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Kia Niro 2021 review

The Kia Niro 2021 range is here, giving the brand its first hybird, plug-in hybrid and EV models
EXPERT RATING
7.8
The Kia Niro range is the brand's first step into electrifcation, with two different trim levels across hybrid (HEV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and full electric (EV) powertrains. No other small SUV on the market has this array of powertrains, and it gives Kia a strong position in the field of electric and hybrid cars in Australia. But is it any good?

The Kia Niro isn't new to the world, but it is new to Australia. This model launched internationally in 2017, and was facelifted in 2020. And we're getting it in Australia as a 2021 model, where it'll be replaced within about 12 months.

So why bother bringing it? Because it offers a few vital firsts for the Kia Australia brand.

This is the first hybrid sold by Kia Australia. This is the first plug-in hybrid or PHEV sold by Kia Australia. And this is the first electric car or EV sold by Kia Australia.

Yes, the 2021 Kia Niro range offers three futuristic powertrains so you can choose which is right for you. It's not going to be a huge seller - especially not against the likes of the Seltos, which is slightly smaller, or the Sportage, which is a bit bigger overall.

But this is a vital stepping stone for the brand in Australia. Is it any good? And which is the pick of the range? Read on to find out.

Kia Niro 2021: Electric Sport
Safety rating
Engine Type
Fuel TypeElectric
Fuel Efficiency—L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$65,990

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   6/10

The Kia Niro is expensive for a small SUV, but it's competitively priced for the powertrain choices that are on offer.

But given this car is "towards the end of its life-cycle", there are some really strange omissions that might bear a bit of consideration for customers. Like the fact that there are no heated seats on any grade, and there's a turn key ignition on most grades, too. Weird.

We'll dive deeper into standard equipment inclusions below, but here's a price list for you to understand the range. The HEV is the hybrid model, the PHEV is the plug-in hybrid, and the EV is the full-electric model.

 S (MSRP/drive-away)Sport (MSRP/drive-away)
HEV$39,990 / $41,990$43,890 / $45,990
PHEV$46,590 / $49,990$50,490 / $53,990
EV$62,590 / $67,490$65,990 / $70,990

No other small SUV from a mainstream maker starts at such a high price and tops out above $70k on the road. It is pricey, but as we know, someone has to pay for the tech that's packed into these future-focused new models. It's the customer. The customer pays.

Standard equipment for the S grade includes: halogen headlights, LED daytime running lights, 16-inch alloys for the HEV and PHEV, LED rear lighting, roof rails, auto headlights, auto wipers, auto high-beam lights, a leather steering wheel, 'Eco' and 'Sport' drive modes, an 8.0-inch touchscreen media system with wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless/wired Android Auto, six-speaker sound system, DAB digital radio, Bluetooth, two USB ports, tyre pressure monitoring, a 4.2-inch driver info screen, part-leather/part-cloth seat trim, electric adjust driver's seat, power folding side mirrors, dual zone climate control air-conditioning, and a turn key ignition (EV has push-button start and keyless entry).

The multimedia system features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured) The multimedia system features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured)

The EV S grade scores a couple of other items and drops one or two. It adds 17-inch rims, a rotary dial gear selector, a 7.0-inch driver info screen, additional drive modes (Eco/Eco+/Normal/Sport), steering wheel paddle shifters (to adjust the regenerative braking), an auto dimming rearview mirror, but it drops the dual-zone climate for a single-zone air-conditioning system.

Safety gear includes the expected forward AEB and lane keep technology, plus a reversing camera and rear parking sensors. More detail on the safety equipment can be found in the safety section below.

Stepping up to the Sport grade nets you a few desirable extras, including LED front lighting (which really should be standard on an electrified car), a 10.25-inch touchscreen media system with integrated sat nav, wired Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, paddle-shifters for the HEV and PHEV added, 'premium seats' with vegan leather trim, alloy pedals, auto up/down windows, auto-dimming rearview mirror for HEV/PHEV, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.

