Legacy car makers are investing billions into the electric car market, and the industry is booming. Whether you should go full EV or hybrid (HEV) is the million dollar question though. To help you decide, we drove the entry-spec 2023 Kia Niro EV and HEV S.
The last generation Niro left a little to be desired in the style department. It was inoffensive but far from interesting, unlike this new model. It does away with Kia’s signature “tiger nose” grille, has better proportions, and the headlights give it a unique look.
If you opt for two-tone paint, the C-pillar will be finished in a contrasting colour, giving off Audi R8 vibes and further enhancing the Niro’s unique look. Despite being nearly identical in size to the Seltos too, it’s more baby wagon than SUV, thanks to its lower ride height.
The more important distinction is that the Seltos is not available with a hybrid or electric powertrain, and that’s where the Niro steps in. The HEV S is fitted with 16-inch alloys as standard, whilst the ‘baller’ 18-inch rims are exclusively reserved for the GT-Line.
The EV model is available with 17-inch alloys regardless of which trim you choose. We got to experience both Interstellar Grey (EV) and Aurora Black Pearl (HEV), which are both sensible exterior finishes. That said, Cityscape Green is our pick of the palette.
In typical Kia fashion, the Niro is generous when it comes to standard equipment. For instance, both vehicles are fitted with electric wing mirrors and sleek LED daytime running lights, along with halogen headlights.
If you want full LED on those, you’ll need to step up to the GT-Line. It’s not a dealbreaker, but we’d much rather have a set of decent headlights, instead of gizmos and wizardry. Getting inside is easy, and there’s a range of seating positions too.
The déjà vu kicked in when we realised the interior is a watered-down photocopy of the Kia EV6 Air; it’s a spacious and ergonomic place to spend time during the morning commute. The seats in both variants are trimmed in charcoal cloth and artificial leather.
The latter verges on the edge of disappointing for a car that is priced at over $60,000. The cabin materials and build quality are decent all around, with the only real nit pick being the fingerprint-prone piano black trim around the centre console.
At the heart of the interior, you will find a responsive 8.0-inch infotainment screen, but we’re not the biggest fans of touch-sensitive shortcut buttons that lack haptic feedback. It’s in the gauge cluster that we find our first difference between the HEV and EV.
The hybrid version is relatively basic and easy to configure, while the EV features a larger, crisp 10.25-inch digital display. Bizarrely, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are only available in the HEV and EV S, meaning that GT-Line buyers are stuck with wired systems.
Most passengers will appreciate the standard 6-speaker sound system, but audiophiles will thirst for the 8-speaker Harman Kardon system with a subwoofer. Sadly, that is exclusive to the EV GT-Line.
We could discuss the differences between the two trim levels all day. All you need to know is that the GT-Line is worth the circa $7,000 if you want plush, ventilated seats, a bigger screen, and other tech goodies, including wireless charging and 64-colour ambient lighting.
Back to the base models tested here though, and the rear seats are generous in terms of head and legroom, meaning folks over 180cm should be comfortable on longer journeys. It’s a child-friendly car too, with three top tether anchors and two ISOFIX positions.
Boot space is sufficient in the HEV at 425-litres, but it’s generous in the EV at 475-litres. Safety remains a priority for both vehicles, as reflected by the 5-star ANCAP rating and arsenal of safety gadgets.
To name a few items, the Niro is fitted with autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist, blind spot detection and a rear-view camera. On the tarmac, both cars are well-sorted in the steering department, offering adequate feedback for everyday driving.
While it’s no pothole conqueror, the Niro offers a good ride around town and minimal road noise on the freeway. Both vehicles are brilliant city cruisers, but the EV S takes the cake when it comes to the overall driving experience; hear us out as to why.
The HEV S is powered by a 1.6-litre engine mated to a single electric motor, delivering a combined 104kW of power and 265Nm of torque to the front wheels. Respectable figures sure, but the 1.4-tonne tare mass means that 0-100km/h is beyond 10 seconds.
It feels it at low speeds too. Conversely, the EV S offers a beefier 150kW of power but lesser 255Nm of torque in a fatter, 1.7-tonne package. The power alone drops the acceleration figure to under 8.0 seconds.
While that may not sound significant, the instant torque from the electric motors packs a predictable punch. As with most EVs, there is ‘one-pedal driving’ and regenerative braking, which is configurable using the paddles behind the steering wheel.
It’s not exactly what we’d call intuitive but it does work well enough. In the case of the hybrid, you can also run in EV power alone, a feat that’s particularly impressive for low-speed manoeuvres around a carpark.
It’s worth noting that the transition from electric to hybrid power is slick too. It’s not as smooth as a 53-line Mercedes-AMG, but it’s perfect at this price point. As for efficiency, we achieved a smidge over the HEV S’ claimed 4.0-litres/100km.
It’s a similar story with the EV S’ claimed 162Wh/km consumption, and while that figure may not be of particular use, you will be pleased to know that the 460km pure electric range is rather accurate.
Unlike some manufacturers, we find that Kia tend to conservatively state their EV range and efficiency figures. Charging times depend on a range of factors, including the cable type and available wattage.
For instance, a 350kW DC fast charger will juice the car from 10-80 per cent in a claimed 43 minutes, but a 7kW AC EVSE Charger requires more than nine hours. Leaving the vehicle to charge overnight in the garage seems to be the way to go.
When it comes to pricing, the entry-level, Niro HEV S kicks off at $44,380 before on-road costs, which is virtually the same as a range-topping Kia Seltos GT-Line AWD, with all the bells and whistles.
It’s not a smaller car either since the Seltos and Niro are almost identical in terms of physical dimensions and cargo space. The Niro commands a premium for Kia’s new, space-age interior layout and hybrid technology.
Meanwhile, the EV S will set you back an eye watering $65,300, placing it in the firing line of Kia’s own EV6 Air, which offers a more exciting drive and exterior package. For similar money, you could even buy a Sorento GT-Line, which is a luxurious seven-seater.
Regardless of which car you choose, Kia will throw in their impressive 7-year unlimited kilometre warranty. The 2023 Kia Niro HEV S and EV S are excellent vehicles for young families and the urban commuter.
They’re efficient, easy to drive, and packed to the brim with safety equipment. The EV S offers a more stimulating drive and better interior, but it’s not enough to justify a $20,000 premium.
While it’s not the most competitively priced Kia on the market, the 2023 Niro HEV S is a sensible pick for a compact, hybrid SUV. You can find out more about both variants on the Kia Australia website – which has separate pages for the HEV and EV.
If you’re keen on one, and need finance, talk to CreditOne.
Our test vehicles were provided by Kia Australia. To find out more about the 2023 Kia Niro EV and HEV S, contact your local Kia dealer.