2022 Kia Niro EV Prototype Review

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2022 Kia Niro electric prototype 1

We get behind the wheel of a pre-production prototype version of the new Kia Niro EV before it arrives in Australia.

The Kia Niro has been a key ‘transitional model’ for the Korean brand – a vehicle sold as a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid and a pure EV, and thus one that has appealed to customers at various stages of the journey to electrification.

But now, with increasing numbers of bespoke EVs on the market (not least Kia’s own excellent EV6), it’s time for an all-new Niro. The core principles remain; this is a car with a choice of powertrains, including two that feature combustion engines (a hybrid and a PHEV, the latter of which won’t launch in Australia). But it gets an all-new platform, increased levels of in-car tech and a little more space in a bid to make it even more of an all-round proposition.

2022 Kia Niro electric prototype 6

Regardless of powertrain, this Niro is the first Kia to sit on the latest generation of the company’s ‘K’ platform. It grows slightly overall, to 4420mm long, with a couple of extra centimetres in the wheelbase, which is now 2720mm. The growth spurt isn’t going to be quite enough to overcome the fact that the Niro EV remains wedded to a platform that also has to accommodate combustion engines, though; it remains longer overall than VW’s ID.3, which sists on the EV-only MEB architecture, but the gap between the front and rear axles on the Kia – key for cabin space – is more than five centimetres shorter.

The overall look is clearly an evolution of what’s gone before, but the front end has been tidied up and at the rear, there’s a novel C-pillar that actually sits slightly proud of the main bodyshell and helps to channel air along the flanks. It can come in a contrasting colour, so expect Kia to play around with this on special editions and personalised versions as time goes on.

2022 Kia Niro electric prototype 4

The Niro EV has a single front-mounted motor producing 148kW and 255Nm of torque, so it’s the punchiest model overall, with a 0-100km/h time of 7.8 seconds. The battery’s usable capacity is 64.8kWh, and Kia claims average energy consumption of 6.1km per kWh, which should give you 400km of range (the official claimed figure is 460km). The car can recharge at up to 80kW, taking its battery level from 10 to 80 per cent in 45 minutes – and if you select a charging station as a navigation destination, it’ll pre-heat the battery en route to make sure you can get the fastest possible refill rate.

Kia offers the same trim structure across all three Niro powertrains – but it’s worth remembering that the EV gets a couple of nice extras even in the entry-level ‘2’ specification. (Australian specifications and pricing are yet to be announced.) As with the Hybrid and PHEV, it comes with LED headlights, rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera, and an eight-inch infotainment system that incorporates Android and Apple integration. But notably, the EV gets 17-inch wheels instead of 16-inchers, and a 10.25-inch fully digital instrument panel replaces the other versions’ conventional dials.

Step up to ‘3’ and spec includes faux-leather upholstery, front parking sensors, 18-inch wheels, heated front seats and steering wheel, and keyless go. You also get a three-pin socket where you can plug in external appliances like a laptop or a small fridge.

2022 Kia Niro electric prototype 3

The range-topping Niro EV ‘4’ ramps up the infotainment screen to 10.25 inches and also includes heating on the rear seats, ventilation on the front seats, an upgraded Harman Kardon sound system, a head-up display and vegan leather upholstery. The Niro’s contrasting C-pillar ‘blade’ is only available on this version in Europe where we’ve had this prototype drive.

On the road the Niro makes a very solid case for itself – without ever delivering much sparkle or delight. The instant torque of the electric motor delivers enough shove, even with a modest 148kW in a car weighing almost a tonne and three quarters. Harsh throttle inputs on anything other than dry tarmac will have the front wheels scrabbling for grip – but adopt a sensible approach and the Niro EV is plenty quick enough to nip through traffic in town, and get up to speed on motorways.

2022 Kia Niro electric prototype 2

As with the old e-Niro, you can adjust the brake recuperation settings with paddles behind the steering wheel – and the most extreme configuration will bring the car to a halt naturally, allowing you to drive using just the right-hand pedal around town if you think far enough ahead at traffic lights and junctions. Should you need to use the brakes, the modulation is an improvement on the previous generation car, but the transition between recuperation and discs and pads still takes a little getting used to. You’ll be able to make smooth enough progress, in time.

Kia’s chassis engineers have clearly been given the brief of ensuring that the Niro EV doesn’t roll excessively, and you can feel how firm the basic set-up is as soon as you pull away from rest. It could risk becoming unsettled at low speeds – so we’re keen to try an example on 18-inch wheels on local roads – but once you’re up and running it does a decent job of isolating you from road imperfections, while keeping up with direct steering.

There’s no great involvement to be had here, but even with a surprisingly high driving position (for all its crossover looks, the EV gubbins beneath delivers an SUV-like seating configuration), the Niro is a car you can lean on. With decent body control and Sport mode selected for improved throttle response, you could even call it swift.

Refinement is solid enough, with wind noise and electric motor whine both nicely suppressed. And while there is a bit of transference through the chassis from the road beneath, any tyre rumble is less noticeable than it was on the e-Niro.

Our pre-production prototype still had a few bits of interior trim made from more coarsely grained plastics, so we’ll hold fire on a judgement on cabin quality just yet. But regardless, the in-car technology will look familiar to anyone who’s driven a current Sorento or the latest Sportage – or, indeed, the EV6. That’s to say that you get crisp, clear displays with a solid user interface and quick response times.

2022 Kia Niro electric prototype 5

It’s good to see that key features such as the heating and ventilation still get their own buttons, although they are contained in a touch-sensitive panel that can be switched to control the audio instead. It’s a novel feature that should work well – as long as you don’t constantly need to change tracks and the cabin temperature.

The boot, meanwhile, measures 475 litres – comfortably eclipsing what’s on offer in a conventional VW Golf – and this expands to 1392 litres with the second row of seats folded down. There’s also a shallow 20-litre front boot that should be handy for keeping wet charging cables separate from your shopping. It’s a pity that you have to access it via the normal bonnet release, mind; reaching down to the edge of the footwell feels like a definite carryover from combustion-engined vehicles.

We’re not sure the sweet spot of the Kia Niro EV range will be this range-topper; its price could put it perilously close to where the larger and altogether more capable EV6 begins if European pricing is any indication. But the basic package here is strong, with typically impressive in-car technology, a little more practicality than the old e-Niro and solid, safe driving dynamics.

Model: Kia Niro
Price: TBA
Powertrain: 64.8kWh batt./1x e-motor
Power/torque: 148kW/255Nm
Transmission: Single-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
0-100km/h: 7.8 seconds
Top speed: 160km/h
Range: 460km
Charging: 80kW (10-80% 45mins)
On sale: Q2 2022 (Australia)

 

John McIlroy

Final Verdict:

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