This second-generation Kia e-Niro carefully improves on the winning formula of an excellent value, spacious, practical car.
Let me stop you right there if you’re about to make a Robert de Niro joke. The Kia Niro EV has been rebranded to match the Kia Niro HEV, Niro PHEV, and Kia EV6 EVs.
The Niro EV is very much a sequel to its ultra-successful predecessor, despite its new name. Throughout its lifespan, it has been a big hit: it was the second most popular EV in the UK last year. As a milestone electric car, it can be compared to the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe, and Tesla Model S.
The Kia brand has also been transformed, winning over buyers who wouldn’t otherwise consider the Korean company, and spreading a halo effect to other Kia products. The battery-powered version of a family crossover is not bad.
The car was described as a late prototype in the UK, in higher-spec 4 trim. Kia indicated there were some final refinements to come, but we are confident enough to deliver a verdict – although we will update as we experience different trim levels and versions.
It’s actually surprising how much Kia has changed. It’s based on the third-generation K3 architecture of the Hyundai Motor Group, if you’re curious.
The K3 can be used for the Niro HEV, PHEV and EV, unlike the bespoke battery-electric E-GMP architecture used for the amazing Kia EV6.
In contrast to the first-generation Niro, the K3 is designed specifically for multi-powertrain vehicles. As a result, Niro EV gets some new features as well as some packaging advantages.
This new platform has also allowed the Niro EV to grow slightly: it is now 4420mm long, which is 65mm longer than the first-generation model. There’s just a little bit more space inside due to the 20mm increase in wheelbase. In addition, it measures 1825mm wide by 1570mm high.
Niro EV’s design has also been revised extensively. Considering the car’s popularity, that’s always a risk, but a welcome one:
There was a feel of low-rentness to the interior of the first generation model, which was a little bland. In a way, this all felt like a holdover from Kia’s budget car past.
However, things have changed a lot since then. We believe the Niro EV has a touch of dynamism, without really risking its mainstream appeal, as Kia has really upped its design game in recent years.
Using Kia’s ‘Tiger Face’ grille and new LED daytime running lights, this model is based off the HabaNiro concept car. There are some very interesting features and sharper lines on the rest of the car.
A dedicated gray side cladding, a two-tone closed grille, and 17in alloy wheels complement Niro EV models. In reference to the grille, the charging port has been relocated from the edge to the center. The change makes charging a bit easier at charge points, even though it’s a small step.
A hole runs through them, making them one of the most interesting design features. Kia’s engineers didn’t leave the hole by accident: it’s there to improve air flow and reduce drag. It’s what you’d expect from a mass market compact crossover made from Formula 1 cars.
For an extra £150, your C-pillars can be finished in either gloss black or gunmetal grey, as on our late prototype test car.
No, not at all. There might be even more significant changes to the interior. Despite the same layout and feel – you’ve got your drive select controller in the center console, a group of controls on the lower dashboard and an infotainment touchscreen – everything has been redesigned and feels much better.
Besides a 10in head-up display, there are two sharp 10.25in displays, one for the driver and one for the infotainment system.
A ‘Multi-Command’ panel underneath the touchscreen provides access to several key controls, such as the temperature and audio systems. The Kia EV6 introduced this haptic panel with two sets of functions. Though we have reservations over pressing panels instead of reassuring physical buttons, it does work quite well – and there are also voice controls and physical controls for most of the key functions.
In the interior, too, you can feel the increased dimensions of the new platform. The front and rear seats are spacious, and the rear passenger even has a reclining seat that can be raised and lowered when the vehicle is stopped, for when you need a power nap in the middle of the journey.
The seat covers are made from Tencel from Eucalyptus trees and the headlining is made from recycled wallpaper. There’s not much difference in feel, but that’s a good thing because you don’t have to accept a reduction in perceived quality.
There are plenty of USB-C ports in the cabin as well. The boot has plenty of space as well. Electric vehicles used to lack space due to batteries: the Niro EV’s 475-litre boot is bigger than the new HEVs and PHEVs – and the trunk has an additional 20 liters.
Kia has wisely stuck to a winning formula here. It retains the same 150kW powertrain from the first-generation car, although Kia engineers have smoothed it out a bit – the first-generation Kia could be a bit too quick to deliver power. A top speed of 104mph is possible, with 188lb-ft of torque and a 0-62mph time of 7.8 seconds.
As a result, there is only one battery option now: the smaller 39kWh pack from the original has been dropped, leaving only the larger 64.8kWh pack available. This isn’t a surprise given the larger battery’s versatility and popularity, but it’s disappointing that the entry-level models have been eliminated. The cheapest version of the new e-Niro comes with a $34,995 starting price.