The Hybrid Sport wears 18-inch alloy wheels. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured) The Hybrid Sport wears 18-inch alloy wheels. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured)

Interestingly, the Hybrid Sport model - which Kia clearly reckons will be the hit with customers - scores 18-inch wheels with a space-saver spare wheel. PHEV models have 16s in both S and Sport grades, and no spare wheel (tyre repair kit), and the EV Sport model retains 17-inch wheels but has a JBL eight-speaker sound system with subwoofer and, again, no spare. All grades come with tyre pressure monitoring, though.

Colour choices add $520 extra, except for 'Clear White' which comes at no cost. There are eight colours for the HEV and PHEV models: Clear White, 'Aurora Black pearl', 'Runway Red', 'Snow White pearl', 'Silky Silver', 'Sunset Orange', 'Platinum Graphite' (grey) and 'Deep Cerulean Blue.' The EV model can't be had in orange, grey or the Deep Cerulean Blue, but does have a specific 'Yacht Blue' option unique to the EV range.

There are no interior colour options for the Niro range - it's black or black.

The Niro doesn't offer a full digital dashboard. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured) The Niro doesn't offer a full digital dashboard. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured)

Is there anything interesting about its design?   7/10

Style is one thing, but design is something different.

To my eye, the styling of this Kia is old-school. It looks a generation old, with the brand's newer offerings - the Sorento, in particular - making this 'new' model look positively ancient.

It has the old approach to Kia's 'tiger nose' grille, which varies depending on the powertrain you choose. There are larger headlights that look a bit blobish, while the slab-sided body is clearly aimed at cutting through the air efficiently - that's important for an electrified car, with a coefficient of drag (Cd) of 0.30 for the hybrid models and 0.29 for the EV.

  • When it comes to the design, those aero elements all play their part. (image credit: Matt Campbell / PHEV S variant pictured) When it comes to the design, those aero elements all play their part. (image credit: Matt Campbell / PHEV S variant pictured)
  • The hard lip edge on the rear bumper looks a bit strange. (image credit: Matt Campbell / PHEV S variant pictured) The hard lip edge on the rear bumper looks a bit strange. (image credit: Matt Campbell / PHEV S variant pictured)

That's pretty good for a blocky SUV, and is aided by flat underbody panels, aerodynamic alloy wheels, an active grille shutter for HEV/PHEV versions, and an aero-focused rear spoiler and rear air dam.

I'm not a massive fan of the rectangular, Rio-like tail-lights, and the hard lip edge on the rear bumper looks a bit strange, too.

Also, I can't cop a car running halogen headlights in 2021, let alone the $62K Niro EV S with halogens. Come on, Kia.

But when it comes to the design, those aero elements all play their part, and it's amazing that this car, in a single body style, offers three different electrified powertrains with different battery layouts across all three grades, too.

  • The large headlights that look a bit blobish. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured) The large headlights that look a bit blobish. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured)
  • I’m not a massive fan of the rectangular, Rio-like tail-lights. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured) I’m not a massive fan of the rectangular, Rio-like tail-lights. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured)
  • The HEV and PHEV models measure 4355mm long. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured) The HEV and PHEV models measure 4355mm long. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured)

The EV model has batteries under the floor of the car, which impacts passenger foot room and leg space in the back, while the HEV model has its battery pack under the rear seat, and the PHEV has its batteries under the back seat but also under the boot floor.

That means the boot space varies depending on the powertrain you choose. If you need the most cargo capacity possible, choose the EV, which has 451 litres (VDA), while the Hybrid has 410L (VDA) yet manages to fit a space-saver spare in the boot, and the PHEV is the most compromised, with no spare and just 324L of boot capacity.

But keep in mind this is a small SUV, and even with the smallest boot option chosen, you're still getting more cargo room in the Niro than you would in a Mazda CX-3, CX-30, MX-30 or Toyota C-HR. You can fold down the rear seats to allow 1408L VDA (HEV), 1322L VDA (PHEV) or 1405L VDA (EV).

