First Drive: Kia Niro EV 2022 Review
Enthusiast readers will remember Kia mostly over the last couple of years for its wonderful Stinger GT sports saloon and more recently, its fantastic EV6 lux-exec electric vehicle, the monster 577PS (424kW) EV6 GT version of which debuted at the 2022 Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard. Its buyers, however, have been making a beeline for the Niro. Since its introduction in 2016, this small family SUV has proven to be nothing less than the Korean marque’s bread and butter in waiting, only secondary in unit volume to the long-serving Sportage SUV.
Launching first as a hybrid then with a plug-in option and finally a fully-electric version, the Niro has sold more than 75,000 units over these past six years. The all-electric e-Niro even caught Kia itself off guard with its success, becoming the second best-selling electric car in the UK throughout 2021 and so far in 2022, with near industry-leading range figures and competitive pricing. Around 50 per cent of Niros registered in 2021 were the e-Niro all-electric variant, which is if nothing else, proof that the electric revolution is well underway. Quite some shoes to fill, then, for the all-new second-generation car, which brings with it a distinctive design, EV6-inspired cabin, a new name in Niro EV and a familiar range of electrified options.
- Bolder looks
- Fantastic cabin redesign
- Spacious and comfortable
We don't like
- Small range improvement
- Topsy turning feel
- Quality slightly lacking
The last-generation Niro wasn’t exactly adventurous on arrival design-wise but Kia’s form in recent years implied a promising improvement to come with the second-generation car. Happily, the new one is quirky, distinctively Korean and bold, pulling a number of fun cues from the 2019 Habaniro concept. It’s absolutely an improvement on the rather bland first-generation car, but we don’t think it’s quite as cohesive as the new Sportage, Sorento or EV6.
There’s some interesting aero work for sure, with an air channel on the C pillar which if you don’t look hard enough, is easy to assume is fake. The C pillar itself in the very top-grade cars can be had in a highlighted colour, aping the so-called side blades of the original Audi R8. The facia is angular with a new daytime-running lighting signature around the new lower-down light cluster. If we’re unsure of the nose, the rear is a sure hit. The horizontal blade lights are a nice frame, informing a more distinctive look compared to the original.
Besides the green strip on the number plates and the cool aero wheels, the tyre kickers among us will be able to tell a Niro EV from its very on-display battery, visible in the middle underneath the rear like the gearbox casing on a McLaren. Get down low beside it and you’ll see the battery pack running the length of the car too. A bit too exposed? It’s probably fine and at least, very easy to extract and replace for mechanics of the distant future.
Performance and Handling
It will come as no surprise to you that this is not a car forged in the name of GT4 RS-rivalling driving dynamics. For what it is, though, everything feels correct in the Niro EV. The steering has an appropriate ratio and throttle pick-up is as aggressive or docile as you like, depending on your driving mode. Sport really does let you feel all of the Niro EV’s 205PS (150kW) with an instant punch. Conversely Eco mode gives a gloriously long throttle, for perfect control over how the power is deployed. The body control is fair, allowing a decent hustle down country lanes without inducing vomiting in passengers, though the amount of lunge on initial turn-in for anything more than relatively gentle inputs is a little disconcerting, especially at speed. The undulating A414 in Hertfordshire around St Albans felt like a wild ride until we really dialled our inputs for smoothness.
There is fun in driving the Niro EV, though not in the traditional sense. One-pedal driving and regenerative braking management comes mostly via the steering wheel paddles, allowing you to flip back and forth through the four varying levels of regen aggression. The very last “i-Pedal” setting is strong enough to bring the car to a stop to really make the brake pedal redundant in some circumstances. We found it was best put to use in urban stop-start stuff. You flip through the different modes based on the scenario, with some instances calling for uninterrupted regen-less coasting and others, for heavy slow-downs. If anything, we wouldn’t mind it if the less aggressive regen settings also drew the car to a halt eventually, instead of allowing creep.
It may sound weird but the result is a genuine requirement for thought beyond what you’d expect of what a cynic might condemn as a white-goods family EV. Regen management and one-pedal driving aren’t exactly the new heel and toe, but they engage the brain all the same. Likewise, if you have absolutely no intention of micro-managing this stuff and want as easy a drive as possible, it’s an EV, so stick it in the middle regeneration setting and drive as you would normally, no stress.
