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The 2023 Kia Niro EV has 201 horsepower and 188 lb-ft of torque.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

When the Kia Niro launched in Canada in 2016, it came to market as a hybrid, followed by a plug-in hybrid in 2017 and an all-electric version in 2018. The revamped second-generation Niro continues that tradition of offering choice for all types of drivers with the three versions and now with bolder styling, more technology and a longer electric range. While the conventional hybrid version will start at less than $30,000, the all-electric version will start at less than $45,000.

It’s part of Kia’s plans to introduce seven all-new electrified models to Canada by 2025. The Niro is the fourth, following the Sorento PHEV, EV6 and Sportage PHEV.

The Niro was looking outdated and bland compared to a new crop of electrified vehicles including the Hyundai Ioniq 5, the Volkswagen ID.4 and the Nissan Ariya.

On our drive from San Diego to Los Angeles, we drove the all-electric BEV and hybrid-electric vehicle (HEV) versions. Kia officials expect about 70 per cent of sales to be the pure-electric model. It has a 64.8-kilowatt-hour battery and 150-kilowatt single motor with DC fast-charging capability so it can charge to 80 per cent in 43 minutes; on a Level 2 charger it’ll take approximately six hours. It has 201 horsepower, 188 lb-ft of torque and a claimed range of 407 kilometres – 22 more than the outgoing model. For comparison, the Niro’s stablemate – the Kia EV6 – will start at $1,000 more and that base level has rear-wheel drive and a claimed range of 373 kilometres, 34 less than the Niro.

Behind the wheel, it feels like most EVs – smooth and comfortable. The range is fairly accurate. I started with 320 kilometres of range and drove more than 250 kilometres. Before reaching my final destination I arrived with 112 kilometres of range remaining – and that’s with the air conditioning and ventilated seats on and driving at highway speeds. But one of its drawbacks is it doesn’t come in all-wheel drive – only front-wheel drive. Other electric competitors, like the Ariya, offer all-wheel drive.

The Niro HEV was underwhelming compared to the BEV. It’s powered by a 1.6-litre hybrid engine with 32-kilowatt electric motor and 1.32-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion polymer battery mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Combined it delivers 139 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. It’s not the fastest out of the gate and can struggle when merging onto highways. But overall, it’s pleasant. Incidentally, the Niro PHEV gets a 1.6-litre hybrid engine with a 62-kilowatt electric motor and an 11.1-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion polymer battery mated to a six-speed automatic. It ups the power to 180 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. And offers up to 55 kilometres of all-electric range, which is an increase of 13 kilometres over the outgoing model. Using a level 2 charger, the battery can be charged in less than 3 hours, according to Kia.

Visually, the Niro is attractive and a noticeable improvement over its predecessor. Exterior touches including an aero blade at the rear, painted in black, grey or a few contrasting options, is aesthetically distinctive and functional. The shape aids airflow underneath the D-pillar. “We are definitely thinking about more aerodynamics and trying to make the cars as efficient as possible,” said Chris Coutts, senior exterior designer at Kia Motors California Design Center during a pitstop in Irvine, Calif. Likewise, futuristic daytime running lights at the front get a new, contemporary look, inspired by the image of a heartbeat. “Lighting is going to be the new identity. Every company will have some signature lighting – the headlight doesn’t matter any more. It comes on at night and is a functional thing. The design is in the DRLs,” he said.

Chris Coutts, senior exterior designer at Kia Motors California Design Center says Lighting is going to be the new identity for car companies.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

The daytime running lights on the 2023 Kia Niro hybrid are inspired by the image of a heartbeat.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Other nice environmentally friendly and sustainable features include recycled and animal-free materials in the cabin such as bio-synthetic leather seats made with fibres extracted from eucalyptus leaves and a headliner made with fibres including PET materials generally used for beverage bottles and condiment containers.

The 2023 Kia Niro arrives in Canadian dealerships in the spring of 2023. For the HEV, prices range from $29,995 to $38,695, the PHEV, available in one trim, costs $37,995 and the EV ranges in price from $44,995 to $52,995.

Tech specs

The 2023 Kia Niro hybrid will start at less than $30,000.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

2023 Kia Niro BEV

  • Price range: $44,995 to $52,995 (plus destination and delivery: $1,850)
  • Motor: Permanent Magnet Synchronous motor
  • Battery capacity: 64.8 kilowatt hours
  • On Board Charger: 11 kilowatts
  • Charging time: Level 2 – 9:05 (7 kilowatts) 6:05 (11 kilowatts); DC fast-charger – 10 to 80 per cent, 43 minutes (350 kilowatts); 65 min (50 kilowatts)
  • Horsepower/torque: 201/188 lb-ft
  • Drive: FWD
  • Claimed Range: 407 kilometres
  • Alternatives: Nissan Ariya, Volkswagen ID.4, Mustang Mach-E, Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia EV6, Chevrolet Blazer EV

Looks

The wheels on the 2023 Kia Niro EV.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Bolder new look that’s a big improvement over its predecessor with cool and futuristic slim daytime running lights and hexagonal three-dimensional patterns on the BEV’s front fascia. My tester’s snow white pearl with functional and distinctive rear aero blade in steel grey helps airflow for enhanced aerodynamics. I like the front charging port location; it makes it easier to recharge regardless of the charger’s position.

Interior

Inside the 2023 Kia Niro hybrid.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

The back seats of the 2023 Kia Niro EV.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Overall, the new Niro is more spacious because it’s longer and wider than the last version so there’s more passenger space, especially in the rear seats. The cabin gets a modern look with minimalist design cues. The BEV’s interior is more modern and contemporary with its rotary dial shifter than the HEV’s traditional gear shifter.

Performance

The 2023 Kia Niro EV comes with a front trunk with 20 litres of extra space, which is handy for storing the charging cables.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Pleasant road manners in both the BEV and HEV. But the HEV struggled to get up to speed, especially when merging onto the highway. Wind noise seeps into the cabin. Too bad all-wheel-drive isn’t offered, especially for Canadian winters.

Technology

A number of standard driver-assistance features including Highway Drive Assist, Rear Occupant Alert, Blind Spot Collision Avoidance Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Avoidance Assist and Forward Collision Avoidance Assist with Junction Turning. A head-up display, smartphone wireless charging and a power tailgate are also available. New to Kia, is a Digital Key to Touch, which allows the driver to unlock/lock and start the vehicle using a smartphone or smartwatch.

Cargo

The trunk of the 2023 Kia Niro EV has 646 litres of space.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Good cargo space with 646 litres. An added bonus is a front trunk with 20 litres of extra space – it’s handy for storing the charging cables.

The verdict

The 2023 Kia Niro EV comes with an option of having the D-pillar be a contrasting colour.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

The Kia Niro comes to the market better than ever, taking on new players with its bolder good looks, new technology, and a range boost. But too bad it doesn’t come with all-wheel drive for added security.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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