The original Kia e-Niro has consistently been a top seller in Europe and the United Kingdom since its launch in 2018, but can the all-new second-generation Niro EV continue its success in Australia?
With only $200 separating the hit entry-level Tesla Model Y RWD and top-spec Kia Niro EV GT-Line, it seems like a nonsensical choice. But, the South Korean crossover still offers some unique selling points that surprisingly impressed me during our week-long loan.
The 2023 Kia Niro EV is offered in two variants with one large battery pack and a front-wheel drive electric motor.
We’re testing the hero GT-Line model, which costs from $72,100 before on-road costs, and is specced with Snowflake White Pearl paint with Steel Grey contrast C-pillar and cladding ($520).
For full pricing, specifications and features of the 2023 Kia Niro EV line-up, click here.
The second-gen Kia Niro EV is an evolutionary upgrade compared to its conservative predecessor.
Its design is still conventional, but there are some interesting details that lift up its appeal. People don't turn their heads for the Niro EV and it doesn’t ‘shout out’ as an electric car – but not being attention-seeking is a welcome positive.
The contrasting Steel Grey C-pillar and cladding doesn’t look as controversial in person and is exclusively mated to Snowflake White Pearl ($520), though other colours with gloss black cladding seem to look slicker.
The ‘heartbeat’ front daytime running lights, rear indicators and boomerang-style tail lights are striking, the three-dimensional diamond-pattern tiger nose and lower grille is a welcome touch, and the 17-inch alloy wheels are discreetly aerodynamic.
Inside, interesting design details continue with the panel of window switches that slopes into the low dashboard, three different textures on the faux leather seats, and nylon material door armrest. Kia says it uses a range of sustainable materials in the cabin.
There’s also remnants of the flagship Kia EV6, including the two-spoke steering wheel (minus the flat bottom), rotating drive selector, metal-like interior door handles, and front seat headrests that double as a jacket hanger. The GT-Line’s 64-colour ambient lighting isn’t as flash as the EV6; it’s only on the passenger-side of the dash in a few horizontal strokes and outlines drive selector.
The all-new Niro EV's interior is a contemporary step ahead with good quality materials, but arguably doesn’t live up to the about $77K drive-away price tag would suggest.
However, the South Korean automaker tends to liberally employ impractical gloss black surfaces. It's sizable across the centre console, dashboard, and door cards that progressively enlarges towards the front. The centre console in particular is a key attraction hub for fingerprints as the place for the drive selector, phone cubby, and heated and ventilated seat toggles.
The Kia Niro EV has a respectable 475-litres of boot space – although it doesn’t look like its five-litres less than the larger EV6 – or 1392-litres when the rear seats are folded down with a two-level adjustable boot floor.
While there are bag hooks, the tolerance is tight so anything thicker than string can’t be anchored on. Exacerbating this, there isn’t a luggage net to secure loose items.
Despite being based on an internal combustion engine platform, the South Korean carmaker still manages to pack a handy 20-litre frunk storage space under the bonnet with a little securing net, too.
The second-gen Niro is wider and longer than the model it replaces with a slightly stretched 2720mm wheelbase. Being on the larger side of the small SUV class like the Kia Seltos, it's more spacious at the back than the Hyundai Kona Electric we reviewed.
The rear row has good head space, but adequate leg room so taller passengers may find it cramped for longer trips. By using the vehicle-to-load (V2L) plug and working from the back with a laptop, it’s apparent that it isn’t the most spacious.
Surprisingly, the Niro EV has a completely flat floor despite riding on a traditional engine platform.
There's also good sized door pockets to hold bottles throughout the cabin, though they're on a steeper sloping angle and aren't carpeted unlike the bigger Kia EV6 we tested. Ahead of the drive selector is a rubberised fast Qi wireless charging pad and fits bigger-sized smartphones.
The front centre console cup holders are particularly nifty. Borrowing from the Kia Picanto micro city car, the two cup holders can be folded away to yield an open centre console tray when not in use. This is handy given the Niro EV’s centre isn't as spacious and the storage bin is relatively small.
This top-spec GT-Line trim also gains premium charcoal-coloured artificial leather seats which are comfortable and supportive with heated and ventilated functionality.
However, there’s no driver's memory function and the relaxation recline mode is reserved for the front passenger only. This is disappointing given the Niro EV is priced around $77K drive-away depending on the state.
The 2023 Niro EV GT-Line exclusively features a larger 10.25-inch infotainment system paired with a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster on a single glass panel.
The matte-coated display is clear, though it still picks up fingerprints, and performs well. But, it’s only fixed on a dark background mode which can make icons and text hard to read depending on the reflections.
The built-in mapping system is usable, though wired Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto smartphone projection via the single USB-A port is still preferred. We understand Android Auto is finally fullscreen thanks to a recent software update, but it wasn’t on our tester yet.
It’s worth noting that the base S model has a smaller 8-inch display without built-in navigation and thus features wireless capability, but contradictorily, lacks a Qi wireless phone charging pad.