  • The Niro  has the old approach to Kia’s ‘tiger nose’ grille,(PHEV Sport variant pictured) The Niro has the old approach to Kia’s ‘tiger nose’ grille,(PHEV Sport variant pictured)
  • To my eye, the styling of this Kia is old-school. (PHEV Sport variant pictured) To my eye, the styling of this Kia is old-school. (PHEV Sport variant pictured)

For some electric small SUV context, the Kona Electric's boot space is 324L VDA, while the MG ZS EV offers 359L.

That's really not surprising, given the Niro is on the bigger side for a 'small SUV.' The HEV and PHEV models measure 4355mm long (which is just 5.0mm more than the Kia Seltos) while the EV has a bit more length to it because of aero styling bits (4375mm), all grades roll on a huge 2700mm wheelbase, span 1805mm wide, and the height varies between 1545mm tall (HEV/PHEV) and 1570mm tall (EV).

The ground clearance is stated as 160mm for the HEV/PHEV models, and 155mm for the EV.

Now, what about weight? The HEV has a quoted kerb weight of 1444kg with a battery pack weight of 38.5kg; the PHEV's kerb weight is 1564kg and it has a 117kg battery pack; the PHEV weighs in at 1791kg and its battery pack weighs a hefty 457kg.

  • The Niro is the first plug-in hybrid sold by Kia Australia. (EV Sport variant pictured) The Niro is the first plug-in hybrid sold by Kia Australia. (EV Sport variant pictured)
  • The Kia Niro is expensive for a small SUV. (EV Sport variant pictured) The Kia Niro is expensive for a small SUV. (EV Sport variant pictured)

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

The cabin of the Niro is a conventional space - you don't feel like you're driving something at the cutting edge of powertrain technology.

That might be okay with you - you might just want a future-ready powertrain in a standard car. But if you're like me, you might wish that Kia had done a little bit more to make the Niro's cabin feel special.

Don't get me wrong. It's nice, and it's comfortable, and it's thoughtful. It's just very much in the known Kia realm of interior styling, being black on black on black in its material choices. At least there are soft plastics on door tops and dashboard, as well as on all the elbow pads around the car.

  • With the rear seats in place, boot space is rated at 410 litres in the Hybrid model. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured) With the rear seats in place, boot space is rated at 410 litres in the Hybrid model. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured)
  • The Niro managed to fit all three CarsGuide suitcases. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured) The Niro managed to fit all three CarsGuide suitcases. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured)
  • With the rear seats folded flat, cargo capacity grows to 1408 litres in the Hybrid. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured) With the rear seats folded flat, cargo capacity grows to 1408 litres in the Hybrid. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured)
  • Drop the seats in the PHEV model and cargo capacity grows to 1405L. (image credit: Matt Campbell / PHEV S variant pictured) Drop the seats in the PHEV model and cargo capacity grows to 1405L. (image credit: Matt Campbell / PHEV S variant pictured)
  • Boot space is smaller in the PHEV and can only fit 324 litres. (image credit: Matt Campbell / PHEV S variant pictured) Boot space is smaller in the PHEV and can only fit 324 litres. (image credit: Matt Campbell / PHEV S variant pictured)
  • The Niro Hybrid comes with a space saver spare. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured) The Niro Hybrid comes with a space saver spare. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured)

The execution is good, with piano black finishes on the dashboard and at least an interesting design on the passenger side dash, too.

In the S grade models you get an 8.0-inch touchscreen system which looks a bit undercooked in the space, while the 10.25-inch widescreen unit in the Sport models looks more fitting. Weirdly, for an electrified car, there's a 4.2-inch driver info screen in the base grade (which can't illustrate the power flow and the digital speed readout at the same time - annoying!), while the 7.0-inch screen in the full EV models is a better fit for this type of car. But rivals are offering full digital dashboards, even in non-electrified models (like the Skoda Kamiq, for instance).

