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Car reviews - Kia - Niro

Our Opinion

We like
Feature-rich GT-Line, spacious cabin, excellent ride/handling balance, EV range
Room for improvement
No more PHEV, austere base model spec, price

Kia’s second crack at the Niro hits the mark – but does the price tag?

8 Jul 2022



IN THE film world, sequels and remakes often fail to capture the magic of the original. In the case of the Kia Niro, there wasn’t much magic to begin with. 


Arriving in Australia at the end of its lifecycle, the DE Niro (yes, you read that correctly, gangster-movie fans) was only present for just over a year before it was superseded by the subject of this review, the SG2 Niro. The DE’s stay in our country was blissfully short, then… Thanks to an outdated interior that didn’t compare favourably with those of more modern Kias, a homely and hard-to-love exterior, and a suspension that was a bad fit for Aussie roads, the old Niro was short on appeal. 


It was not a great start for what was Kia’s first stab at electrification. Available as a conventional hybrid, a plug-in hybrid or a fully-electric vehicle, the first-gen Niro lacked the charisma of other contemporary eco-warriors.


So, the SG2 is ‘take two’ for the Niro, and after a first sampling it seems that the critics have been heard. Does it deserve the rotten tomato treatment? Hardly.


Just look at it. The same jacked-up hatchback proportions remain (Kia insists the Niro is a small SUV – in reality, it’s more of a crossover), but dimensional growth in width, length and wheelbase see it occupy a slightly larger footprint. 


Meanwhile, exterior styling has gone from soft-edged and unadventurous to crisp and modern, and the interior has followed suit with a dashboard and console that mimic those of its bigger battery-powered sibling, the EV6.


For up-spec GT-Line variants, contrast-colour C-pillars can be had, but to be honest, the Kia still looks handsome without them. A better reason to plump for the GT-Line is for its fatter feature set versus the comparatively austere Niro S base version. 


All Niro variants boast an all-electronic instrument panel and infotainment screen, both set within the same slightly curved bezel that stretches across two-thirds of the dashboard’s width. However, in the S hybrid, the two screens you get are a very basic 4.2-inch instrument panel and an 8-ich infotainment screen, with simplified graphics, no built-in satellite navigation and limited functionality beyond basic Bluetooth integration, a digital radio tuner, plus Android Auto and Apple Carplay. 


Step up into the GT-Line, and those screens are replaced by a pair of 10.25-inch displays that not only fill out more of that big bezel, they incorporate a fully-fledged navigation system, clearer and more aesthetically-pleasing graphics, and Kia’s first onboard telematics/remote connectivity system, Kia Connect. 


The GT-Line also scores other nice-to-haves, such as a heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, faux-leather upholstery, customisable ambient cabin lighting, a 10-inch head-up display, an electrically operated tailgate and a power-adjustable driver’s seat. The EV version further offers power adjustment for the front passenger seat and the ability to power household devices via a power outlet under the back seats and an adaptor that plugs into the EV’s charge port.


That’s not to say the S variant hasn’t gained anything. An electro-chromatic rear view mirror, two USB-C charge ports for rear occupants, and a bevy of standard safety upgrades (a centre airbag, rear cross-traffic AEB, blind-spot assist, high beam assist and forward AEB improvements) haven been added, as has an interior household power outlet for the electric Niro S. However, but the GT-Line’s feature set is better aligned with the Niro’s position within the Kia showroom as a technology leader.


The base S hybrid, with its bare urethane steering wheel, cloth upholstery, tiny screens and old-school T-bar shifter (the rest get a rotary dial), feels taxi-spec by comparison.


Ergonomics are good though, no matter the spec. The driving position feels more hatchback than SUV, but the slightly elevated height of the seat base does at least place your eyeline slightly above that of your typical small car. 


The capacitive ventilation/infotainment controls under the centre air vents look great and work well, with physical knobs for temperature and volume, and a wireless charge pad in the centre console on GT-Line variants is a welcome feature. 


The glovebox is on the small side, but the upshot is a generous centre console box with cupholders that retract out of the way should you want to plonk a purse, wallet, or other smallish items there instead.


The front seats are comfortable, but rear occupants are the biggest beneficiaries of the SG2’s arrival. Rear legroom is massive, and with the large rear windows, plentiful headroom and the high rear seat base giving those in the back a good view to the front and sides, the new Niro is comfortable enough for four adults at a time. 


The load bay is respectably sized; it measures 425 litres in the hybrid or 475 litres in the EV – though the fold-up cargo blind does feel like an afterthought (and a cheap one at that). EVs also receive a 20L storage compartment under the bonnet, though this is realistically best used to store its emergency charge cable, not your groceries.



The SG2 Niro lineup’s a little thinner than that of the outgoing DE. That’s due to the subtraction of the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) option, leaving just the regular hybrid and fully-electric EV to bookend the range. Kia says the PHEV accounted for a minority share of DE Niro sales, but nevertheless it’s got the PHEV homologated and ready to go if demand for plug-ins picks up – for now though, it’s just the hybrid and EV.