Only this top-spec GT-Line trim debuts the Kia Connect telematics and mobile app system by embedding a SIM card in the vehicle. It’s a feature that’s been available overseas for years and has finally made its way to Australia.
For the infotainment, it enables displaying a live weather forecast, syncing calendar events, and built-in voice control which can set the navigation, check the weather, and even open the electric tailgate. While integrated voice control is welcome, it doesn’t respond well to natural language (it prefers fixed command phrases), doesn’t react quickly, and nor can it close the boot.
Additionally, it’s compatible with the Kia Connect smartphone app that can remotely monitor and control the Niro EV GT-Line.
Although I did encounter some issues in sign-up and usability bugs, the mobile app has a reasonably well-designed interface and is functional. It was most useful for checking the electric car’s state-of-charge status and preconditioning the cabin’s climate control by setting the temperature.
However, sending commands to the vehicle takes some time (the app even gives a push notification when it’s successful), there isn’t a button to stop the alarm or lights flashing (it times out after 30 seconds), and still requires the proximity key to drive the vehicle.
There are some missing functions we’d like to see in future versions of Kia Connect.
While it can turn on the heated steering wheel, there’s no ability to set on the heated and ventilated seats; owners can’t see the live temperature within the cabin; can’t open/close the tailgate or front bonnet; nor can it open/close or vent the windows. The latter is possible on the almost identical Hyundai BlueLink app on the Palisade large SUV.
Sitting under the central display is a touchscreen strip carried over from the flagship Kia EV6 that interchanges between HVAC and infotainment control screens.
But, the touch targets are small and difficult to use while driving. We mostly left it on climate control as it’s fiddly to constantly switch between the two panels. Meanwhile, the two dials that act as either two-zone temperature or volume/tune media controls are, again, mini-sized and there’s little resistance so driver’s can suddenly change from 24- to 17-degrees in a light flick.
Ahead of the driver, the 10.25-inch instrument display is legible with an internal combustion engine inspired design like the Hyundai Kona Electric. The battery status and regen level are in fuel and temperature-like gauges, so you’ll need to dive into the touchscreen to see the exact state-of-charge.
The analogue-look dials change its colours and fonts depending on the drive mode selected. Drivers can change to a more modern ‘dynamic’ theme with numbers replacing the analogue dials and a pleasant adaptive, animated weather background thanks to Kia Connect.
There’s also a convenient 10-inch head-up display (HUD) that clearly projects the speedometer, speed limits via the navigation system, audio track change notifications and more on the windscreen.
Furthermore, the small electric SUV has a USB-A port for smartphone projection, a range of USB-C charging ports throughout the cabin, V2L socket, and a fast Qi wireless charging pad. This hero GT-Line variant gets an eight-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system that performs adequately.
You can move the car forwards and reverse remotely via holding the key fob in this range-topper. It’s designed to assist with fitting in tight parking spaces, but I didn’t find much need for it as the Niro isn’t as wide as the bigger EV6 (I wouldn’t be choosing a tight spot wedged between two gigantic cars anyway).
All Kia Niro EVs include the complete suite of active safety assistance systems, including automatic emergency braking (AEB) with car/pedestrian/cyclist/junction turning detection, lane following and lane keeping assist, blind spot and rear cross traffic warning and avoidance assist, stop/go smart cruise control, intelligent speed limit assist, and safe exit warning.
This range-topping GT-Line guise also nets reverse AEB parking collision avoidance assist, front parking sensors, and safe exit assist.
The adaptive cruise control works well with lane following assist that keeps the car centred in its lane. Strangely, it only prompts driver’s to change the set speed after it has entered a new speed limit zone according to the built-in mapping system.
The Niro effectively maintains a distance to the vehicle in front, but doesn’t detect vehicles when there’s a crest or slight turn because it’s out of the car’s eyesight.
Given this model’s price point, I’d like to see a 360-degree camera system as well, especially when it’s available in the similarly-sized, cheaper, facelifted petrol-powered Kia Seltos.
The GT-Line exclusively gets LED headlights that perform well at night with decent spread. Annoyingly, the Niro EVs rear LED indicators and reverse lights are positioned at the lower bumper which isn’t as visible to other driver’s.
I also noticed that the parking brake now automatically activates once in park. It’s a welcome change that we haven’t experienced with previous Hyundai Motor Group vehicles before.
A critical feature is that Kia Connect now enables automatically calling emergency services when the airbags deploy or manually by pressing the new red SOS button at the top. In the event of the vehicle being stolen, Kia’s customer centre team can remotely track its location and even immobilise the car when requested by police.
Range and charging
When we plugged-in on a 350kW ultra rapid charger, the Niro EV recharged from 14 to 80 per cent in 41 minutes. It peaked at an 82kW rate for the first few minutes, before slowly throttling down over time to 43kW at the 80 per cent mark.
Unfortunately, despite being a new-generation electric car, its DC charging speed is not as impressive – especially when compared to the similarly-priced EV competition that are capable of at least 100kW DC.
Despite this, its fast charging time provides enough time to take a rest stop and eat, without needing to worry about quickly moving the electric car away from the station for other driver’s to use after it’s finished charging. So, it’s not a huge gripe.
