LEUCADIA, Calif.—The Kia Niro isn’t a flashy car. It doesn’t have a weird origin story like its stablemate, “the boar with a backpack.” There are no sporty pretensions, nor designs on exploring Moab off the grid. Instead, it’s just been an affordable family crossover, quietly going about its way as efficiently as possible, with hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric vehicle versions.
The Niro fills the lower end of Kia’s electrified offerings in the US, and for model year 2023, there’s a new second-generation Niro that’s on sale. As before, there are hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and BEV versions available, and they’ve actually even gotten a little cheaper, at least once you account for four years of inflation.
Kia’s design team always gives its work interesting names, and the Niro’s design philosophy is called “Joy for Reason.” But if you didn’t find the first Niro offensive, you’re unlikely to do so with the new one. Perhaps the most notable feature is the contrasting section that runs behind the rear door along the D pillar. It’s not just there for looks—it’s a functional aeroblade that controls airflow at the rear of the car to minimize drag and increase efficiency, and it can be body-colored should you prefer.
Inevitably, the Niro has grown a little. But not a lot—about two and a half inches longer at 174 inches (4,420 mm) from nose to tail and about half an inch wider at 71.8 inches (1,824 mm). The wheelbase is also stretched slightly to 107.1 inches (2,720 mm) The crossover’s height is unchanged at 60.8 inches (1,544 mm).
The Niro Hybrid
The cheapest Niro is the one with the smallest battery—the ‘regular’ hybrid version. This starts at $26,490 for the Niro LX, but you can spend as much as $34,790 on a Niro SX Touring with all the bells and whistles.
The Niro hybrid is powered by a 1.6 L, four-cylinder direct injection gasoline engine that generates 104 hp (77 kW) and 106 lb-ft (144 Nm), which works together with a 43 hp (32 kW), 125 lb-ft (170 Nm) permanent magnet electric motor, which is fed by a 1.3 kWh lithium-ion polymer traction battery. Together, they combine to give the Niro hybrid a total of 139 hp (104 kW) and 195 lb-ft (265 Nm) on the road, via a six-speed dual clutch transmission that drives the front wheels.
When fitted with the smallest wheels—in this case, 16-inch items—the Niro hybrid is at its most efficient, achieving an EPA rating of 53 mpg (4.44 L/100km), which makes it one of the most efficient non-plug-in cars from any automaker. Opt for the Touring package, which increases the wheel size to 18 inches, and that dips to 49 mpg (4.8 L/100 km), an easy demonstration of the effect that larger wheels have on drag and efficiency.
It’s even able to detect the presence of things like residential areas, school zones, and hospitals (via its GPS data) and will switch to EV mode at low speed to minimize the amount of air pollution it emits around potentially vulnerable people.
The Niro PHEV
Kia has simplified the plug-in hybrid Niro offerings for 2023, dropping the more minimalist LX so you can pick from either the Niro PHEV EX ($33,740) or the Niro PHEV SX Touring ($39,490). The most notable specification change to the new Niro PHEV is a slightly greater traction battery capacity—now up 2.2 kWh to 11.1 kWh. That equates to an all-electric range of 33 miles (53 km), a 25 percent bump on the old car.
Under the Niro PHEV’s hood is the same 1.6 L GDI engine and six-speed transmission as the hybrid, but the electric motor is nearly twice as powerful, bringing 84 hp (62 kW) and 150 lb-ft (203 Nm) to the show, bringing overall power output to 180 hp (134 kW)—overall torque remains the same as in the Niro hybrid.
Charging time for the 11.1 kWh battery is about three hours on a level 2 charger, and Kia quotes 108 mpge (3.2 miles/kWh or 19.4 kWh/100 km).