The faux upper grille may suggest this is a car with a combustion engine but the absence of exhaust tips and the presence of a front charging flap give it away as an electric SUV.
The Niro has been around since 2016. Now in its second generation, it debuted in Malaysia in July 2023 in purely electric form, known simply as Niro EV (electric vehicle).
The C-segment SUV is also sold elsewhere in parallel hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions.
Its local arrival comes a year after the EV6 SUV. While the Niro looks like a regular SUV, the bigger and pricier EV6 sports a more radical and futuristic look and packing superior performance as befits a higher tier EV.
As an entry-level Kia EV, the Niro is spiffed up with a unique set of LED projector healights whose daytime running light contours are said to emulate a heartbeat.
Plenty of black plastic cladding on wheel arches and on the sides of the car combine to give it that rugged SUV veneer.
Dual-tone 17-inch wheels add to that Niro EV aesthetics and they are aerodynamically designed to optimise range. A narrow gap in the taillights on the so-called Aero C-pillar is said to smoothen air flow and aids aerodynamics.
Along with an active air flap in the lower front grille, the Niro EV delivers a competitive 0.29 drag co-efficient (Cd).
The LED combination tail lamps are shaped like boomerangs, which lend a trendy appearance to the derriere.
Available in a choice of green, white or blue exterior, the C-pillar comes specified in a contrast colour. The test unit’s Cityscape Green with black colour band proves to be a winsome match.
When it comes to charging port position, there’s no universal standard.
Depending on manufacturers and models, it can be rear left or right or centre front as in the case of the Niro EV - which is optimal for quick entry and exit from the typical charging bay.
Backing into the bay for cars with rear ports is always slower - unless you are Russ Swift.
And as more EVs hit the road, more of them will be jostling to top up at public chargers.
So brownie points to Kia for making the charging process quicker and easier.
Typical of generational changes, the compact EV is now bigger than its predecessor.
The dash is a sweet-looking design with dual 10.25-inch screens for the instrument cluster and infotainment touchscreen, and the layout is what one would expect in electric cars today.
There’s a touch bar below the centre screen that toggles between infotainment and the airconditioner, and helped maintained the minimalist look of the dash.
A family of four in this five-seater should find the cabin highly agreeable in terms of space and comfort. Leatherette seats provide enough support and a flat floor opens up a bit more space.
The front passenger seat is a special Relaxion seat that can recline way back like a lounge chair at the press of a button. It’s useful if driver or a passenger wishes to get a shuteye while waiting the usual 30 mins to an hour to “juice up” at a charging station.
A retractable sunroof lets in air and light, while ambient lighting, available in a choice of 64 colours, adds a decorative flourish to the dash.
Kia emphasises practicality in this carriage with cubby holes in all doors and centre console. USB-C ports are affixed to the sides of the front seats, while the slim headrests also act as jacket/bag hangers.
The infotainment supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and smartphone wireless charging is added as enticement.
The glossy black plastic covers around the centre console buttons and knob and on the steering wheel switchgear tend to show up dust and fingerprints so that’s objectionable.
It’s common for EV makers to boast that some parts of their cars are made of recycled materials to buff up their eco score. Kia is no different.
It says the headliner is created out of recycled wallpaper, and the seats are made from bio polyurethane with Tencel from eucalyptus leaves. In addition, BTX-free paint is used on its door panels to minimise environmental impact and reduce waste.
Boot space is a good-sized 475 litres and can be enlarged to 1,392 litres with rear seats folded down. An underfloor storage space is provided as well.
Like the EV6 and Hyundai Ioniq 5, a 20-litre frunk is present to store the vehicle’s charging cable and Vehicle-to-Load (V2L) adapter as its location is close to its charging port. A 3-pin plug point in the back seats offers more option to charge external devices or accessories.
As with many EVs, the Niro EV doesn’t have a spare tyre to lighten up the car and maximise range. A tyre repair kit is included.
Safety equipment is par for the course.
Among the items are seven airbags, anti-lock braking system, electronic brake-force distribution, safe exit assist, hill-start assist, traction control , Isofix child restraint anchor points and rear occupant alert.
