December 6, 2022

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First Drive: 2023 Kia Niro

More and more American motorists are looking to electrify and, with fuel prices yet again heading up towards record territory, that trend is only likely to accelerate. But which option to choose from? A conventional hybrid, a plug-in hybrid or something all-electric.

2023 Kia Niro PHEV driving
With the 2023 Kia Niro you can pick any one of three options: a conventional hybrid, a plug-in hybrid or something all-electric.

With the 2023 Kia Niro you can pick any one of those three options. And TheDetroitBureau.com headed out to San Diego to check out them all.

Overview

The Kia Niro was something of an outlier when it made its debut in 2016, the crossover offering buyers three electrified options, starting with a high-mileage hybrid. A plug-in hybrid delivered even better fuel economy while adding the ability to handle moderate commutes in all-electric mode. And the third Niro model was Kia’s first all-electric option.

For 2023, the South Korean carmaker has retained that formula. But it has upped all of the critical numbers. The second-generation crossover is not only bigger and roomier but delivers even better mileage, range and performance.

It also gets upgraded styling with a distinctive “Aero Blade” that makes it a standout without crossing over into the quirky category.

And all three models are surprisingly affordable options that should connect with potential buyers who’d like to cut their energy bills without having to deal with hefty monthly payments.

2023 Kia Niro EV front
The second-generation crossover is not only bigger and roomier but delivers even better mileage, range and performance.

Exterior

For 2023, the second-generation Kia Niro grows to 174 inches nose-to-tail, about 2 inches longer than the original crossover. Its 107.1-inch wheelbase is also about 2 inches longer. It’s also taller and wider, with cargo capacity climbing to 22.8 cubic feet. It offers fully 50% more cargo and passenger space than the Tesla Model 3, in fact.

The makeover doesn’t stray far from the original, at least up front, where it retains an updated version of the familiar Kia “tiger nose” grille, here framed by upswept LED daytime running lights. In the rear you’ll find boomerang-shaped LED taillights.

The overall design was heavily influenced by the need to minimize aerodynamic drag. And while it’s one of Niro’s most distinctive exterior features, the “Aero Blade” specifically works to reduce the sort of rear end turbulence that would otherwise curb range, mileage and performance. The cool part is that Kia is offering the Aero Blade in a variety of different colors — though it will initially have only black and gray options available in the U.S.

There are subtle differences between the three models. The two hybrid packages, for example, come with black cladding on their doors and wheel arches. The base car features 16-inch wheels. You can upgrade to 18s on the PHEV and EV, though you’ll sacrifice a bit of mileage and range, depending upon the model.

2023 Kia Niro EV rear 3/4
It also gets upgraded styling with a distinctive “Aero Blade” that makes it a standout without crossing over into the quirky category.

The EV gets Steel Gray or black exterior trim, depending on body color. Meanwhile, the EV’s grille is completely sealed since there’s no need to drive air into the engine compartment. Intakes under the bumper help keep the low-mounted battery pack and motor cool.

Interior

There are differences here, as well. The conventional hybrid has a traditional shifter for its 6-speed dual-clutch transmission, the PHEV a more modern electronic shifter. The EV has a single speed gearbox but it has what appears to be paddle shifters on the steering wheel. They actually allow a motorist to adjust the degree of regenerative braking, including a “1-Pedal” mode that I’ll get to shortly.

With similar, minor exceptions, the three variants share a common interior. It’s a bit more upscale and higher tech than the original Niro line, with its digital gauge cluster and a 10.3-inch infotainment display.

The added dimensions of the 2023 crossover have largely been used to enhance the cabin, as has the revised powertrain layout. So, the new model falls into a full class size above the original.

2023 Kia Niro hybrid interior
The conventional hybrid has a traditional shifter for its 6-speed dual-clutch transmission, the PHEV a more modern electronic shifter.

And while the interior has a more lavish feel, Kia has made use of a variety of animal-free materials. The headliner, for example, blends recycled PET fibers and wallpaper. The seats use bio-based polyurethane and a material derived from eucalyptus leaves.

Powertrain

All three versions of the 2023 Kia Niro use battery-based drivetrain technology, starting with the basic hybrid package which manages a whopping 53 mpg in the EPA Combined rating. It pairs a 1.6-liter inline-4 gas engine with a 32-kilowatt electric motor to deliver 139 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque.

The Niro PHEV uses the same gas engine but upgrades to a more powerful electric motor and a bigger, 11.1 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. Together, they make 180 hp and 195 lb-ft. The plug-in hybrid musters an EPA-rated 108 MPGe rating. But it also offers up to 33 miles per charge, according to the feds, a full 25% improvement over the outgoing crossover.

The Kia Niro EV, as its name suggests, goes 100% electric. A yet-bigger motor pumps out 201 hp and 188 lb-ft of instant torque. Its 64.8 kWh pack will deliver up to 253 miles per charge, according to the EPA.

2023 Kia Niro hybrid powertrain
All three versions of the 2023 Kia Niro use battery-based drivetrain technology, starting with the basic hybrid package which manages a whopping 53 mpg in the EPA Combined rating.

The two plug-in models use a high-voltage architecture that trims charging times. With the PHEV, it requires “under 3 hours,” according to Kia, to fully recharge a drained battery. With the Niro EV, you’ll get to 100% in 7 hours using the onboard 11 kW charger plugged into a 240-volt outlet. Switch to a public quick charger and it takes about 45 minutes to go from a 10% to 80% state-of-charge.

