Kia Niro EV review

14 Jun 2022

Move Electric rating: five stars out of five

Sell it to me in a sentence…

Great value, spacious and practical, the Kia e-Niro has long been one of our favourite cars – and this second-generation version that carefully improves on that winning formula.

You talkin’ to me?

If you’ve about to make a Robert de Niro joke, let me stop you right there. The e-Niro has undergone a rebrand: it’s now the Kia Niro EV, which brings it into line with the branding used for the Niro HEV and Niro PHEV hybrids, and the Kia EV6

But while it might have a new name, the Niro EV is very much a straight sequel to its ultra-successful predecessor. And it really has been a big hit: it was the second best-selling EV in the UK last year, and sold in big numbers throughout its lifespan. You can argue it’s up there with the likes of the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe and Tesla Model S as one of the true milestone electric cars.

It’s had a transformative impact on the Kia brand, too, winning over buyers who previously simply wouldn’t have considered the Korean firm, and spreading a halo effect over the firm’s other machines. Not bad for a battery-powered version of a family crossover.

We've driven what was described as a late prototype car in the UK, in higher-spec 4 trim. While Kia said there were some final refinements to come and the machine wasn't quite in UK spec, it was close enough that we feel able to deliver a verdict – although we will update as we get more time in different trim levels and versions in the future.

Given how popular it is, presumably Kia hasn’t messed with a winning formula beyond changing the name and reworked the styling a bit? 

Actually, that’s the surprising thing: Kia has made plenty of changes. The Niro EV is based on a new platform: the Hyundai Motor Group’s third-generation K3 architecture, if you like to know such things.

Unlike the bespoke battery electric E-GMP architecture used for the amazing Kia EV6, K3 is still designed to accept multiple different powertrains, so it can be used for the Niro HEV, PHEV and EV models.

But the difference over the first-generation Niro is that K3 has been designed specifically for multi-powertrain cars. That gives some packaging advantages, and also means the Niro EV gets some new features.

The new platform has also allowed the Niro EV to grow slightly: it’s 4420mm long, which is a 65mm increase over the first-generation car. Meanwhile the wheelbase has increased by 20mm, which means there’s just that little bit of extra room inside. It’s also 1825mm wide and 1570mm high.

The design of the Niro EV has also received a thorough makeover. That’s always a risk, given the car’s popularity, but a welcome one: our only real criticism of the first generation model was a little bland, with an interior that felt a touch low-rent. It all felt a bit designed for purpose, a bit of a holdover from Kia’s past producing budget cars.

That’s all changed now, though. Kia has really upped its design game in recent years and, to our eyes – as ever, design is totally subjective – the Niro EV has gained a touch of dynamism, but without truly risking its mainstream appeal.

Based on the HabaNiro concept car, the big feature is a front design that uses Kia’s bold ’Tiger Face’ grille and new LED daytime running lights, which certainly brings a bit of character. The rest of the car is a little more standard, but there are sharper lines and some very interesting features.

Niro EV models gets a bespoke two-tone closed-grille, lower grille and bumper, a dedicated grey side cladding and 17in alloy wheels. While on the subject of the grille, the charging port has been moved from the edge of that grille to the centre. It’s a small move, but help make charging a bit easier at charge points.

At the back of the car there’s a visible diffuser and skid plate to help give the crossover a bit of a rugged look, and also bold new rear lights built vertically into the C-pillar. They also contain one of the most interesting design features: look closely, and you’ll see a hole that runs through them.

Don’t worry, Kia’s engineers didn’t leave a hole by mistake: it’s there to funnel air through, improving the car’s airflow and reducing its drag. Yes, that’s the sort of thing you’d fine on Formula 1 cars being used on a mass market compact crossover. We live in strange times.

Oh, and for an extra £150 you can have those C-pillars finished in either gloss black or, as on our late prototype test car, gunmetal grey.

Is the design makeover just on the outside?

Not at all. In fact, the changed to the interior might be even more substantial. While the layout and feels remains similar – you’ve got your drive select controller in the centre console, a group of controls on the lower dashboard and an infotainment touchscreen built into the top – everything has been given a makeover and feels a bit plusher. 

There are two sharp 10.25in display screens, one for the driver display and a touchscreen for the infotainment, and a 10in head-up display.

Several of the key controls, including the temperature systems and audio, are accessed via a ‘Multi-Command’ panel beneath the touchscreen. First seen on the Kia EV6, this is a haptic panel that you can flick between two sets of functions on. While we still have reservations over pressing panels instead of reassuring physical buttons, it actually works quite well – and there’s also voice control and physical controls for most of the key operations, too.

The increased dimensions of the new platform can be felt in the interior, too. There’s plenty of room in the front and back, and the passenger even get a ‘relaxion’ seat that can lift and recline when the vehicle is stopped, should you fancy a mid-journey power nap. 

There’s extensive use of recycled materials, including headlining that’s made from recycled wallpaper and vegan leather seat coverings made with Tencel from Eucalyptus trees. You can’t really notice those in feel, but that does mean you don’t have to accept a reduction in perceived quality for more sustainable choices.

