A boring car isn’t necessarily a bad car. The Kia Niro EV might elicit a yawn or two when you’re driving it, but it’s also remarkably adept at its intended purpose, which is to deliver an EPA-rated 253 miles of range while hewing to an affordable price. (On our 75-mph highway range test, it fell a little short of that number at 210 miles.) The exact degree of that affordability remains to be seen, as Kia is scrambling to price the Niro in the wake of news that it won’t be eligible for the federal tax credit, since its battery production and final assembly happen in Korea.
Built on the brand’s K3 architecture, which also underpins the Hyundai Elantra, the Niro is a handsome two-box design that would blend into the small-crossover landscape if not for its avant-garde D-pillar, which is available in contrasting colors and recalls the Audi R8’s signature side blade. (Kia calls the Niro’s extroverted D-pillar the aero blade, so the brand isn’t exactly discouraging R8 connotations.) Sizewise, the Niro EV is roughly five inches longer than the Chevrolet Bolt EUV and more than six inches shorter than the Volkswagen ID.4, two EVs that Kia identifies as competitors. Listing those two as rivals leads us to believe the Niro EV will start at about $33,000 for the base Wind trim level and head up to $40,000 for the loaded Wave version.
Both versions get the same 201-hp electric motor turning the front wheels. Acceleration lacks the neck-snapping punch of many EVs, as Kia tuned the accelerator to gradually feed in power rather than smacking you with its 188 lb-ft of torque right off the line. In Eco mode, the right pedal acts like it doesn’t know you’re flooring it. Switching to Normal is closer to what you might expect from a typical Eco mode, and Sport feels about what Normal should be. The time to hit 30 mph is a sluggish 2.9 seconds. No matter the mode, the front tires won’t break loose when the car is accelerating from a stop, something the old Niro EV would do with ease. Past 30 mph, the motor starts feeding full power to the road. In our hands, it got to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds and through the quarter in 15.2 seconds at 94 mph. Both measures beat the Bolt EUV by a tenth of a second.
Switching drive modes from Eco to Sport also adds heft to the steering effort. Normal and Eco modes deliver the most natural steering feel, and the Niro will cut into corners with precision, albeit without a lot of grip from its low-rolling-resistance all-season rubber. We measured 0.84 g on the skidpad. Hitting the brake pedal blends regenerative braking and the friction brakes in a natural and progressive manner that many EVs miss. Hit them hard from 70 mph and it’ll stop in 182 feet. Paddles on the back of the steering wheel are there not for gear selection—there’s just one gear—but to adjust the regen when you lift off the accelerator. One-pedal driving is possible, and holding the left paddle will bring the Niro to a stop, even in less aggressive regen modes.
While regen will send some electrons back to the battery, eventually you’ll have to plug in the Niro EV. Strangely, Kia doesn’t include a 120-volt cord and expects customers to rely on Level 2 hookups or the standard DC fast-charging capability. Unlike the pricier EV6, the Niro lacks the 800-volt architecture that puts the fast in fast-charging. Plug into a DC fast-charger and Kia promises you can take the battery from 10 to 80 percent in about 45 minutes with a peak charging rate of just 85 kW. An EV6 can dispatch a charge of 10 to 80 percent in just 18 minutes. For comparison, in our testing, the Bolt EUV, one of the slowest-charging EVs on the market, went from 10 to 90 percent in 84 minutes. Kia is throwing in 500 kWh of no-cost charging through Electrify America, which works out to nearly 2000 miles.
While you’re waiting for the battery to refill, take a seat in the spacious cabin and note the headliner, which is made from recycled wallpaper. Thank you, Grammy Mildred. The fabric on the seats is partially constructed from eucalyptus, which will delight koalas. A large digital panel in front of the driver offers three different gauge looks paired to drive modes. Kia’s easy-to-use infotainment system sits front and center. For a moment we thought there was no volume knob, and then we hit the button that turns the HVAC into radio controls. Suddenly the temp knob turned into a volume knob and then back again. Rear-seat passengers don’t have as many toys to play with, but they do have excellent headroom and adult-grade legroom.
The battery-powered version is one of the three powertrains available on the new Niro. There’s also a hybrid model with a small 1.3-kWh battery and a plug-in hybrid with up to 33 miles of range and a larger 11.1-kWh battery. Kia anticipates that 25 percent of Niro customers will go for the EV version. It’s a competitive entry in a growing field of sub-$40,000 EVs, even if we find it a little boring.
2023 Kia Niro EV
Vehicle Type: front-motor, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door wagon
PRICE (C/D EST)
Base/As Tested: $33,000/$40,000
Motor: permanent-magnet synchronous AC
Power: 201 hp @ 9000 rpm
Torque: 188 lb-ft @ 0 rpm
Battery Pack: liquid-cooled lithium-ion, 64.8 kWh
Onboard Charger: 11.0 kW
Peak DC Fast-Charge Rate: 85 kW
Suspension, F/R: struts/multilink
Brakes, F/R: vented disc/disc
Tires: Nexen N Priz S EV
215/55R-17 94V M+S AK1
Wheelbase: 107.0 in
Length: 174.0 in
Width: 71.8 in
Height: 61.8 in
Passenger Volume: 100 ft3
Cargo Volume: 23 ft3
Curb Weight: 3715 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 6.7 sec
1/4-Mile: 15.2 sec @ 94 mph
100 mph: 17.6 sec
Results above omit 1-ft rollout of 0.3 sec.
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 6.6 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 2.4 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 3.6 sec
Top Speed (gov ltd): 106 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 182 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.84 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY
75-mph Highway Range: 210 mi
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/City/Highway: 113/126/101 MPGe
Range: 253 mi
C/D TESTING EXPLAINED
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