Road Test: 2023 Kia Niro EV Wave
Compact Crossover Gets More Range and A New Look
Kia isn’t taking any chances when it comes to being a leader in electrified cars and SUVs. With a steady schedule of releasing new EVs as part of its Plan S, Kia has completely redesigned the 2023 Niro EV even though it is only three years old. Kia realizes in a booming EV market (check out the competition list at the end of this review), it is not a good idea to have a model with the same design for too many years as consumers are looking for the next newest thing on wheels.
The 2023 Kia Niro EV has a single motor driving the front wheels (all-wheel drive is not an option) and four driver-selectable drive modes of Eco, Normal, Sport and Snow. Normal, the default setting, is the compromise setting for range and responsiveness, while sport is where the more spirited driving will be found.
When opting for the sport mode, you get the full benefit of 201 horsepower and 188 pound-feet of torque. Zero-to-60 times were around 7.1 seconds which is plenty fast for freeway merging and passing big rigs. Of course, doing it silently without any engine noise will bring a smile to your face.
Off the line acceleration didn’t have a powerful G-Force feeling found in many EVs, but did have good pedal feel and immediate response. I was unable to spin the front tires on the Niro EV, but was able to call on the torque when needing to pass on the highway. So, for a car designed and marketed for general city and highway driving, Kia got it right.
The 2023 Niro EV has an EPA estimated driving range of 253 miles, an increase of 14 miles compared to the outgoing 2022 Niro EV. In 340 miles of driving through Southern California counties of Orange, San Diego and Los Angeles, we averaged 4.1 miles per kilowatt-hour (kWh), which is very efficient.
The liquid-cooled 64.8 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack is replenished through plug-in charging and regenerative braking. The regenerative charging system converts kinetic energy into electric energy when applying the brakes or coasting, and stores it in the battery. This process can be viewed on the instrument cluster, where you can watch the power flow into and out of the battery and motor.
One pedal, or i-Pedal, driving is a useful and fun feature accessed with the steering wheel-mounted paddles providing three regeneration levels. The right paddle reduces the amount of braking force, while pulling the left side three times sets the highest regenerative force. One more pull on the left side sets i-Pedal. The i-Pedal learning curve is easy as the Niro EV can be driven in almost all situations without needing to step on the brake pedal. This is especially fun when driving on curvy roads as not needing to use the brakes is a new sensation.
I-Pedal also brings the Niro EV to a gentle stop, where it will stay until you press on the accelerator. For even more convenience, there is a Brake Hold button on the center console that will also keep the car from moving. All of these i-Pedal and Brake Hold functions are supported by lights and graphics on the 10.25-inch instrument cluster screen.
The three plug-in charge options can all be controlled by the Kia Access app, which can also set the day and time of charging.
The 11 kW on-board charger delivers these charge times.
- 120V (Level 1) – Two days
- 240V (Level 2) – Seven hours
- 480V DC Fast Charge at 50 kW – 10% – 80% in 65 minutes
- 480V DC Fast Charge at 100 kW – 10% – 80% in 45 minutes
About that Level 1 charge time of two days. The 120V input charges the battery at a trickle, so installing a Level 2 home charger is a good investment.
When not at home, Niro EV buyers receive 500 kWh of complementary charging at Electrify America stations.
It is important to note that cold weather can affect the charging time and driving range. The Niro EV is available with a heat pump and battery warmer that will warm the battery to a temperature that will take a faster and higher charge.
Driving Experience: Easy To Live With
The Niro EV’s 3,803 pounds feels solid and confident on the road, with a smooth and stable ride. The low center of gravity, due to the under-floor placement of the 977-pound battery, resulted in planted driving dynamics. The Niro EV has good balance with predictable cornering. The motor-driven power steering was tuned for road feel and maneuvering in town; parking was easy with a compact 17.5-foot running radius. Interior noise was low, in part due to acoustic glass and the 17-inch alloy wheels shod with 215/55 Kumho Solus all-season tires. This combination offered low rolling resistance (for fuel economy) and helped reduce noise being transmitted to the cabin.
The previously mentioned regenerative braking system, with antilock brakes with four-wheel discs and brake assist provided straight stops without any nose dive.
But what is that other noise when driving under 20 miles per hour? The sci-fi whirring noise, might be the closest thing you will get on earth to being transported to the Mos Eisley Cantina. Heard when driving slowly, the Pedestrian Warning System consists of a speaker mounted behind the front bumper, generating a futuristic sound so pedestrians have an idea the Niro EV is close by. Without it, there is no sound coming from this all-electric crossover. By the look on people’s faces in parking lots and at street corners, the system works perfectly.
All-New Exterior: Introducing the Aero Blade
The 2023 Kia Niro EV has a new look with what Kia says is a “Joy for Reason” design philosophy. Okay. What we see is a longer wheelbase by 2.5 inches, which makes it look larger than its compact crossover ranking would suggest. The Niro EV comes in two trims–Wind and Wave–with the difference being added features on the Wave, which is the model we drove.