The cabin design varies a bit more if you choose the EV, with a larger centre console area with adjustable cupholders, which is in a floating design and also incorporates the shift-by-wire rotary dial controller. There's a bit more storage in front of the shifter, too, with a floor-fit cavity for larger items.

  • The PHEV has its batteries under the back seat. (image credit: Matt Campbell / PHEV S variant pictured) The PHEV has its batteries under the back seat. (image credit: Matt Campbell / PHEV S variant pictured)
  • The space in the second row is very accommodating. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured) The space in the second row is very accommodating. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured)

In the HEV/PHEV models there's a conventional smaller centre console with a covered section and smaller cupholders.

All models have door mount bottle holders front and rear, all grades have a flip-down rear armrest with cupholders, and all have rear-seat air-vents, too.

The fact the EV model has its batteries under the car floor means it's more limited for cabin space. As a 182cm/6'0" tall driver, I found the headroom even a little cramped up front, while in the rear head room, ingress/egress and toe space are all limited for someone my size. My knees were up higher because of that raised floor, making for a pretty uncomfortable seating position.

But in the HEV/PHEV models, the space in the second row is much more accommodating, with their lower passenger floor making for better space in front and back. If you have children, there are dual ISOFIX locations and three top-tether points in all models.

  • Standard is part-leather/part-cloth seat trim. (image credit: Matt Campbell / PHEV S variant pictured) Standard is part-leather/part-cloth seat trim. (image credit: Matt Campbell / PHEV S variant pictured)
  • The interior's execution is good, with piano black finishes on the dashboard. (image credit: Matt Campbell / PHEV S variant pictured) The interior's execution is good, with piano black finishes on the dashboard. (image credit: Matt Campbell / PHEV S variant pictured)
  • Inside is nice and comfortable. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured) Inside is nice and comfortable. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured)
  • You might wish that Kia had done a little bit more to make the Niro's cabin feel special. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured) You might wish that Kia had done a little bit more to make the Niro's cabin feel special. (image credit: Matt Campbell / HEV Sport variant pictured)
  • The Sport models add 10.25-inch widescreen media system. (PHEV Sport variant pictured) The Sport models add 10.25-inch widescreen media system. (PHEV Sport variant pictured)
  • In the S grade models you get an 8.0-inch touchscreen system. (HEV S variant pictured) In the S grade models you get an 8.0-inch touchscreen system. (HEV S variant pictured)
  • The cabin of the Niro is a conventional space. (EV Sport variant pictured) The cabin of the Niro is a conventional space. (EV Sport variant pictured)

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   9/10

No other mainstream SUV has three electrified powertrain options available for customers to choose from. Well done, Kia. But if you don't want an SUV, the Hyundai Ioniq hatch/sedan paved this path years ago, despite having a smaller battery pack (but it therefore had, and still has, lower prices).

We'll run through the options one by one, because it's a bit complex.

The PHEV has a NEDC electric driving range of 58 kilometres. (image credit: Matt Campbell / PHEV S variant pictured) The PHEV has a NEDC electric driving range of 58 kilometres. (image credit: Matt Campbell / PHEV S variant pictured)

The HEV hybrid model has a 1.6-litre four-cylinder direct-injection 'Kappa' petrol engine running Atkinson Cycle combustion. It's mated to a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and is front-wheel drive (FWD/2WD). The HEV also has an electric motor as part of the transmission, so it will actually change gears in EV driving. The HEV has a 1.56kWh battery pack, and its electric motor has a maximum power output of 32kW and maximum torque of 170Nm.

The PHEV model runs the same powertrain, but swaps in a larger 8.9kWh battery pack, and is designed to run more in electric mode than relying on the petrol engine when left to its own devices. The electric motor for the PHEV is 44.5kW and 170Nm. But, being a PHEV, it allows you to use AC single-phase charging, up to a rate of 3.3kW. More on charging times in the fuel use section.