And while the feature set and styling have been cranked up, under the skin there’s a lot of familiar hardware and familiar numbers. The Hybrid makes a combined 104kW and 265Nm from its 77kW 1.6-litre petrol engine and 32kW electric motor (the same as its predecessor), with a six-speed dual-clutch auto transmitting that output to the front wheels. Its electric sibling takes a regressive step: its 150kW power output is the same as the old Niro, but its 255Nm torque figure is not only 10Nm lower than that of the hybrid, it’s also 140Nm under what the first-gen electric Niro delivered. 


Disappointing? We’ll find out in a bit, but first let’s deal with some good news. Unlike the, um, DE Niro, which arrived after the onset of a global pandemic and, as a result, couldn’t benefit from a locally-developed suspension tune, the SG2 Niro has had Kia Australia’s chassis boffins perform some work on the undercarriage. This is a good thing, considering the DE’s generally taut suspension tune and poor ride quality. 


Regardless of grade or powertrain, the new SG2 rides exceptionally well. Where the old car would crash into bumps and transmit big shock forces into your seat, the new one displays excellent damping with great compliance and body control. It handles well too. Although that attribute is probably less relevant to average eco-car pilots, it’s comforting to know that the new Niro can corner briskly without much complaint. 


The power steering tune has also had some localisation work done, and with a pleasing weight when in motion – but an easy-going lightness when at a carpark crawl, it’s been thoughtfully calibrated for both urban and highway driving.


With a drive route consisting mostly of winding hill roads it was hard to get a handle on representative efficiency numbers, but Kia claims averages of 4.0L/100km for the hybrid and 16.2kWh/100km for the EV – a 0.4L/100km improvement for the former, but a 0.3kWh/100km backwards step for the latter. 


Even so, a slightly bigger battery (it’s now a 64.8kWh lithium-ion pack versus a 64.0kWh unit) sees the single-charge range rise from 455km to 460km. 


Charge times? It’ll take 43 minutes to go from 10 to 80 percent on a 350kW DC fast charger, or 9 hours and 25 minutes to go from 10 to 100 percent on a 7kW home wall box. Got an 11kW wall box? That charge time will drop to just six hours and 20 minutes.


Helping the Niro eke out a few more kays from each tank/charge is a regenerative braking upgrade, which sees new smart regenerative braking tech applied to all variants in the range. Like the EV6, this system allows the car to automatically vary its regenerative braking strength depending on what traffic is in front of the car, which not only helps maximise the recuperation of energy, but in the real world it also works remarkably smoothly – especially in the EV, which scores the second-generation version of the system. 


Don’t like the “guiding hand” feel of smart regen? Four fixed regen ‘steps’ can be cycled through via the steering wheel paddles of all bar the Niro S Hybrid, or you can activate the car’s one-pedal mode to exploit the full strength of the Korean model’s regenerative braking – though that feature is only on the EV.


And speaking of the EV, what of its dramatically culled torque output? While consumers will spit chips at the idea of a 140Nm downgrade, the truth is it honestly has pretty much zero negative impact. The old Niro EV was overburdened by its near-400Nm torque output, especially considering all of it was sent to a pair of eco tyres at the front of the car and, even with ‘just’ 255Nm on tap, the new Niro EV will still spin up a front wheel if the road is a little damp before the traction control kicks in. Kia has right-sized the Niro’s electric motor – less torque makes more sense.


Plant your foot and the EV feels rapid enough for the cut-and-thrust of daily driving. With the smooth elastic feel that characterises EVs, it’s also a lot more serene than the slightly noisy hybrid, and makes for a relaxed commuter car.


Yet, where the Niro was previously compromised by its offering, with aging furniture, a stiff-legged suspension and sparse feature set, the SG2 Niro has a new problem – its price. The core product is now objectively good, with attractive design, a generous equipment list, a well-tuned chassis and excellent driveability all granting it a “most improved” medal, but those gains are undone (at least partially) by its price. 


At $44,380 for the base Niro S Hybrid and $65,300 for the Niro S EV, it already feels expensive – especially for a car that doesn’t come with sat-nav as standard. Add $5650 to upgrade the hybrid to the more feature-rich GT-Line (or $6800 to do the same to the EV), and sticker shock may set in – although the GT-Line does at least feel like it justifies its cost better thanks to its longer spec sheet.


Those price movements now see the Niro overlap with the EV6, which is currently hot property and likely to remain that way until global supply chains can actually sate demand for Kia’s ultra-desirable pure EV. Is the Niro EV an appropriate substitute for those who had their heart set on an EV6, but can’t get one for love or money? Not really – the Niro is a different beast with a wholly different character. 


Is it comparable to EVs such as the Polestar 2 or Tesla Model 3? No, those cars feel more advanced and future-leaning than the Niro, which is built on a legacy platform and is still compromised by the need to provide space for a combustion engine. 


The Hybrid GT-Line might seem like the better-value deal versus its electric counterpart, but at $50,030 it’s a pricey way to put a small crossover in your driveway. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV costs a few grand more but gives you a much larger vehicle along with a plug-in capability, while a Toyota RAV4 hybrid ranges from $36,990 to $52,700 depending on spec. 


Even as a hybrid, the value equation doesn’t stack up for the Niro. If anything, the EV is the one that makes more fiscal sense given its smaller competitor set and decent 400km-plus range.


And that’s a shame, because the Niro is now a vehicle that’s worthy of consideration – it’s just a pity about that price.

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