The nose has two grilles, a larger one in the lower fascia and a slit that runs between the LED head, daytime running and fog lights. Our test Niro EV was painted in Snow White Pearl ($395 option) and had the distinctive, and possibly controversial, painted C pillar or Aero Blade. This $195 option, only available on the Wave trim, was in contrasting gray that really popped against the bright white body. Gray paint also was added along the lower door sides, around the wheels and on the lower rear fascia under the power lift gate, framed by boomerang-shaped LED tail lights. The charge door is located on the front, which is far more convenient than when placed on either fender.
The side profile draws a nice line from the nose to the A pillars, leading to a gently sloping roof with rack rails, a shark fin antenna and an integrated spoiler over the rear hatch window. The only badging was a “KIA” on the nose, and a “NIRO” on the lower left corner of the lift gate. Other than the charge door on the nose, there is no indication this car was powered by electricity.
Clean, Simple, Eco-Friendly Interior
Climbing inside, the cabin will strike you as functional and not overly fancy, as opposed to fancy but confusing, which is an ideal combination. The interior, in a light gray, is eco-friendly and nicely put together with a combination of hard and soft recycled plastic materials and piano black surfaces. The heated, ventilated and power front seats were covered in bio-polyurethane perforated leather and made from eucalyptus leaves. The headliner is made from recycled newspaper, and paint is free from compounds that would increase its impact on the environment. The outbound rear seats were heated and were comfortable for two adults, three for short distances.
The increased wheelbase added to the interior size with Kia claiming best-in-class for second row leg room, passenger room and interior volume. The 22.8 cubic feet cargo capacity behind the rear seats grows to 63.7 cubic feet with the 60/40 rear seat folded flat, all accessed through the large hatch opening.
The low profile, no-nonsense dash houses the 10.25-inch color touchscreen with navigation and Kia’s Kia Connect. The Harman Kardon sound system, with four speakers and two tweeters, plays AM/FM/HD radio, Sirius/XM, and wired Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The vegan leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel had controls for audio, smartphone integration with Bluetooth, and the adaptive cruise control. The wireless phone charging, USB-A and C and a 12-volt outlets, and push button start/stop were convenient features, as were the head-up display and a rear view camera.
Kia has a clever design to go between the dual-zone climate and infotainment controls. On the narrow horizontal bar below the main touch screen, there are capacitive touch points for the temperature and fan, and then the radio controls, which include volume and channel knobs. This space saver had a short learning curve, quickly showing its benefits.
We like the road outlook, higher than a sedan with 5.9 inches of ground clearance, but not as high as an SUV. Even with the power sunroof, there is ample rear seat headroom for two six-footers. The rear passengers get a folding center armrest with cup holders and HVAC vents.
The Kia Niro EV also has Vehicle-to-Load (V2L) capability, where power can flow out of the battery and charge e-bikes, camping and outdoor equipment–or run your office while traveling. It can also be a home electricity source during a power outage. This demonstration is for the Kia EV6 EV, but it’s the same for the Niro EV.
Safety and Warranties
The Niro EV comes standard with Drive Wise, an extensive list of advanced driver safety assistance system (ADAS) features. They include front, seat-mounted side, driver’s knee and full-length side curtain airbags, forward emergency braking and collision warning, stability control, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, front and rear parking, vehicle stability management, traction control, hill start assist, tire pressure monitoring system, remote parking assist, engine immobilizer, lane departure warning and rear cross traffic detection.
The 2023 Kia Niro EV comes with these warranties:
- Powertrain – 10 years/100,000 miles
- Battery – 10 years/100,000 miles
- Basic – Five years/60,000 miles
- Roadside Assistance – Five years/60,000 miles
- Corrosion – 10 years/Unlimited miles
The 2023 Kia Niro EV comes in two trim levels with these base prices, including the mandatory $1,325 destination charge. The Niro EV does not qualify for Federal tax credits, but qualifies in some states for rebates and a HOV sticker. The Niro EV is sold in all 50 states.
Observations: 2023 Kia Niro EV
Practical and affordable. Peppy and comfortable. Silent and smooth.
Kia is all-in with vehicle electrification, and Clean Fleet Report is glad it is. We have reviewed and have been impressed with all the Kia hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles. The 2023 Niro EV is their least expensive electric vehicle.
The 2023 Kia Niro EV provides a gasoline-free option to go 253+ miles between recharging, and does it for an entry price of under $40,000. The Niro EV does not qualify for a Federal tax credit, but your state may have a rebate that will reduce the price.
These are the closest competitors to the Niro EV, based on their base price of under $40,000 but not including their destination charge, and their EPA all-electric driving range. We’ve linked to our most recent road tests.
Kia Niro EV
If you can get your head around never, ever buying gasoline again, then the 2023 Niro EV may be the car for you.
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Story by John Faulkner. Photos by John Faulkner and Kia.
Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
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