The PHEV model runs the same powertrain as the HEV, but swaps in a larger 8.9kWh battery pack. (PHEV Sport variant pictured) The PHEV model runs the same powertrain as the HEV, but swaps in a larger 8.9kWh battery pack. (PHEV Sport variant pictured)

Both the HEV and PHEV models have the same combined power outputs. When the electric motor and petrol engine are working together, each offers a maximum 104kW of power (at 5700rpm) and combined maximum torque of 265Nm at 4000rpm.

The EV model does away with the engine and instead runs an electric motor producing 150kW of maximum power (at 3800-8000rpm) and 395Nm of torque (0-3600rpm). The EV model has a few charge options: AC single phase at up to 7.2kW, while it can handle DC fast charging up to 100kW.  As with the HEV/PHEV models, the EV is front-drive only, and uses a reduction gear single-speed transmission.

Want a regular petrol or diesel Niro? Sorry, you'll have to choose a Seltos or Sportage. Or something completely different!

The HEV also has an electric motor as part of the transmission, so it will actually change gears in EV driving. (HEV S variant pictured) The HEV also has an electric motor as part of the transmission, so it will actually change gears in EV driving. (HEV S variant pictured)

How much fuel does it consume?   9/10

Fuel consumption figures vary by drivetrain, with some really interesting specs across HEV, PHEV and EV models.

The HEV's official combined cycle fuel use depends on the grade you choose. Get the S model with the smaller wheel and tyre package, and the number is 3.8L/100km. The Sport with the 18s may look nicer, but it pays a penalty on fuel use - 4.4L/100km.

The PHEV model has an official combined cycle fuel use figure of 1.3L/100km, but remember, the ADR testing requirements are laboratory-designed, and don't really take into account that once you deplete your battery pack, you'll be relying on the engine more. So, the first 100 kilometres might see a return like the official figure, but the next hundred kays and the hundred after that may actually see it jump considerably. The official rating for its energy consumption is 9.8kWh/100km.

The 2021 Kia Niro range offers three futuristic powertrains. (EV Sport variant pictured) The 2021 Kia Niro range offers three futuristic powertrains. (EV Sport variant pictured)

I drove the HEV and PHEV extensively over the week I had the cars, with a return at the pump of 5.4L/100km for the HEV.

For the PHEV the result was 3.5L/100km - but that doesn't include the additional cost of electricity. For me, at my house, the electricity component for the two empty-to-full refills would be about $0.90 off-peak, and $2.70 on-peak. The good thing is you can set the car to recharge when you want it to by way of a menu on the driver screen. Neat!

I only had limited time in the EV model, so can't speak to its real-world efficiency - but we have the car coming through for a lengthy test soon, so we'll see if it can live up to its claimed efficiency of 15.9kWh/100km.

Oh, and if you're buying a PHEV, Kia recommends you empty the petrol tank every six months to stop the fuel going stale.

Fuel tank capacity is 45L for the HEV and 43L for the PHEV. They can run on 91RON regular unleaded petrol.

Now, let's talk recharging times for the PHEV and EV models.

The PHEV - best-case scenario - will take two hours and 15 minutes. That's the quickest it can possibly get to full from empty, because the onboard charger is only capable of 3.3kW input. It took about four and a half hours from a 10-amp plug at my house.

The PHEV will take two hours and 15 minutes to charge. (image credit: Matt Campbell / PHEV S variant pictured) The PHEV will take two hours and 15 minutes to charge. (image credit: Matt Campbell / PHEV S variant pictured)

The EV? Well, if you charge with the supplied trickle charge cable (ICCB), it'll take 29 hours. Get a 7.2kW AC charge box fitted at home (optional extra, $2830 from Kia Genuine Accessories including installation), and it should recharge in 9 hours 35 mins. Head to a DC fast charger and at 50kW it should take 75 mins, while that'll drop to 54mins at 100kW.

What about driving range?

