Well this looks… different.
Ssh, don’t tell anyone, but in the metal it actually looks a lot like a MkII Ford Focus at the dead rear. But the Niro has certainly enjoyed something of a glow-up between generations. In fact this new version of the car looks so space age and different it’s like they’ve skipped a model entirely.
That contrasting rear blade is an option, by the way, in case the mere sight of it fills you with dread. We drove the new electric version of the best-selling SUV in final pre-production form before deliveries begin at the end of July.
Prototype, you say? What will they be changing?
The hardware on the car is all set – styling, interior stuff – but Kia’s technicians are still making the finishing touches to the software that the car will be running. All the dull things like dash graphics that need to be tweaked and signed off. Yawn, etc.
So the headline figures won't be changing any time soon?
Nope. Kia’s targeting an official WLTP range of 285 miles from its 64.8kWh battery (slightly larger than that of the old car), and you should be able to achieve 250-plus miles out of a charge on mixed roads. Unless you’re wearing particularly heavy shoes.
The 201bhp e-motor makes for a 0-62mph run of 7.8 seconds and a top speed of 104mph, both best left unexplored.
What's the new Niro EV like to drive?
It’s all very refined – if Kia had any nerves about this second-generation EV then they don’t show through on the car. It’s smooth and quiet all the way up to motorway speeds, where the wind noise starts to creep through a bit. The car has three drive modes (Eco, Normal and Sport) – Eco is best for a blend of mildly restrained performance and maximum range, and is the one you'll probably default to most of the time.
Is it up for any heroics?
In a word, no. It's swift in that way all electric cars seem to manage, but as you ramp up through to Sport mode the car’s composure starts to fall apart a little. It gets a bit jittery and frenetic… this isn’t a sporty car, it’s a pleasant runabout with impressive economy: we got 5mpkWh on our drive on mixed roads, although heavy traffic is a delight when you’ve got the regen switched up to maximum.
We’ve no idea how we turned it on, but the i-Pedal system adjusts its auto regen based on how the car in front is slowing down, and will bring the car to a complete halt for a bit of proper one-pedal driving.
The car we tried out was in top spec 4-equivalent trim (£40k) with all the bells and whistles but on comparatively tiny 17in wheels for an impressively serene ride.
So what toys go with it?
Everything but the kitchen sink, basically. Heated and ventilated seats (and heated outside rear seats), heated steering wheel, 10.25in infotainment screen with phone mirroring, wireless phone charging, front and rear sensors as well as a parking camera, acoustic windscreen, sunroof, fashionable vegan leather trim, etc, etc.
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There are USB-C charging points in the front seats for the kids’ devices, as well as a three-pin plug under the rear bench, which uses interesting V2D (vehicle to device) electric tech to power external things using the car’s big battery. Fancy.
There’s an optional heat pump too, which is worth considering as it makes for more efficient winter driving. If you want to save £5k, the entry level '2' car isn't horrendously equipped, and all Niro EVs are able to pull 750kg of your finest trailer.
What’s the Niro EV like on the inside?
It’s not what you’d call posh, but the inside of the Niro EV is pleasant and practical, with some interesting materials about the cabin that brighten it up a bit and add a dash of style. There are some good places to stash things away, but you can’t really hide anything in the centre console as it’s all opened up.
There’s decent room in the back and the boot is a good size too. The good news there is that Kia has freed up space for a 20-litre frunk that’ll carry your cables, so the 475-litre boot is all yours to enjoy. The parcel shelf is made from the same stuff as a pop-up festival tent and equally useless.
Will there be other versions?
If the £35k–40k EV is a step too far for you, then Kia has you covered – the new Niro also comes in at £28k–33k for the hybrid and £33k–38k for PHEV flavour, both with 1.6-litre petrol engines under the bonnet and six-speed dual-clutch autos. There won’t be a straight combustion option available, as is increasingly the way these days.
The PHEV should be able to drive up to 40 miles in EV mode, and the hybrid will come with a fancy new “Green Zone” feature where you can designate certain areas on the map and the car will automatically switch to electric mode provided you have the charge.
If on the other hand the £35-40k EV bracket isn't enough of a step for you, then you've always got the swoopier, rangier EV6 instead. That injects a bit of the fun that was always been missing from the Mk1 e-Niro's repertoire, although you'll be paying handsomely for it.
Should I take the plunge on the Niro EV?
We’d certainly say so – alright, it’s not the most exciting car, but the original e-Niro was a brilliant first toe in the zero-emission waters and the Mk2 is as well. With the Hyundai Ioniq 5, Peugeot e-2008, Volkswagen ID.4, Skoda Enyaq iV and Renault Megane E-Tech Electric all occupying the 'small-ish electric crossover' section of the market, buyers are spoiled for choice.
The Niro EV is practical, accessible and economical, and there’s a maturity to it that shows just how dedicated Kia is to upping its game and going electric. And the company’s latest styling efforts mean you’ll be less embarrassed to be seen in it.