In terms of economy, the indicated range on the Niro EV never suggested we’d get any less than 270 miles out of it, with high-speed motorway stuff mixed in with sweeping back roads and urban doddering. In the end, without any hypermiling to speak of, we finished up around the four miles per kWh indicated consumption.
Should it have moved the game on a bit more than the token single-figures bump in miles it gets over its predecessor? With technology and the market evolving as quickly as it is, there is a risk the new Niro EV’s figures – which were considered really strong in its predecessor just a few years ago – could age poorly. Time will tell.
In terms of refinement, the ride is pillowy soft and the new K3 architecture deals with rougher road surfaces with greater ease than the outgoing car. With no powertrain noise it did get a little blustery at speed, mind, though what is a highly commendable stereo more than compensated.
As a bold update to the look and feel of this second-generation car by comparison to the first, the interior is a massive hit. Following the EV6’s lead, the new two-spoke steering wheel looks expensive and feels good, with the new Kia badge looking great on the quirky-shaped airbag. The drive mode button attached to the bottom left is a nice exotic touch, though you can feel the rough edges round the back. The dual screens are obviously nothing new nowadays but they sit in a really nicely designed dash, that doesn’t allow the pixel fest to dominate the look. The centre console has on it the electronic handbrake and, most interestingly, a rotary controller for Drive, Neutral and Reverse, with a Park button in the centre.
Everything you touch higher than the seat has a more premium feel, though lower down some cheaper plastics aren’t far from reach. There are plenty of eco-friendly recycled materials, including a headlining made of repurposed wallpaper, while the excellent seats are made of Bio PU with Tencel from eucalyptus leaves. There’s also a nice premium-effect plastic trim that smacks slightly of a budget-friendly forged carbon, which has proven divisive. It is a little tinny in feel, under your knuckles, but the architecture and the way it looks, in our opinion at least, outweighs that.
The new Niro in general is as you’d hope for a car of its type, very spacious, airy, easy to see out of and easy to place on the road. Navigating the criss-cross of Soho’s road network was a doddle, even when things got tight. While it isn’t the tiniest car in terms of space for occupants, the average budding nuclear family would be hard pressed to need more room. We can absolutely see why the first-generation was such a hit among families, smaller than this new car though it was. The two-level boot is clever and commodious too.
Technology and Features
The two 10.25-inch screens could be considered dominant in this cabin, if not for how well the rest of it is designed. There’s some bad news for those of us that prefer a button to a touch pad, the media controls and the climate controls are mostly digital. In fact, they share a haptic multi-mode panel where you switch between the two. Happily, it’s far more intuitive and responsive than certain equivalent systems hailing from Wolfsburg.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included, though only work via the earlier USB connection, not the USB C point. This is probably an Apple and Android thing, rather than a Kia thing. As for Kia’s own infotainment, it’s responsive and intuitive, though the theme is a bit 2,000s ‘smartphone’. More muted colours are the order of the day.
Available toys include a reversing camera, wireless phone charging, a head-up display and even heated seats in the rear. Passengers will be happy with the USB C outlets on the seats and the three-prong ‘Vehicle to device’ charging point too. Of course, the ubiquitous lane departure and pre-sense tech is presented and correct too. Kia reckons most buyers will go for ‘3’ grade, which is middle spec, bringing with it as standard the 10.25-inch infotainment. Top-level ‘4’ grade will get you the parking sensors, heated seats, sunroof and snazzy colour-coded rear blades.
The plain and simple verdict is that the Niro EV is as it was, albeit a bit better to drive, a lot more distinctive looking and a lot nicer inside. What some might consider the really important bit, the battery, is largely unchanged, which could come as a worry.
Remember, in the UK now there is no plug-in grant and cars over £40,000 incur a high introductory tax rate. Kia can thank its lucky stars EVs are exempt but the bottom line is that, improved though it is, the new Niro EV is far less remarkable in today’s marketplace than it once was, and for more money, than it ever was. That being said, its predecessor showed spectacular sales even up until last year. Can a revised platform, new design and stylish cabin keep the buyers coming? Kia hopes so. For our money, with that cabin and cool tech going on top of everything that made the e-Niro great before, it’s still worth a punt.
|Engine||Permanent magnet synchronous motor|
|Torque||255Nm (188lb ft)|
|Transmission||Single-speed automatic, front-wheel-drive|
|Range, efficiency||285 miles|
|Price||£36,245 (£39,895 as tested)|
Reviewed by Ethan Jupp