The EV has a WLTP rated range of 455 kilometres, which is a bit less than the Hyundai Kona Electric (484km WLTP) but considerably more than the MG ZS EV (263km WLTP).

The PHEV has a NEDC electric driving range of 58 kilometres, which is entirely achievable based on my testing.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   8/10

The Kia Niro may be new, but its safety rating dates back to 2016 criteria. The HEV and PHEV models therefore run a five-star ANCAP safety rating based on 2016 testing, while the EV is stated as being "untested." It won't be assessed in this generation, either.

But there are a few considerations. The facelifted version of the Niro, launched globally in 2020, saw a few updates to the safety specs sheet, so it comes pretty well equipped in terms of active safety technology.

There's forward auto emergency braking (AEB) that can detect and brake for cars (8.0km/h to 180km/h), and it has pedestrian and cyclist detection that works between 8.0km/h and 70km/h.

The lane keep assist function operates between 55km/h and 180km/h and helps avoid lane departure by actively steering the car back into its lane. There's also 'Lane Follow Assist', which will keep the car in the centre of the lane (when appropriately marked, at speeds between 0km/h and 180km/h when active cruise control is on).

That stuff is standard on all grades, plus there's a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, all the usual traction control and braking assistance functions, and seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver's knee). The range also has a rear occupant alert system that warns you to check the back seat when you're getting out, and there's a 'Forward Vehicle Move-off' alert that tells you if the car ahead has driven away and you haven't yet, and driver attention alert.

The adaptive cruise control system on all grades also has stop and go functionality - you just need to hit the steering wheel trigger or the accelerator pedal to restart it when you're stopped in traffic for more than a few seconds.

Kia asks customers to pay more for blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, fitting those items standard on the Sport but not the S, which is stingy. You also have to get the Sport to score an auto-dimming rearview mirror and LED headlights, which - again - isn't really good enough in 2021 for a car at this price point.

Oh, and there's no surround-view / 360 degree camera, and no grade has front parking sensors, either.

But the PHEV and EV models have a system called 'Virtual Engine Sound System' or VESS, which offers a pedestrian warning sound outside the car in forward and reverse, up to 28km/h. It can be switched off.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

7 years / unlimited km warranty

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   9/10

Kia has built its brand around the promise of a seven-year warranty, and that remains the case for the Niro.

It has a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan for the entire car, while there's seven-year/150,000km cover for the high voltage components of the drivetrain (the battery pack and electric motor). Kia is guaranteeing 75 per cent battery remaining by the end of the seven year period.

The company still offers a capped-price servicing plan that spans out to seven years as well, but there's no pay-as-you-go service pricing details as yet. Service intervals are set every 12 months/15,000km, no matter the powertrain you choose.

However, Kia Australia is also offering a prepaid service plan for the first time with the Niro - just means you can factor the ownership cost into your purchase price/finance payments, and it's one less thing to budget for over the years.

The plans are available for three years/45,000km ($1164), five years/75,000km ($1728) or seven years/105,000km ($2800). But the sticking point is that those plans are only available for the EV model.

Sign up to one of those plans and you can hand it over to the next owner, too.

Kia also offers seven years of roadside assistance, and there's up to 10 years of map updates and SUNA live traffic cover for Sport models.

What's it like to drive?   7/10

Unlike all other Kia models in recent times, the Niro hasn't been subjected to the brand's Australian tuning program - that means, instead, it runs the European tune for the steering and suspension. And honestly, it's not a bad compromise at all.

Sure, it mightn't have the ultimate composure of some of the other Kia models we've driven recently when it comes to the suspension, but it's largely competent and comfortable, only picking up sharp edges and rebounding a little abruptly. You might notice that, or you might not.

The ride comfort is generally really good, with a nice composure to it at urban speeds unless you hit a series of ripples which can wobble into the cabin a bit. It has a decent balance, though, and offering Michelin tyres range-wide is a strong move, too.

