Kia's second generation Niro is an electrified small SUV with a much sassier look. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
Ten Second Review
Kia's Niro gets a sharper look - and sharper technology in this second generation form. As before, you get a choice of full-Hybrid, Plug-in Hybrid and full-EV models. And the car itself, a kind of mix between a family hatch and a Crossover, is a little larger and quite a lot plusher inside. Expect this model to continue to figure amongst Kia's top sellers.
Kia today is one of the brands leading the industry's push towards widescale vehicle electrification, something that can be traced back to one model - the Niro. At launch back in 2017, it was basically Kia's version of the Hyundai IONIQ and, like that car, was offered with Hybrid, Plug-in Hybrid and full-Electric powertrains.
Over 300,000 sales on, this second generation version delivers that too, but gains in dimensions thanks to the adoption of the company's mid-sized K3 platform. It also gets a far more overt look and considerably more upmarket cabin, plus longer driving range for the PHEV variant. Enough to widen its market appeal? It'll be interesting to see. Let's take a look.
Kia has put an awful lot of effort into trying to make the distinctly different three powertrains on offer here distinctly similar to drive. And the one for the self charging Hybrid model looks distinctly similar to before, continuing to use Kia's rather aging 1.6 GDI petrol engine and 6-speed dual clutch auto transmission combo. It's mated to a 1.32kWh battery powered by a 43bhp electric motor and the total output is 139bhp.
The Plug-in Hybrid model uses the same drivetrain, but mates it to a larger battery than the one that featured in the first generation Niro PHEV, increased in size from 8.9kWh to 11.1kWh. That pushes EV driving range up to around 40 miles and, thanks to a larger 83bhp electric motor, total output rises to 180bhp. As with the HEV variant, 62mph from rest takes about 10s.
Finally, there's a replacement for the old e-Niro, now badged 'Niro EV'. For our market, this model only gets the largest available battery - 64.8kWh - which gives a 287 mile range; and a 201bhp total output means the Niro EV gets to 62mph in just under 8 seconds.
Kia says that all variants should handle more sharply, thanks to an improvement in torsional rigidity and various suspension and steering enhancements. The car is also quieter than before thanks to additional insulation and padding, inserted around the vehicle structure. And you can still tow with it, up to 1,300kg with the combustion versions or 750kg with the EV.
Design and Build
Well it's quite a different looking Niro this time around, the major talking point being the coloured blade which covers the C-pillar. It's actually not just there for fashion (though can be colour-coded); it stands proud of the bodywork, supposedly improving aerodynamic efficiency. At 4,420mm long, 1,825mm wide, and up to 1,570 high, the clean-sheet redesign of this MK2 Niro is formulated on Kia's third-generation 'K3' platform. The front end takes up the styling theme already established by the current Sportage. And in profile, the effect of that larger chassis becomes obvious, extending the length by 65mm. The EV version is distinguished from the PHEV and HEV models by a two-tone closed grille and unique steel grey side cladding. The Niro EV has also received a dedicated lower grille and bumper treatment in addition to model-specific 17-inch alloys.
Inside, the dash gets twin 10.25-inch displays and a multi-function panel on the fascia allowing you to flick between infotainment and heating controls. Premium-effect recycled materials adorn the cabin, to augment the interior space and underline Niro's sustainable credentials. Thanks to 20mm more wheelbase length, there's now space in the rear for a couple of six footers. And you get more boot space; 348-litres in the PHEV, 451-litres in the HEV Hybrid and 495-litres in the Niro EV. The full-EV variant also gains a 20-litre front 'frunk' compartment, which would be useful for the storage of wet charging leads.
Market and Model
All versions of the Niro are available in three trim levels - '2','3' and '4'. Prices open at just over £28,000, which gets you the entry-level version of the HEV self-charging Hybrid model. You'll need from just over £34,000 for the Plug-in Hybrid and around £37,000 for the Niro EV.
Equipment across the range includes two seamless 10.25-inch display screens to show vehicle and navigation information, while a multi-mode touch display allows control of infotainment and heating while minimising driver distractions. An advanced Voice Car Control system featuring Natural Voice Recognition technology allows occupants to control key vehicle systems such as temperature and audio settings. Kia's advanced suite of 'DriveWise' intelligent Advanced Driver Assistance Systems has improved safety too.
Plusher models get a 10-inch head-up display which projects vital driving information, including speed, ADAS data and navigation commands, directly onto the front windscreen. Additional convenience further up the range is provided by a power tailgate that opens automatically on detecting the user's smart key. Other convenience features added to plusher versions of this Niro include Remote Smart Parking Assist (RSPA) (so you can park the car from outside it with an app on your 'phone); and vehicle-to-load (V2L) functionality (so you can charge ancillary devices via an adaptor plugged into the car's charge socket).
Cost of Ownership
The Niro Hybrid returns 64.2mpg on the combined cycle and 100g/km of CO2. We gave you the battery range figures for the PHEV and EV models in our 'Driving Experience' section. Topping up the Niro EV's 64.8kWh lithium-ion polymer battery from 10-80 per cent takes just 43 minutes with a suitable DC rapid charger.
There's now some clever efficiency tech for the combustion models too. An 'Intelligent Green Zone' Drive Mode on Niro HEV and PHEV automates the use of electric power by taking location guidance from the navigation system, driving pattern learning or manual driver input. Built-up areas or roads nearby schools and hospitals are designated as Green Zones, and the vehicle automatically switches to electric-only driving to reduce the exhaust emissions to zero in these environments. The customer can also take control of Green Zones along the route by setting other areas in which they wish to reduce their vehicle's emissions, such as around their neighbourhood.
The Niro PHEV debuts Hyundai Motor Group's very first 5.5kWh high-volt Positive Temperature Coefficient (PTC) heater for Plug-in Hybrid models, extending the electric driving range in colder conditions. The self-regulated ceramic elements provide cabin heating to complement the vehicle's heating core and ensure a continuous flow of warm air.
This is a more confident Niro - from a now more confident brand. The idea is clearly to lower this car's age demographic without alienating this model's core market: the smart update here should achieve that. Expect the Niro EV to continue to figure amongst the top sellers in the family hatchback EV segment, but for many folk, right here, right now, in Niro PHEV with its now extended range might be a better all-round bet. We'd advise you to try both before deciding.
Either way, what is important is that this second generation Niro is now (just about) large enough to function as an only car for eco-minded families. Which wasn't really something you could have said about its predecessor. Still sensible, now a little sassy. Which should suit the market just right.