New Kia Niro EV prototype review

We get behind the wheel of a pre-production prototype version of the 201bhp Kia Niro EV


  • 4.0 out of 5

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    Verdict

    We’re not sure the sweet spot of the Kia Niro EV range will be this range-topper; its price puts it perilously close to where the larger and altogether more capable EV6 begins. But the basic package here is strong, with typically impressive in-car technology, a little more practicality than the old e-Niro and solid, safe driving dynamics.

    The Kia Niro has been a key ‘transitional model’ for the Korean brand – a vehicle sold as a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid and a pure EV, and thus one that has appealed to customers at various stages of the journey to electrification. In the UK, it’s actually been Kia’s second best-selling model since it first appeared in dealerships in 2016.

    But now, with increasing numbers of bespoke EVs on the market (not least Kia’s own excellent EV6), it’s time for an all-new Niro. The core principles remain; this is a car with a choice of powertrains, including two that feature combustion engines. But it gets an all-new platform, increased levels of in-car tech and a little more space in a bid to make it even more of an all-round proposition. It’s a particularly significant arrival on the EV market, since the outgoing e-Niro was second in Britain’s pure-electric sales charts in 2021.

    • New Kia Niro Hybrid prototype review
    • Indeed, the Niro EV (there’s a change of name for this generation) is expected to make up more than half of UK sales once the first deliveries start arriving in late summer. The hybrid – which has a combined power output of 139bhp and CO2 emissions from 100g/km – will be the next best seller, and the PHEV, which brings 180bhp and the ability to travel on electricity alone for up to 40 miles – is likely to account for just one in 10 of all Niros sold.

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      Indeed, given the list prices, you’d suspect that many private buyers will look hard at the PHEV, see that it costs barely £2,000 less than the full EV, and decide that it really is time to ditch petrol power altogether.

      Regardless of powertrain, this Niro is the first Kia to sit on the latest generation of the company’s ‘K’ platform. It grows slightly overall, to 4,420mm long, with a couple of extra centimetres in the wheelbase, which is now 2,720mm. The growth spurt isn’t going to be quite enough to overcome the fact that the Niro EV remains wedded to a platform that also has to accommodate combustion engines, though; it remains longer overall than VW’s ID.3, which sists on the EV-only MEB architecture, but the gap between the front and rear axles on the Kia – key for cabin space – is more than five centimetres shorter.

      The overall look is clearly an evolution of what’s gone before, but the front end has been tidied up and at the rear, there’s a novel C-pillar that actually sits slightly proud of the main bodyshell and helps to channel air along the flanks. It can come in a contrasting colour, so expect Kia to play around with this on special editions and personalised versions as time goes on.

      The Niro EV has a single front-mounted motor producing 201bhp and 255Nm of torque, so it’s the punchiest model overall, with a 0-62mph time of 7.8 seconds. The battery’s usable capacity is 64.8kWh, and Kia claims average energy consumption of 3.8 miles per kWh, which should give you just shy of 250 miles of range (the official claimed figure is 286 miles). The car can recharge at up to 80kW, taking its battery level from 10 to 80 per cent in 45 minutes – and if you select a charging station as a navigation destination, it’ll pre-heat the battery en route to make sure you can get the fastest possible refill rate.

      Kia offers the same trim structure across all three Niro powertrains – but it’s worth remembering than the EV gets a couple of nice extras even in the entry-level ‘2’ specification. As with the Hybrid and PHEV, it comes with LED headlights, rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera, and an eight-inch infotainment system that incorporates Android and Apple integration. But notably, the EV gets 17-inch wheels instead of 16-inchers, and a 10.25-inch fully digital instrument panel replaces the other versions’ conventional dials.

      A Niro EV ‘2’ will cost you £34,995, and stepping up to ‘3’ takes the price to £37,745. This spec includes faux-leather upholstery, front parking sensors, 18-inch wheels, heated front seats and steering wheel, and keyless go. You also get a three-pin socket where you can plug in external appliances like a laptop or a small fridge.

      The range-topping Niro EV ‘4’ costs from £40,495. This ramps up the infotainment screen to 10.25 inches and also includes heating on the rear seats, ventilation on the front seats, an upgraded Harman Kardon sound system, a head-up display and vegan leather upholstery. The Niro’s contrasting C-pillar ‘blade’ is only available on this version – for now, at least; it’s a £150 option, whereas the panel is body-coloured on all other editions.

      On the road the Niro makes a very solid case for itself – without ever delivering much sparkle or delight. The instant torque of the electric motor delivers enough shove, even with a modest 201bhp in a car weighing almost a tonne and three quarters. Harsh throttle inputs on anything other than dry tarmac will have the front wheels scrabbling for grip – but adopt a sensible approach and the Niro EV is plenty quick enough to nip through traffic in town, and get up to speed on motorways.

      As with the old e-Niro, you can adjust the brake recuperation settings with paddles behind the steering wheel – and the most extreme configuration will bring the car to a halt naturally, allowing you to drive using just the right-hand pedal around town if you think far enough ahead at traffic lights and junctions. Should you need to use the brakes, the modulation is an improvement on the previous generation car, but the transition between recuperation and discs and pads still takes a little getting used to. You’ll be able to make smooth enough progress, in time.

      Kia’s chassis engineers have clearly been given the brief of ensuring that the Niro EV doesn’t roll excessively, and you can feel how firm the basic set-up is as soon as you pull away from rest. It could risk becoming unsettled at low speeds – so we’re keen to try an example on 18-inch wheels on UK roads – but once you’re up and running it does a decent job of isolating you from road imperfections, while keeping up with direct steering.

      There’s no great involvement to be had here, but even with a surprisingly high driving position (for all its crossover looks, the EV gubbins beneath delivers an SUV-like seating configuration), the Niro is a car you can lean on. With decent body control and Sport mode selected for improved throttle response, you could even call it swift.

      Refinement is solid enough, with wind noise and electric motor whine both nicely suppressed. And while there is a bit of transference through the chassis from the road beneath, any tyre rumble is less noticeable than it was on the e-Niro.

      Our pre-production prototype still had a few bits of interior trim made from more coarsely grained plastics, so we’ll hold fire on a judgement on cabin quality just yet. But regardless, the in-car technology will look familiar to anyone who’s driven a current Sorento or the latest Sportage – or, indeed, the EV6. That’s to say that you get crisp, clear displays with a solid user interface and quick response times.

      It’s good to see that key features such as the heating and ventilation still get their own buttons, although they are contained in a touch-sensitive panel that can be switched to control the audio instead. It’s a novel feature that should work well – as long as you don’t constantly need to change tracks and the cabin temperature.

      The boot, meanwhile, measures 475 litres – comfortably eclipsing what’s on offer in a conventional VW Golf – and this expands to 1,392 litres with the second row of seats folded down. There’s also a shallow 20-litre front boot that should be handy for keeping wet charging cables separate from your shopping. It’s a pity that you have to access it via the normal bonnet release, mind; reaching down to the edge of the footwell feels like a definite carryover from combustion-engined vehicles.

      Model:Kia Niro EV4
      Price:£40,495
      Powertrain:64.8kWh batt./1x e-motor
      Power/torque:201bhp/255Nm
      Transmission:Single-speed automatic, front-wheel drive 
      0-62mph:7.8 seconds
      Top speed:104mph
      Range:286 miles
      Charging:80kW (10-80% 45mins)
      On sale:Now
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