2023 Kia Niro Hybrid, Plug-In, and EV First Look Review: Bye Bye, Boring


imageThe idea of Kia’s Niro was probably as appealing as the vehicle itself when the hybrid hatchback debuted for 2017.Here was a dedicated hybrid that, much like Toyota’s Prius, lacked a solely gas-fed “regular car” counterpart.Its somewhat generic tall-hatchback styling housed a pleasantly roomy cabin and a platform that also would come to play host to plug-in hybrid (Niro PHEV) and full-electric (Niro EV) powertrain options.But the humdrum styling meant most casual onlookers would forget the Niro—if they noticed it at all—as thoughts of grocery lists or calls to comparing streaming service rates took higher priority in their heads.

See all 6 photos Hubba, Hubba, Habaniro Arriving for 2023, the second-generation Kia Niro should have more mental stickiness.

Modeled after the 2019 “HabaNiro” concept —Get it? Like the pepper but mixed with “Niro?” Such fun!—the new Niro has a similar overall shape to its predecessor, but the details between the bumpers are toughened up with blockier forms and edgier flourishes.

Don’t just call the Niro interesting-looking “for a hybrid.” This is a genuinely compelling small crossover, with angular new headlights, a broad hood, and chunky sculpting around its wheel wells and lower body.There are clear parallels to the HabaNiro concept in the contrast-color panel slicing up each side of the body behind each rear door, and Kia also mined that show car for those V-shaped LED headlight accents and the vertical taillights that frame the rear hatch.

Kia enlarged the Niro somewhat, increasing it by 2.6 inches in length, 0.8 inch in width, 0.4 inch in height, and adding 0.8 inch to its wheelbase.

See all 6 photos

A Better Inside Game The outgoing Niro’s cabin generated few complaints, with a simple layout and a refreshing lack of the techy weirdness permeating its chief competitor, the Toyota Prius.Kia appears to have kept that same basic thinking for the 2023 Niro, albeit with a few jazzy new slants and curves and things to spice up the visuals.Each door panel features a long diagonal arc housing the window controls as well as other ancillary controls on the driver’s side, while the dash now forms a long, gentle full-width arc.

A new, two-spoke steering wheel juts from beneath a tablet-style panel with an embedded digital gauge cluster and large central touchscreen.

Happily, a horizontal panel beneath the center screen hosts a row of physical climate-control knobs, though also what appear to be touch-sensitive buttons.Physical seat heating and ventilation buttons are fitted to the center console, along with a starter button and a rotary shift dial for selecting park, drive, reverse, and neutral.Kia says that in the Niro hybrid, it relocated the 12-volt battery alongside the hybrid setup’s battery under the rear seats, opening up some space in the trunk (where the 12-volt lived before).

See all 6 photos

Electrified Trio of Niros Kia first showed us the new Niro at the 2021 Seoul Mobility Show in Korea, and with its official stateside debut at the 2022 New York auto show comes the details we’d been missing.All three variants—hybrid, plug-in hybrid (PHEV), and battery-electric—are returning, and the electric car is a bit of a surprise; we suspected it would disappear following the introduction of the battery-powered EV6, just as sibling Hyundai’s Kona EV ceded the stage to the lovely new Ioniq 5.

The Niro hybrid will carry over its powertrain from last year’s model, a 1.6-liter I-4 engine and a 32-kW electric motor that combine to produce 139 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque.

This hybrid setup drives the front wheels through a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.Kia has made internal improvements that it expects will increase the EPA combined rating to 53 mpg, a 3-mpg increase over the most efficient of the current Niro hybrids (better-equipped—read: heavier—2022 models post 49 mpg combined).

The Niro PHEV, meanwhile, gets a more powerful (62 kW) motor that bumps up combined gas-electric horsepower to 180 (from the old version’s 139), and a larger battery (11.1 kWh, up from 8.9) that increases the car’s electric-only range from 26 to 33 miles.

See all 6 photos Speaking of range, the Niro EV gets more: Kia is expecting an EPA-rated range of 253 miles, a 14-mile improvement over the old car.Its 201-hp electric motor is a carryover.But you won’t get the super-fast charging of the EV6: Even on a fast charger, going from 10 to 80 percent state-of-charge will still take the better part of 45 minutes.

Along with the Niro’s new look comes new technology, including wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard and an optional head-up display, plus enhancements to the existing package of active safety features already offered on the Niro.

Kia hasn’t announced pricing, but with the EV6 starting in the low 40s, we imagine the electric version of the Niro will be priced as a “value leader”—and potentially a terrific bargain for a long-legged EV.

We should learn more before too long, as the new 2023 Niros are scheduled to arrive in dealerships this summer..

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