All-new version of popular electric crossover features distinctive looks and improved driver appeal

What is it?

The Kia Niro EV is the all-new version of one of the UK’s best-selling all-electric family cars, the Kia Niro. It’s a machine that, in its outgoing form, has helped the Korean brand buck the recent downward sales spiral that has afflicted most manufacturers, which are still reeling from the after-effects of the Covid pandemic, as well as now dealing with supply chain chaos and the impact of a cost-of-living crisis.


While many have been struggling, Kia has been soaring. Over the course of 2021, it increased sales in Europe by more than 20% and grew its market share from 3.5% to 4.3%. More important, at some points during the year, nearly half of the cars it sold were electrified. 

005 Kia niro tracking front 2022


The original electric Niro wasn’t the most exciting car, but it offered decent practicality, loads of kit and a seven-year warranty. Crucially, the Kia e-Niro was capable of a range of nearly 300 miles, a figure that’s usually only available with EVs that cost twice as much. Even before the current semiconductor shortage struck, the waiting list for the all-electric Kia would have embarrassed even Morgan.


That means there’s a lot riding on the all-new version, which, as before, is also available as a hybrid and PHEV. As a result, you could have forgiven Kia for playing safe and sticking with the old car’s fairly inoffensive approach, but that’s not how the brand rolls these days. Just take a look at the rakish Kia EV6 and (let’s be generous) distinctive Kia Sportage for proof.


At the front, the Niro’s eye-catchingly angular daytime running lights dominate, and a large flap in the centre of the grille covers the charging port that denotes this as the all-electric model. Speaking of which, this is no longer called the e-Niro, but the Niro EV. At the rear are kinked, vertically laid-out LED lights, while the flash-camouflaged rear bumper of our car denoted it as a very late pre-production prototype.


Perhaps the most attention-grabbing piece of design are the large C-pillars, which on top-spec 4 models can be finished in contrasting gloss black or gunmetal grey for an extra £150. Look closer, however, and you’ll notice they’re actually flying buttresses, designed to channel air more efficiently around the rear of the car. In combination with the vehicle’s nearly totally flat underside, they contribute to a drag coefficient of 0.29, which isn’t bad for a fairly bluff-fronted junior SUV.


Under the skin, the Niro is all-new, too, featuring the third iteration of the firm’s K platform. It’s a little longer and wider than before and increased use of high-tensile steel has resulted in a 20kg reduction of the body-in-white mass. Suspenion is handled by a new four-link independent rear axle, while at the front, MacPherson struts are retained.

What's it like?

Currently, there’s only one battery option: a usefully sized 64.8kWh lithium ion pack located under the floor, which delivers a claimed 286 miles, a modest four-mile uplift over the old car. Improved 85kW charging means a 10-80% top-up takes as little as 43 minutes. The battery powers the old car’s 201bhp electric motor, which engineers have tweaked to smooth out the instant 188lb ft of torque in an effort to tame the traction-control-testing delivery of its predecessor.

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Their efforts have paid off, because the Niro responds much more progressively to the throttle, with less torque steer scrabble and a stronger-feeling mid-range once you’re rolling. Sharper reactions are available in Sport mode, but ultimately the Kia is brisk rather than quick, although it is quiet enough, with decent rolling refinement and low wind noise.

003 Kia niro driving 2022


More impressive is the regenerative braking, which has three modes that can be accessed via paddles mounted on the steering wheel. Engage the most aggressive setting and the Kia is a true and intuitive one-pedal car, while the transition to friction braking is nicely calibrated.


The rest of the dynamics? There’s a lumpiness to the low-speed ride, but it feels more supple at speed. That plays its part in delivering a more grown-up feel than before, the Niro lacking the undercurrent of unruliness that undermined the old car when pushing on. 


It handles with a safe and predictable neutrality, benefiting from taut body control and fairly tenacious grip. It’ll still run wide under power, but overall it feels far more composed and capable. For an EV of this size, its kerb weight of just over 1700kg isn’t bad, and in combination with that low-slung battery, it helps the Kia change direction with surprising deftness, making it feel far more agile than before.


If there’s a niggle, it’s the steering, which is direct enough but lacks feel and has a grainy quality when winding off lock, as if the EPAS motor is cutting in and out as it struggles to decide the level of assistance. It’s particularly noticeable at low speeds, and while not exactly a deal breaker, it’s the one part of the car that still doesn’t feel totally finished.


Elsewhere, neat touches include USB-C sockets in the backs of the front seats for rear seat passengers and the infotainment system is reasonably slick and easy to use. Material quality of this pre-production car was a bit variable (production cars will be better), but the use of recycled materials hits all the right sustainability notes. Overall, the interior design is modern and easy to use, even the touch-sensitive panel that switches between ventilation and sat-nav controls. The touchscreen infotainment is carried over from the EV6, so it looks good, operates in a fairly intuitive way and has all the smartphone connectivity you're ever likely to need.

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The interior also delivers generous head and leg room in the rear, plus a decent 475-litre boot (it’s the biggest load area of the Niro's three drivetrain variants) complete with large underfloor storage for charging cables. Under the bonnet is also a shallow, lidded storage area that’s handy for smaller items, but in terms of luggage, it won’t take more than a washbag.

Should I buy one?

Ultimately, the Niro is an easy-going family-friendly crossover, one that’s at its best when simply serving up stress-free transport from point A to point B. It’s still not an exciting car, but the Niro EV is much more distinctive, better to drive and still packs a decent range. 


However, it is pricey in flagship 4 guise, at £41,395, which is only £300 less than the firm’s faster, longer-range and more stylish entry-level EV6. Stick to the lower-order 2 and 3 versions (prices for the range start at £34,995) and the Kia makes much more sense. 

004 Kia niro static front 2022


James Disdale

James Disdale
Title: Special correspondent

James is a special correspondent for Autocar, which means he turns his hand to pretty much anything, including delivering first drive verdicts, gathering together group tests, formulating features and keeping Autocar.co.uk topped-up with the latest news and reviews. He also co-hosts the odd podcast and occasional video with Autocar’s esteemed Editor-at-large, Matt Prior.

For more than a decade and a half James has been writing about cars, in which time he has driven pretty much everything from humble hatchbacks to the highest of high performance machines. Having started his automotive career on, ahem, another weekly automotive magazine, he rose through the ranks and spent many years running that title’s road test desk. This was followed by a stint doing the same job for monthly title, evo, before starting a freelance career in 2019. The less said about his wilderness, post-university years selling mobile phones and insurance, the better.

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xxxx 23 May 2022

Meanwhile Ford has is releasing an electric transit