Advanced driver assistance systems include high beam assist, blind-spot collision-avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic collision assist, lane keeping assist, driver attention warning and forward collision-avoidance assist with junction turning, lane following assist and adaptive cruise control.
On the go
Powered by a 64.8kWh Li-ion battery and a 150kW (201hp/255Nm) motor with DC fast-charging compatibility as standard, the front-wheel driven Niro is rated at a WLTP range of 460km.
It has a top speed of 167kph and a 0-100kph sprint in 7.8s.
When connected to a fast charger, the Niro can charge from 10% to 80% state of charge in 43 minutes, at a maximum charging speed of 85kW. AC charging at 7kW and 11kW from 10%-100% will take over nine hours and over six hours respectively.
The driver has a good view all around and he can find an optimum seating position with a steering wheel that can be adjusted for rack and reach.
On the move, the driving dynamics of the Niro EV marked it out as a car with a responsible attitude baked in.
The steering is light and well-judged and the motor is responsive and quick enough but won’t win any prizes for lap times.
A drive mode button lets the driver cycle through three modes though it’s rather awkwardly placed on the steering wheel. The Niro EV comes with paddle shifters to adjust regenerative braking levels.
One-pedal driving is easy and predictable and you rarely need to press the brake pedal as the braking force is brisk and smooth without any lurching motion when lifting off the go pedal.
As the suspension is tuned for a comfort ride, it is compliant over most road surfaces save for bigger bumps that can cause harshness to slip through.
The Continental Eco Contact 6 tyres are quiet and noise at high speed is not intrusive but a distant hum.
The Niro EV has generally good body control but it tends to dive or squat a tad when coming off the throttle or accelerating.
For the most part, the Niro EV shows itself to be a small family electric car that’s comfortable and undemanding to drive.
The Niro EV is an attractive electric SUV. It is easy to handle and drive, offers enough practical space that any small family would enjoy and is competent in both urban and highway settings.
It comes with a five-year, 150,000-km manufacturer warranty as well as an eight-year, 160,000-km battery warranty.
While all these features are praiseworthy, the Niro EV is not exceptional enough to command its asking price. The fact it’s fully imported results in the car selling for RM256,668 (on-the-road without insurance).
This means it’s priced to a point where potential buyers will start looking elsewhere at more premium electric cars in the market. Like the dual motor Tesla Model Y for less money and BMW i4 or iX1 for extra dollops of cash.
With present options as they are, the Niro EV is a tough sell. And local Kia distributor Dinamikjaya Motors, part of Bermaz Auto Bhd, is under no illusion that the Niro EV would sell in big numbers, relegating it to a niche model.
Those who sign on the dotted line for the Niro EV will drive it around knowing that there’s only a handful of this four-wheeler criss-crossing the country.
Kia Niro EV
Electric motor: Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motor, front-mounted
Maximum power: 201hp
Maximum torque: 255Nm
Battery capacity & type: 64.8kWh, lithium-ion
Range: 460km (WLTP)
Charger Type: Type 2 (AC) / CCS2 (DC)
Transmission: E-Shift automatic
Features: Seven airbags, front-wheel drive, dual 10.25-inch screens, heated and ventilated front seats, Apple Carplay, Android Auto, smartphone wireless charging, sunroof, Premium Relaxion seat for front passenger, dual zone climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels, tyre repair kit, 3 USB-C ports, Smart Regeneration braking system, vehicle-to-load function, Anti-Lock Braking System, Electronic Brake-Force Distribution, Safe Exit Assist, Traction Control System, Rear Occupant Alert, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (includes Lane Keeping Assist, Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist, Smart Cruise Control)
Normal charging (AC 10 - 100%): 230V/12A - 27 hr 30 min
7kW - 9 hr 25 min, 11kW - 6 hr 20 min
Quick Charging (DC 10 - 80%): 50kW - 65 min, 80kW - 49 min
Suspension: MacPherson Struts (front), Multi-link (rear)
Acceleration (0-100kph): 7.8s
Top speed: 167kph
Kerb weight: 1,757kg
Boot capacity: 475l
Price: (OTR without insurance): RM256,668