Safety and Technology

The new Kia Niro boasts a long list of tech features, including those twin digital displays and an assortment of built-in USB ports. The updated infotainment system comes standard with wireless versions of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, though wireless smartphone charging is optional.

All versions of the crossover are capable of using smartphone-style over-the-air updates for much of their onboard software. And a motorist can leave their key at home thanks to the latest Kia Digital Key 2.0 technology which instead can use an Apple iPhone, Apple Watch or Samsung Galaxy smartphone to lock, unlock or run the vehicle. Owners also can send a digital key to another driver simply using text. Meanwhile, a motorist can remotely control many vehicle functions, such as pre-conditioning the cabin, using Amazon Alexa or Google voice assistants.

2023 Kia Niro EV interior REL
The new Kia Niro boasts a long list of tech features, including those twin digital displays and an assortment of built-in USB ports.

The Niro is uncannily quiet when running in all-electric mode. But a motorist can opt to use the built-in audio system to run virtual soundscapes that provide an aural sense of acceleration.

There’s a wide range of advanced driver assistance systems, as well, starting with standard forward collision warning with auto-braking, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance and lane-keeping assist. A handful of ADAS systems, including one that uses navi mapping to know when to slow in corners, are available.

Driving Impressions

As you might expect, the 2023 Kia Niro Hybrid was primarily designed to deliver the maximum possible fuel economy. While completely competent, its 139-hp drivetrain is far from inspiring. If you’re looking for a bit more of a passionate drive, consider upgrading to the plug-in hybrid. It’s notably more peppy, though its drivetrain can be noisy when you push the throttle to the floor.

2023 Kia Niro EV powering camp gear REL
The two plug-in models use a high-voltage architecture that trims charging times.

One of the Niro PHEV’s more interesting features is its “battery-saver” mode. It allows you to specifically reserve the battery pack and then turn it on at a specific time, say when driving around a school or near your home. It also can be triggered by the navigation system to go all-electric when you enter a specific location. That will prove particularly useful for European motorists as more and more communities are starting to charge fees for vehicles running on gas or diesel. Now some U.S. cities, such as New York, are considering similar plans.

Most of my time in San Diego was spent driving the 2023 Kia Niro EV. It’s a big improvement over the original crossover and, while certainly not as sporty as the Korean carmaker’s bigger — and more expensive EV6 — it’s a lot of fun to drive. It fully takes advantage of the instant torque developed by electric motors.

I took the Niro EV up into the hills east of San Diego, following a long and convoluted route up to the old mining town of Jerome. The new model proved surprisingly nimble as I flogged it through the corners, taking advantage of how the big battery pack actually lowered the vehicle’s center of gravity. It’s no sports car, and it occasionally developed a bit of a butt wiggle if I entered a corner a little too hot. But steering proved predictable and there was only a moderate amount of body roll.

I mentioned the EV’s paddle shifters earlier. They here serve to adjust the amount of regenerative braking you prefer. That’s used to recapture energy normally lost during braking and coasting, sending it back to the battery. My personal preference is to go all the way up to 1-Pedal Mode. It’s more aggressive when backing off on the throttle — much like driving a vehicle with a gas engine, its engine downshifted several gears. On those mountain roads I was able to drive extended periods simply modulating the throttle without having to touch the brakes. My one disappointment: you have to reset it each time you start up. It disables when the Niro is shut off.

Wrap Up

Simply put, there’s a lot to like about the 2023 Kia Niro, starting with the fact that you can choose the sort of energy-saving electrified drivetrain system that meets your needs — and fits your budget. The second-generation hybrid starts at $26,490, with the PHEV at $33,740. (Add $1,295 for delivery fees.) Kia has yet to announce pricing for the EV model but it will likely rise from the current starting price of around $40,000.

For your money you’ll get a distinctively attractive and roomy vehicle that, especially with the two plug-in models, is fun to drive. The conventional hybrid delivers outstanding fuel economy that should play well for potential buyers hoping to curb their fuel bills. The plug-in hybrid adds a bit more fun to the equation while delivering enough range that many buyers could go weeks without having the gas engine fire up. And the EV has enough range that you could take more extensive trips without worrying about where to plug in while away from home.

Kia has delivered what is truly a substantial update to its distinctive Niro. And that should gain it even more traction as the second-gen model rolls into showrooms.

2023 Kia Niro ­— Frequently Asked Questions

How much does the 2023 Kia Niro cost?

The conventional hybrid version of the 2023 Kia Niro starts at $26,490, with the Niro PHEV jumping to $33,740. Add $1,295 in delivery fees to those numbers. Pricing hasn’t yet been released for the 2023 Kia Niro EV but is expected to see an increase over the current model which starts at just under $40,000.

Is the 2023 Kia Niro going to be offered with all-wheel drive??

Like the first-generation Niro, the 2023 Kia crossover will only be offered with front-wheel-drive.

What is the warranty on the Kia Niro batteries?

The size of the pack varies depending upon whether you get the Niro hybrid, PHEV or EV. But the batteries in all three models are covered by a 7-year warranty. And few owners of first-generation Niros have had to have the packs replaced.