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2023 Kia Niro PHEV.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

When it comes to electrification in cars, Kia is ahead of much of the competition. In 2016, the South Korean automaker unveiled the Niro, its first model built on a dedicated hybrid platform.

Now, it’s taking the wraps off its second-generation Niro small SUV in Canada after being unveiled in April at the New York Auto Show.

Like the first-generation, the 2023 Niro will still come in three versions – a full battery electric vehicle (BEV), a plug-in-hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) and a conventional hybrid.

It’s a different play, considering that many manufacturers don’t offer hybrids and BEVs on the same model. (Toyota, for example, has the Prius and RAV4 with plug-in and hybrid options, but no electric-only version; while the company’s bZ4X SUV is all-electric only.) It’s a strategy designed to meet the needs of all consumers, including those reluctant to jump on the electric bandwagon, Kia Canada product planner Lee Kant said during a recent unveiling at Kia Canada’s head office.

“We’re trying to give customers options. We’re not sure how comfortable they are and how far they want to go in the green space,” Kant said. “If they want to take that first step out of [a gas-powered car], then a hybrid might be very comfortable for them.”

Pricing isn’t available for the 2023 models, but the 2022 Niro hybrid starts at $29,504, the PHEV at $37,104 and the full electric at $47,804.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Originally launched in Canada in 2017, Niro was offered as a hybrid, a plug-in-hybrid and a pure electric vehicle – no “traditional” gas-only version was available. To date, 17,176 Niros have been sold in Canada. The design was getting long in the tooth compared with newer vehicles, so Kia completely restyled the Niro for 2023, adding more technology and extra space for passengers and cargo.

While pricing and most feature details, including the powertrains and electric motors, aren’t confirmed for Canada yet, the design is a marked improvement over the previous generation.

Comparing the two, the 2022 Niro hybrid looks dull against the striking design language on the new model. From every angle, it’s daring and attractive. New front LED headlights are sharp with a Tetris-like block design that’s bold and distinctive, as are the two-tone body panels. From the side, a black body rocker panel runs along the bottom of the door frame, while an arrow-shaped blade behind the rear doors in a contrasting colour gives it more presence. At the rear, the tail lights are shaped like a slim boomerang and resemble a more-expensive Volvo.

New colours are attractive, too. The hybrid is dressed in Cityscape Green with contrasting black accents, while the PHEV is in Steele Grey.

The Niro is smaller than the new, all-electric EV6 SUV, but it has grown in every dimension compared with the previous generation Niro.

There is no word yet if all-wheel drive will be coming to the market for 2023.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

The interiors of the hybrid and PHEV are a stark contrast. The hybrid is a mid-grade trim so it doesn’t have all of the embellishments of the upper-level PHEV. The hybrid is rather conventional with a traditional lever-style gear shifter. The interior of the PHEV shares its design cues with other family members like the Kia EV6 and Kia Sportage. As such, it has a more upscale feel with modern touches, including a rotary gear-shift dial with buttons for the heated and ventilated seats, and a large centre touch screen, which wasn’t operational at the time.

While no details were provided on the powertrain and electric motors for 2023, the 2022 PHEV and hybrid models are powered by a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder engine with 139 horsepower. The engine will likely be carried over in the 2023 hybrid, while the PHEV is expected to squeeze out more horsepower and range.

The 2022 Niro BEV has a 201-horsepower electric motor powering the front wheels, but no word yet if all-wheel drive will be coming to the market for 2023. The 2022 models only came in front-wheel drive.

Sure, the Kia Niro has been overlooked in the past, but with these dramatic new changes, it might not be any more. It will arrive in Canada later this year and all three models will come at the same time.

Pricing isn’t available for the 2023 models, but the 2022 Niro hybrid starts at $29,504, the PHEV at $37,104 and the full electric at $47,804.

Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

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