BY BRIAN BYRNE
THAT the Kia Niro was the winner of the recently-announced Compact Crossover category in the Irish Car of the Year Awards 2023 was probably no surprise to most of my juror colleagues. This second generation of the Niro has moved the nameplate nicely forward in all metrics.
The model was already the brand’s second-best selling one in Ireland before the new one arrived.
For this year it was pushed into Kia’s third place, partly because of the success of the EV6 and partly because that will always happen in a changeover year while old stocks run down and new ones are awaited.
I’ll not be surprised to see Niro slipping back to its slot behind the best-selling Sportage during 2023. Stock availability permitting, which is still an issue for all car distributors.
What’s also interesting is that more than a third of all cars sold by Kia this year are electrified — 21% of the total are EVs, with plug-in hybrids running at 15% of the total. All that is very relevant to my Niro review this week, because it is the electric version I’m writing about.
In this second generation, the style has moved from being a little soft and cuddly to a stronger presence, thanks largely to the latest themes developed in lighting and front design.
It looks quite purposeful. The car is also significantly wider, longer and taller, and is in the upper third in terms of size comparisons with its competitors, of which the Mazda CX-30 would be the average.
Inside, the design is clean and clear. A nicely integrated infotainment screen is large enough to work, thanks to its bright graphics, and it’s not too big – so not always in your face. The third which is closest to the driver can offer a choice of types of information – my choice in this case being battery level and range.
The main instruments marry the best of traditional analogue style with the advantages of digital clarity. That last word also applies to the labelling of all the switchgear and controls, with no ambiguity.
My reservations about the strip between the temperature control knobs having a dual purpose is slight, though still a tad annoying.
The Niro is roomy, and blessedly no impacting my head getting in or out, as is too frequently an issue for tall me. The heft of the steering wheel is in the Goldilocks area of ‘just right’.
For my passengers, there was ample and comfortable room. Boot space has also increased over the previous generation.
My review car’s electric motor offered a sub-eight seconds sprint capability to 100km/h, not spectacular but likely range-efficient for that reason. The rated distance on a charge is 460km, but on my reckoning an expectation of real-world 380km would be reasonable.
On the road there is that sense of slightly more heaviness which every electric vehicle gives, regardless of how well the suspension copes with the extra weight of the battery. In the Niro EV’s case that’s about the weight of two-and-a-half adults, and you feel it most crossing a road bump. But it all seems to work quite competently, and the power from the motor is plenty adequate. As in all electrics, driving is a quiet experience.
In electric vehicle terms, the main competition are Volvo’s C40 and Nissan’s Leaf. The Niro EV is well able to hold its own with both, and for inside ambience would, subjectively, have the edge. Electric vehicles are still expensive, but the fact is that their non-EV competitors are closing the gap by themselves becoming more dear. Bottom line, my friends, the price of owning any car is only going in one direction.