Expert Reviews

2023 Kia Niro First Drive Review

The times, they are a-changing at Kia. Beyond the extensive re-branding exercise last year, the Korean car company has made significant strides in the past few years to reinvent itself, and it goes far deeper than just a new logo. The stylish lineup of models continues to offer good content for the dollar, but the company’s focus on electrification has helped put Kia on the radar of many more buyers who might have otherwise shopped elsewhere.

The redesigned 2023 Kia Niro should serve to bolster these recent successes, offering a trio of powertrains, each one electrified.

The Niro Three Different Ways

The Niro lineup starts with the hybrid, powered by a 1.6L four-cylinder gas engine and bolstered by a modest 32-kW motor for a combined 139 hp and 195 lb-ft. From there, a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version utilizes the same engine but gets a more powerful 83-kW motor and a larger battery pack, enabling up to 55 km of all-electric driving. Combined horsepower jumps to 180 hp, while torque remains at 195 lb-ft. Both models use a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

At the top of the model range is the Niro EV, an all-electric version deriving its power from a 64.8-kWh battery pack to a single front motor producing 201 hp and 188 lb-ft of torque; and, like the other two Niros, the EV is only available with front-wheel drive. Offering each a hybrid, PHEV, and electric in a single model is unique in the Canadian landscape.

Driving Impressions

Curiously, not only is the new Niro EV’s torque figure lower than the two hybrid models but it’s down compared to the previous Niro EV, too. Nevertheless, in sport mode the instant torque typical of electrified cars does offer some urgency to the Niro EV’s acceleration; while both normal and eco modes soften the responsiveness notably. It’s a quick-ish car if not sporty, but there’s still ample motivation to get up to highway speeds with relative ease, and enough power available for passing.

Our drive time was divided between EV and hybrid versions, and while its lighter mass and modest torque advantage mean the HEV feels about as lively around town as the EV, at speed, its horsepower deficit will mean drivers should plan their passing manoeuvres with a bit more room.

The hybrid transitions between electric and gas modes with impressive seamlessness, and although dual-clutch transmissions offer quick shifts, they can sometimes be harsh in their gear changes; not so here. Braking, too, is competent and in the EV, one-pedal driving with the regenerative braking turned up works very smoothly, helping to add to the car’s efficiency.

The Niro’s suspension was a pleasant surprise, soaking up most of the bumps we encountered with ease, even when my drive partner and I ventured down a rather remote detour that more closely resembled an ox path than an actual road. Even still, the nastiest of potholes sent their wallop through the cabin, revealing the limitations of the suspension.

Back on course, the drive route also included some fantastic winding roads through the mountains northeast of San Diego. While the smooth California pavement can mask handling deficiencies, the Niro kept its composure when driven spiritedly, without the sort of wallowing often associated with affordable sport utility vehicles. With winter reaching most parts of Canada now, the lack of all-wheel drive across the Niro lineup might be offputting for some drivers.


Of course, the Niro isn’t meant to be a sports car, it’s a practical daily driver that offers great efficiency, no matter which drivetrain is selected. The drive route offered some highway and some urban traffic, but mostly beautiful winding roads that enthusiasts adore, creating the sort of scenario that isn’t likely to afford optimal efficiency, especially under the heavy feet of automotive journalists. Despite this, and little effort to conserve fuel during our energetic drive, our hybrid showed an average consumption rate of 4.5 L/100 km, which is exactly what the official combined rate is for the car. The PHEV uses less than half that with a combined rate of 2.1 Le /100 km, or 4.8 L/100 km for the gasoline engine only. The PHEV can recharge its depleted battery within 2 hours and 45 minutes on a Level 2 charger.

The EV earns the same 2.1 Le/100 km and can achieve a range of 407 km, which is quite good among the more affordable EVs out there. The Niro EV does fall short in terms of recharge times with a Level 2 juice-up from 10 to 100 per cent requiring more than nine hours on a 7-kW system or six hours on an 11-kW system. At a high-speed Level 3 charger, the relatively small battery pack is limited in its charge speeds to prevent overheating, meaning at best, a 10 to 80 per cent recharge will take almost 45 minutes.

Stylish Inside and Out

Closely based on the funky Habaniro concept from 2019, the new Niro’s exterior design has become far edgier than the last generation. The front end, particularly with the bold headlight design accented by LED bars aligns with other new Kia models like the bigger Sportage. But the dramatic air blade down the C-pillar gives the Niro its own identity, especially when painted a contrasting colour from the rest of the car.

The EV version gets subtly distinctive elements like a different grille pattern, unique wheels, and lower fascia, but it’ll take a keen eye to spot most of it.

Inside, the design is similarly contemporary with dramatically swept lines falling from the dash and bisecting the doors, and highlighted by the dual-screen digital displays for the infotainment system and gauges.

While the overall aesthetic may look upscale, many of the surfaces are hard plastic that’s chintzy to the touch and reminds occupants that this is one of Kia’s more affordable SUV models.

Good Value

Starting at just under $30,000, the hybrid offers some key features for the money including an impressive suite of driver aids like blind spot alert and both front and rear collision mitigation, plus Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. However, more buyers are likely to opt for the $31,995 EX trim that adds synthetic leather seats, adaptive cruise control, heated steering wheel, and the larger 10.25-inch infotainment system with onboard navigation. The top trim SX provides heated and cooled front seats, rear heated seats, a premium sound system, 18-inch wheels and even a phone-as-a-key smart system.

The EV has three trims starting at $44,995 and climbing to $52,995 with all the tech features loaded in. In provinces like B.C. and Quebec, hefty incentives for electric vehicles will make the Niro’s full electric machines a very compelling value, and understandable why Kia is expecting 70 per cent of Niro sales to be the EV models. Still, at $53,000 for the Limited trim, EV shoppers will need to consider if they want the larger (and faster-charging) Kia EV6 for only a few grand more.

At $37,995, the PHEV comes only in a mid-pack EX trim but could represent a Goldilocks offering in the lineup for those looking to dip a toe into the electrified car world for the first time, and due to its attractive pricing, especially with federal rebates applied.

2023 Kia Niro Pricing

Basic Complete Vehicle Warranty Terms
Model Trim MSRP

HEV (Hybrid)





EX Premium




PHEV (Plug-In Hybrid)



EV (Electric Vehicle)







At Dealerships Soon

With a very comprehensive lineup of SUVs, bold, but attractive styling, and impressive feature lists, it’s unsurprising that Kia’s star is on the rise with Canadian consumers, and the Niro lineup should help further that ascent. All Niro models are produced in Korea, with dealerships now taking orders and units expected to reach Canadian showrooms within the first quarter of 2023.