Another nice touch: there are plenty of USB-C ports in the cabin. And there’s loads of space in the boot. Those days where fitting in the batteries meant EVs had reduced space compared to combstution-engined cars are gone: the Niro EV’s 475-litre boot is bigger than that in the new HEV and PHEV versions – and you get a bonus 20 litres of storage in the frunk.

So has the powertrain been revamped?

This is where Kia has chosen to wisely stick with a wining formula. It retains the 150kW powertrain from the first-generation car, although Kia engineers have done some work to smooth it out a bit – the first-ten Kia could be a little too quick to deliver its power at times. There’s now 188lb ft of torque, and a 0-62mph time of 7.8 seconds, with a top speed of 104mph.

Significantly, there is now only one battery choice: the smaller 39kWh offered on the original has been dropped, so the sole choice is now the larger 64.8kWh pack. That’s not really a surprise given the extra versatility and popularity of the bigger-battery version, it is a shame to lose the entry-level models: you could get an e-Niro with the smaller battery from £30,395, but the cheapest version of the new car is now £34,995.

That said, at that price the Niro EV still undercuts many electric cars that can’t match it for range and versatility. The new model has an official range of 286 miles, a modest four mile increase over its predecessor (we’re thanking those aerodynamic channels in the C-pillar…). Kia has also improved the 85kWh charging, so a 10-80% charge now takes 43 minutes.

The new platform also means the Niro EV can adopt some of the tricks seen on the newer EV6, including optional vehicle-to-load charging – which basically means you can get an adapter that will allow you to use the car’s battery to charge other things.

Okay, so what’s it like to drive then?

Describing the Niro EV as being safe, confident, relaxing, comfortable and really very similar to an e-Niro to drive it might sound a bit of faint praise: but we actually reckon that’s really a good thing.

While the Kia EV6 is there to push Kia into new markets and really win over customers looking for a touch of dynamism in their electric car, the Niro EV is all about appealing to the mainstream, mass market. It’s like Saturday night television: it’s all about offering something new that’s a bit familiar.

Besides, that’s not to say the Niro EV isn’t an improvement on the first-generation model. It responds more progressively to the throttle than the original: while that could get a little leery if you used the accelerator pedal too heavily, the Niro EV has calmed things down a little. Call for a whack of power and there’s a very slight delay as the car smooths out the delivery, making for a far more pleasant journey.

The Niro EV doesn’t offer a major transformation in handling, either. It’s neutral and easy to control, and while the steering lacks a touch of engagement it’s easy to drive and place on any type of road you’d have cause to take it down.

The ride can be a little on the busy side at low speeds, although it coped well with the many bumps and potholes on our test route in Greater London and Surrey. It also becomes a bit smoother and more balanced at speed

As before, there are three drive models (including an Eco and Sport option), and you can select from four levels of regenerative braking using paddles mounted on the steering wheel. They allow you to adjust how aggressive you want the machine to recapture energy by slowing down when you lift off the throttle.

Offering a wide range of options can be a little confusing at first, but it’s also a great way for EV newcomers – and the Niro EV is still a car designed to win over ICE converts – to be able to ease themselves into the benefits of regenerative braking. And once you’ve adjusted, the maximum one-pedal regenerative mode really can be operated with just the accelerator intuitively.

So Kia has changed loads, but the car still feels really similar?

Pretty much. The Niro EV really lives up to that whole ‘new and improved’ label: Kia has kept all the good bits of the previous car, and just tried to refine and freshen it up where needed. Given the Niro EV was already one of our favourite cars, that’s a formula for success.

That does mean the Niro EV isn’t as advanced, genre-pushing or groundbreaking as its Kia EV6 sibling, but that’s not really the point. The Niro EV is designed to be a true mainstream family crossover that just happens to be electric, and it really works on that score. Any car buyer looking at an EV but slightly scared of making the switch could jump into a Niro EV and feel right at home within seconds.

But Kia has also infused it with some welcome new touches of dynamism and excitement. When the EV6 arrived it felt like nothing else in the Kia range. But this Niro EV some of the key strengths of that model and wraps them into a mainstream package.

So what will this cost me?

The entry-level 2 trim (what happened to 1? Anyone?) is priced at £34,995, which matches the starting price of the 64.8kWh battery versions of the previous model. It’s worth noting that for that you get an 8in touchscreen and 17in wheels.

There are two other trim levels – 3 and 4, predictably – which are priced from £37,745 and £40,495 respectively. Our test model was technically a prototype (it felt pretty finished to us) and while it wasn’t quite in proper UK spec it was largely equivalent to the 4 options.

That meant it featured kit such as the head-up display, heated rear seats, the ‘relaxion’ passenger seat, vegan ‘leather’ seats and a Harman Kardon audio system.

That said, at £40,495 the Niro EV is close in price to the entry-level versions of the bespoke electric EV6. 

Verdict

There’s a reason why the original e-Niro was so popular: it was an affordable, practical, relaxing and comfortable family crossover. The new Niro EV retains all those strengths – although the loss of the 39kWh option does remove the cheapest option – and adds a small but significant extra dose of refinement and style.

We found it hard to find fault with the e-Niro, and it’s perhaps even harder to do so with the Niro EV.