while the Niro EV is an attractive electric car, it’s not the only one. That’s great for EV buyers, but maybe not for Kia.

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