The 2023 Kia Niro Lineup
WHOLE ‘E’ TRINITY
It’s been several years since suggesting to a friend, hoping to replace her Mazda CX-7, that she consider Kia’s Niro hybrid or, if interested, the Niro plug-in hybrid. At that time, her challenge was finding a Niro – any Niro! – at a dealership in Texas; there weren’t any, nor could dealers provide much in the way of info on the cars or timetable on their arrival. Given the state’s penchant for pickups, Kia’s distribution model was somewhat understandable – why ship something to a dealer, only to see it sit there, unsold? Happily, in its second generation the Kia Niro not only comes with enhancements to the platform and sheetmetal, it comes to you in all 50 states.
Like the 1st-gen Niro, Kia’s 4-door hatch continues its positioning as a crossover, despite having no pretense at navigating off-road or, for that matter, running down a fire road. The hip point may be marginally higher than a Civic or Corolla, but – at least subjectively – seems lower than that of its Kia stablemate, the Soul. With all of that, I like the seating position, as it doesn’t require a climb up for those of us with shorter inseams, and it doesn’t require bending yourself into it if north of six feet.
In the walk-up, the new sheetmetal sits on what looks to be very similar proportions, with a design intended to reflect Kia’s “Opposites United” (I’m thinking Kennedy and Johnson…) design philosophy. And with those design embellishments, we’re told that the new Niro is larger in every dimension, which imbues the newest Niro – according to Kia – with class-leading passenger and cargo volume.
Whereas the first Niro skewed – from a visual standpoint – conservative, for 2023 the design team took (at least figuratively) the gloves off. In both the front fascia and rear, revamped lighting provides an of-this-century identity, while what Kia describes as a ‘rugged looking skid plate garnish’ enhances the front. A skid plate garnish is what you employ when dealing with but 6.3 inches of ground clearance and – presumably – Styrofoam rocks in the roadway.
If the revised treatments front and rear don’t close the deal for you, consider the Niro’s Aero Blade, which is both distinctive (think Audi’s R8) and aero-enhancing. It can be painted in body color or, if you prefer, a variety of contrasting colors. In a test of the Niro a few weeks ago, we enjoyed a Niro Hybrid in Cityscape Green, visually heightened by an Aero Blade finished in a contrasting black. Our most recent Niro (all-electric) EV was finished in white with a medium metallic gray Aero Blade, an almost tone-on-tone treatment that, at least subjectively, seemed more attractive. But that Aero Blade is formed by a widened D-pillar, which works against outward visibility from behind the wheel.
That takes us inside, where you’ll find what Kia describes as an avant-garde(!) interior, “styled and upholstered with premium materials and textured surfaces.” The end result is as good as the press release; both dash and seating have an upscale feel and vibe, while instrumentation is clear and HVAC controls remain intuitive. The balance of the dash, however, is both figuratively and literally a blank screen. As the owner of a Niro you’ll get used to it, but in my week with the EV the ‘E’ might have referred to ‘extraterrestrial’.
To my knowledge, no OEM gives you such a wide range of drivetrains within one platform. The most affordable Niro variant is the basic hybrid, with a starting price comfortably under $30K. With that you’ll enjoy 1.6 liters of conventional combustion connected to a 6-speed dual-clutch trans and augmented with a 32kW permanent magnet synchronous electric motor. That’s a combined 139 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, along with an EPA estimate of 53 miles-per-gallon combined.
Opt for the Plug-in Niro (PHEV) and you have a 62kW motor and 180 horsepower, along with approximately 33 miles of all-electric capability and better acceleration, given its bump in total horsepower. As you’d guess, this brings pricing to roughly $35K.
Finally, our test EV gives you 201 horsepower from its 150kW motor – and DC fast-charging is standard. With the Niro EV, you can plug into a Level 3 fast charger and go from 10 to 80% in under 45 minutes, roughly the same amount of time Starbucks will take to make your drink if you walk in and haven’t ordered from the frickin’ app. Notably (as this is written in late February), an optional heat pump and battery warmer help maintain range – EPA claims roughly 253 miles – in colder temps.
In its operation, the Niro EV is relatively benign. Acceleration is both smooth and adequate, and while you’ll not confuse the Niro with anyone’s hot hatch, you’ll find its ride and handling comfortable around town and composed on the highway.
In sum, it may look a tad more adventurous than the 1st-gen Niro, and boast more interior room, but there aren’t any surprises here. Depending on how the EV subsidies work, the Niro EV could be a good buy or – you know – a goodbye.
If shopping today in a Kia showroom, the plug-in hybrid probably represents the best of all worlds, especially for one-car households. You’ll have 30+ miles of emission-free motoring on the commute, and a getaway vehicle on weekends…when you simply want to get away.