New 2022 Kia Niro electric and hybrid prototype review
Do relatively unchanged powertrains hold back the second-generation version of Kia’s family SUV?
- Attractive new styling
- Bigger and more practical inside
- Major improvements to on-board tech
- Power and performance unchanged
- Still pretty unexciting to drive
- Efficiency not class-leading
A lot has changed, but some things have stayed the same, when it comes to the second-generation Kia Niro family SUV. There’s been a big refresh inside and out, but like its predecessor, the 2022 incarnation of the Niro will offer a choice of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric power. Prices have been confirmed, all three will be in UK showrooms soon – and we’ve now had the opportunity to drive the hybrid and fully electric versions of the car in pre-production prototype form.
What was known as the e-Niro is renamed the Niro EV for this generation, and Kia expects the fully electric model to account for over 50% of sales in the UK. The Niro Hybrid is anticipated to be second in the sales charts, while the Niro PHEV – which sees its power boosted to 180bhp and electric range increased to 40 miles for this generation – should only make up around 10% of sales in total.
All three sit on the same platform and the Niro’s overall length and wheelbase have both grown slightly compared to the outgoing model. From a practicality standpoint, the Niro EV will remain more compromised than the more expensive Kia EV6, as the latter car sits on a platform intended solely for zero-emissions cars, with no need to allow for a combustion engine.
Styling changes are evolutionary rather than revolutionary, but there’s now a tidier look to the Niro’s front end, as well as distinctive looking C-pillars that sit slightly proud of the main bodywork to aid the car’s aerodynamics, and can be specified in contrasting colours to the rest of the car.
New 2022 Kia Niro EV prototype
The new Niro EV is no more powerful than the 64kWh battery version of the outgoing e-Niro, with an output of 201bhp and a slightly slower 0-62mph time of 7.8 seconds (versus 7.5 for the old car). Battery capacity hasn’t gone up, either, but slight efficiency improvements see the claimed maximum range figure go from 282 to 286 miles; around 250 is a likely figure for real-world driving.
Maximum charging speed has been increased, but not by much, going from 50kW in the old car to 80kW here. That’s some way off the 100 or 150kW that’s becoming commonplace on new EVs these days, but still sufficient for a 10 to 80% top-up in around 45 minutes. If you programme the sat-nav to take you to a charger, the car will pre-warm the battery as you approach to ensure the best possible charging speed.
Across its three available powertrains, the new Niro will be offered in 2, 3 and 4 trim levels – although the electric version gets a few extra goodies even in entry-level 2 form. As with the Hybrid and PHEV, there are LED headlights, rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera and an eight-inch infotainment system with Android and Apple connectivity. But for a fiver under £35,000, the EV in 2 spec gets 17 instead of 16-inch alloy wheels, and a 10.25-inch fully digital instrument panel replaces the other versions’ conventional dials.
The next step, 3, takes the price close to £38,000 and adds faux-leather, front parking sensors, 18-inch wheels, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, plus keyless entry and start. It also adds ‘Vehicle-to-Device’ capability, so you can power small devices like a laptop or portable fridge from the car’s battery.
The range-topping 4 pushes through the £40,000 barrier, increases the infotainment screen size to 10.25 inches and adds heating for the rear seats, ventilation for the front seats, an upgraded Harman Kardon sound system, a head-up display and vegan leather upholstery. This is also where the option (for £150) to have the C-pillar ‘blade’ in a different colour to the rest of the car becomes available.
To drive, not much has changed between the e-Niro and Niro EV. It’s a solid and sensible thing to steer, but won’t ever excite or delight you. The standard electric-car torque shove the instant you press the accelerator is present and correct, and like the old car, it’s more than capable of spinning the front wheels if you stamp hard on the throttle. But driving like that isn’t what the Niro is about. If you take it easier, it’s a swift and smooth companion in urban, suburban or motorway traffic.
There are sufficient regenerative braking modes to allow for single-pedal driving if that’s your thing, while the actual friction brakes are easier to modulate than the old car’s. The transition from regen to friction braking as you slow down still takes some getting used to before you can pull it off smoothly.
Ride quality is on the firm side of comfortable, so we’ll have to retain final judgement until we’ve driven the car on UK roads, but it’s pliant enough once you’re up to speed and deals well with the slightly over-assisted steering. That means the Niro does a fairly good job of threading down a country road fluidly, especially in Sport mode, even if it would be a stretch to call it involving. Refinement is decent, with electric-motor and wind noise kept at bay, while there’s less tyre roar noticeable than there was in the e-Niro.
From behind the wheel, the Niro has been brought up to date with the Sportage and EV6 in terms of dash design and in-car technology. It’s good to see key features, like heating and ventilation, still get their own buttons, although they’re contained in a touch-sensitive panel that can be switched to control the audio. It should work well – as long as you don’t constantly need to change tracks and the cabin temperature.
Compared to the e-Niro, boot space is up from 451 to 475 litres with seats in place, although the figure when they’re folded has actually decreased slightly, from 1,405 to 1,392 litres, but you’re unlikely to notice in the real world. There’s also a 20-litre ‘frunk’ that’ll be useful for keeping wet cables separate from your shopping.
New 2022 Kia Niro Hybrid prototype
The new hybrid Niro gets a 1.6-litre petrol engine and electric motor combination, together putting out identical 139bhp and 265Nm power and torque figures as the outgoing model. The 0-62mph time is unchanged, too, at 11.1 seconds – and as before the Niro Hybrid doesn’t like being hustled, with the six-speed gearbox kicking down sharply if you floor the accelerator, sending engine revs skyward.
The car feels better if you work with rather than against it, accelerating gently and lifting off in plenty of time for traffic lights and bends, allowing the strong regenerative braking to scrub off speed and replenish the small 1.32kWh battery in the process. Indeed, if you select the strongest ‘Max’ setting, you can pretty much do all your driving without even brushing the brake pedal, once you’ve perfected judging when to back off.
A gentler approach suits the Niro’s chassis and suspension, too, as it’ll roll quite noticeably if you try to attack corners like a rally driver. The upside is cushioned progress over the frequent lumps and bumps encountered by UK drivers, while despite the fact that its platform has been lengthened compared to the old car, the new Niro still feels relatively compact from behind the wheel.
That length increase is most evident inside, where there’s been a big improvement in passenger space. A slimmer front seat design has liberated more legroom for back-seat occupants, too, almost eliminating the claustrophobic feel adult passengers had to endure in the old Niro. And in addition to a straightforward increase in space, the new model also boasts clever touches such as a foldable parcel shelf that takes up less space when not being used. Boot space has increased from 382 to 451 litres.
A lack of progress on the powertrain front may disappoint some, but the existing Niro is a strong performer in this area, and updates elsewhere to the styling, practicality and technology should far enough to keep it on terms with hybrid, plug-in and fully electric rivals. We’re not sure whether the expensive range-topping versions are the sweet spots of the line-up; with the Niro EV in particular, the 4 gets perilously close to the price of the overall more impressive Kia EV6. But in less lavish spec, the Niro should continue to be a strong choice for efficient family or company motoring at a good-value price, whichever power source you go with.