I have driven several different electric cars and SUVs over the last 12 years, and owned a few as well. My first electric car was a 2011 Nissan LEAF, and my current electric vehicles are a 2018 Tesla Model 3 and a 2022 Kia Sorento Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV). I also owned a 2017 Chevy Volt for about 4 years. Getting behind the wheel of the new Kia Niro EV was at once familiar (the interfaces being very similar to my Sorento PHEV) and a bit different (because it feels more like driving a peppy compact hatchback versus a lithe sports sedan, like my Tesla). Those feels are a good thing, on both accounts, because familiarity helps people feel comfortable and not everyone wants or needs to drive a sports car. The 2023 Kia Niro EV is just an all around excellent vehicle, that just happens to be electric. Here are my impressions from my first driving experience with the newest Kia EV.
All the acceleration you really need, and then some.
While the Niro EV isn’t going to win you bragging rights at the drag strip, it’s still able to get to 60 MPH in 6.5 seconds according to Motor Trend (which is .6 seconds faster than Kia advertises). That is slightly faster than the average compact car or wagon (which the Niro could easily pass as), and certainly fast enough for anyone that isn’t a speed junky. In fact it handily beats cars like the Honda Civic EX (which runs on gas of course) and the Nissan LEAF EV to 60, according to Car and Driver, so it’s certainly not a slouch. Handling wise the Niro has crisp steering, slight body lean on tight corners, reasonably cushy suspension, and a nice, chunky steering wheel that just feels good (though the center cross member conjures nostalgic thoughts of my best friend’s factory steering wheel from his 1985 VW Jetta and or other import cars from the era). Try switching this car into Sport mode if you want a more responsive driving experience, or are just feeling a little frisky. You’ll use a little more juice to scoot around, mind you (the range estimate dropped 10 miles as soon as I switched it to Sport from Eco). Even in Eco or Normal though, you can unleash the full power of the single electric motor if you push the go pedal down far enough. In Sport mode though, the ease of doing so is noticeable and feels as if the torque flows more freely.
Roomy and comfortable for tall folks
I’m a little over 6 feet tall, weigh about 195 pounds, and I found all seats in the Niro EV to be comfortable and spacious front and back (though sitting in the middle on the rear bench did mean a slight hump to contend with). Three of me could have sat side by side on the rear bench, comfortably enough for a short to medium length drive and leg room, even with the front seat moved back for my long legged self to drive, feels generous. It feels a class larger than it is.
Standard safety and entertainment features are great
While I love my gadgets and tech, and I would have most likely purchased the top of the line Wave version of the Niro EV if it were my car, I was impressed by how much comes standard on the Wind model of the Niro EV. All the safety features are there (and that’s excellent value), no matter the trim. The dual screens are fast and responsive (they seem faster and more responsive than the similar screens in my Sorento PHEV). Automatic wipers (something missing from my top of the line Sorento PHEV) are even a standard feature! Other journalists make something of a stink about the HVAC and stereo controls (Kia makes you toggle the same buttons to control different functions for each), I found it just takes a little practice and you quickly get used to them. Still, I understand why they might annoy some.
Range and charging speed are great (don’t let other reviewers fool you)
This is perhaps the single most important bit of my review, and if it is the only thing you remember about all the words I’ve spilled across your screen, you’ve done yourself a service. While this EV doesn’t fast charge as quickly as other, more expensive EVs, where it really matters (charging at home or on level 2, 240V stations) this EV is one of the faster charging EVs, period. Before you accuse me of buffoonery and a comical lack of perception, hear me out. Most driving that people are going to use this EV for will be on trips of less than its maximum range (253 miles). EV’s better designed for long road trips all cost more than the Niro. While the Niro has a maximum 85 kW charging rate on 480V fast chargers, it can charge at up to 11kW in your garage or at public 240V chargers one might use while running errands or enjoying a meal. That is faster than some other EVs can charge on 240V, especially among the lowest priced and base model EVs, and works out to about 40 miles or so of range per hour of charging at a sustained 11 kW rate. This means, in day to day use, you will be able to more quickly recharge your Niro EV compared to many alternatives (especially useful if perhaps you have a long commute to work and ability to charge once you get there or good, inexpensive public 240V charging). When you need to drive a lot around where you live, say shuttling family and friends all day long, a stop for lunch or a couple of hours at home gives you enough range to drive around 40-80 more miles. Of course 480V charging is faster still, but that will usually cost more and only be necessary if you are driving 250-300 miles or more in a day.
Stay tuned for a follow up piece on my experience with the Niro EV. Please leave any questions or comments you have below.
Images courtesy of Justin Hart.
Justin Hart has owned and driven electric vehicles for over 15 years, including a first generation Nissan LEAF, second generation Chevy Volt, Tesla Model 3, an electric bicycle and most recently a Kia Sorento PHEV. He is also an avid SUP rider, poet, photographer and wine lover. He enjoys taking long EV and PHEV road trips to beautiful and serene places with the people he loves. Follow Justin on Twitter for daily KIA EV news coverage.