The 11kW AC onboard charger is a much-needed upgrade from the predecessor’s slow 7kW AC capability.
With the Kia Connect mobile app, owners can check the charging status and even sends notifications when the charging session is about to finish. There’s also a battery preconditioning setting in the infotainment, but we’re not sure if it activated when we set the charger as the destination in the built-in navigation.
The front-centre charging port is tucked neatly into the tiger nose grille and is spring-loaded. We found it to be an acceptable position for accessing public charging stations.
The South Korean automaker claims it has a driving range of 460km (WLTP) from a full charge.
In our week with the Niro EV consisting of a mix of urban and highway driving, one-pedal regenerative braking enabled and some heavier foot accelerations, I achieved a real-world range of 432km from a 150Wh/km average energy consumption.
These are respectable figures thanks in part to the see-through C-pillar slits contributing to a fairly standard 0.29 drag coefficient and smaller 17-inch alloys with aerodynamic covers wrapped in Continental EcoContact 6Q tyres.
The Niro EV comes standard with vehicle-to-load (V2L) capability that allows the small electric crossover to act as a large battery bank to power and charge any device via an interior V2L three-prong home plug underneath the rear row seats.
I used V2L for using a mobile broadband modem to work at the back row and barely discharged its battery pack. This GT-Line trim adds exterior V2L with an included adapter that plugs into the Type 2 front charging port.
All Niro EVs are powered by a single electric motor producing 150kW of power and 255Nm of torque sent to the front wheels only. Kia says it can accelerate from 0-100km/h in a claimed 7.8 seconds.
It is zippy enough to leave other car’s in your rear-view mirror, dart around in the city and confidently enter highways thanks to the instant torque of electric motors. Foot-to-the-floor acceleration is much more controlled than the Hyundai Kona Electric we tested, without any traction loss or tyre squeals. But, naturally for a front-wheel driven EV, it still wheel slips when accelerating harder from a standstill while turning a corner in sport mode.
The Kia Niro EV’s driving dynamics are clearly tuned for comfort. It drives well and does a good job at suppressing outside noises and road undulations.
However, I did notice that its rear suspension can feel a bit floaty and doesn’t settle down as quickly in the cabin when travelling over speed bumps. Its steering can also feel a bit heavy when turning zealously around corners. This is where body lean and its 1727kg tare mass (of which 443kg is the battery pack) is most noticeable.
As a small crossover, the Niro EV is easy to navigate tight streets and city car parks with a decent 10.6-metre turning circle.
Using the steering wheel paddle shifters, driver’s can toggle between three regenerative braking levels in an always-on or adaptive auto mode plus ‘i-Pedal’ one pedal driving. I mostly set it on the latter, even though it annoyingly defaults to level three every time you start the car or switch the drive selector.
Likewise, I would like the threshold to turn on the rear brake lights earlier as it tends to only illuminate once there’s heavy regenerative braking or when I completely lift off my foot from the accelerator. The electric car still doesn’t turn on auto hold itself and keep the brake lights on when it regens to a complete stop, so driver’s still need to tap and hold the brake pedal while stationary.
Overall Rating: 7.7 out of 10
💰 Value for money: 6.0
📱 Tech and safety: 8.5
📏 Size and practicality: 8.0
⏱️ Driving and performance: 8.0
🔌 Range and charging: 7.5
🛠️ Warranty and running costs: 8.0
The 2023 Kia Niro EV is a welcome upgrade from its ho-hum predecessor. It’s an impressively well-built, practical electric small SUV despite still riding on a combustion engine platform.
It also looks smart with some unique design touches – without shouting out that it’s an EV – and finally has Kia Connect telematics and a mobile app. Though, it’s let down in a few areas including value, ride comfort, interior material choice and DC charging capability.
Unfortunately, the Niro EV’s price tag is hard to digest.
This GT-Line variant is just $200 cheaper than the ubiquitous Tesla Model Y RWD and even $490 shy of its very own Kia EV6 Air. It’s also $100 more expensive than the bespoke Hyundai Ioniq 5 Dynamiq and $8100 more than the similarly-equipped Hyundai Kona Electric Highlander Extended Range.
Then, for around $25K less, the BYD Atto 3 Extended Range newcomer offers similar range and the MG ZS EV Essence provides similar warranty provisions – both costing under $50K with comparable small crossover dimensions.
That doesn’t mean you should completely discount the Niro EV, though. Kia’s vehicle and battery warranty provisions are still one of the best in the industry with adequate servicing costs for an electric car.
Critically, it seems more likely that buyer’s will be able to get their hands on one with about 45 new examples arriving per month in Australia at launch.
In isolation, the Kia Niro EV is a solid electric car that doesn’t pretend to be a futuristic game-changer and, at the end of the day, adequate stock might be the decider in today’s supply-constrained market.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The test vehicle was provided by Kia Australia for seven days for an independent evaluation.
Figures by Danny Thai
Photographs by Henry Man
Stay up to date with the latest EV news
- Get the latest news and update
- New EV model releases
- Get money savings-deal