At higher speeds in both the HEV and PHEV, the powertrain makes good decisions about when to use petrol or electric. (PHEV Sport variant pictured) At higher speeds in both the HEV and PHEV, the powertrain makes good decisions about when to use petrol or electric. (PHEV Sport variant pictured)

The steering is mostly good. It's light and direct, but being a motor-driven system there's no real feel to the driver's hands. It kinda just feels like a remote control car, or an arcade game. At least it's predictable and easy to park, while if you choose the Sport mode it adds a bit more heft to the weighting.

The powertrains are the real talking point, though.

In the HEV and PHEV models, the 1.6L petrol unit and dual-clutch auto with that built-in electric motor as part of the transmission - well, that's a pretty novel experience. Most hybrid models use a continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic in the name of efficiency, but the system employed by Kia is a pretty good solution.

The Niro's steering is mostly good. (HEV S variant pictured) The Niro's steering is mostly good. (HEV S variant pictured)

What takes some getting used to is that in both models, the electric motor can pull you away from a standstill and the transmission still changes gears with that typical dual-clutch behaviour, where there's some lag between first and second, and second and third. It's something you get used to, but you may find yourself punching down on the throttle to get the petrol engine to kick in because it can make it feel a bit slow to respond.

At higher speeds in both the HEV and PHEV, the powertrain - when left to its own devices - makes good decisions about when to use petrol or electric. I ran in Auto mode in the PHEV and Eco mode in the HEV, and while I wouldn't say I loved the drive experience, it was better than acceptable for the application.

What I did love was putting the EV version in Sport mode and planting the throttle, because yes, you can get Tesla-like acceleration out of the Niro. It doesn't have a claimed 0-100km/h acceleration time, but it has to be less than six seconds. It's properly rapid.

The Niro hasn’t been subjected to the brand’s Australian tuning program. (EV Sport variant pictured) The Niro hasn’t been subjected to the brand’s Australian tuning program. (EV Sport variant pictured)

The EV model also offers a really honest range predictor - it adjusts when you turn on / off the AC, or even adjust the fan speed. And of course, as you cycle from Eco or Eco+ to Sport mode in the EV, the range calculation makes you realise that, like a really nice cake, you shouldn't indulge too much.

The braking system is something else you have to get used to. All versions have regenerative braking, but oddly, Kia decided to only spec the high-grade Sport models of the HEV and PHEV with the paddle-shifters to adjust the braking response - both S and Sport EV models have paddles to adjust the aggressiveness of the regenerative braking.

There is a graunchy feel to the brakes at low speeds in the HEV and PHEV, while the EV has a bitey response. If you want, you can hold the left paddle shifter down for a few seconds on the EV and make it so it's got 'one pedal' driving, meaning the regen braking is so effective that it doesn't require any brake pedal input to come to a complete stop.

The ride comfort is generally really good. (EV Sport variant pictured) The ride comfort is generally really good. (EV Sport variant pictured)

Verdict

It may not be all-new, but the Kia Niro range is new to Australia, and it gives the company the ability to finally offer eco-minded buyers something interesting. The fact it comes in a much desired small SUV body shape just adds to the appeal.

What isn't so appealing is the pricing and specs - it should be cheaper, or it should have more equipment. As it stands, the prices are a bit high for what you're getting. Who knows, maybe the next generation version will improve the value equation. We sure hope so.

Choosing a pick of the range is difficult for the Niro, because all of these cars will appeal to different customers. But the fact the EV has really strong range and the biggest boot makes it the standout, especially in Sport guise. Just mind that price.

Pricing guides

$52,990
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$39,990
Highest Price
$65,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Electric S —, Electric, 1 SP AUTO $62,590 2021 Kia Niro 2021 Electric S Pricing and Specs
Electric Sport —, Electric, 1 SP AUTO $65,990 2021 Kia Niro 2021 Electric Sport Pricing and Specs
HEV S (hybrid) 1.6L, Hyb/ULP, 6 SP DUAL-CLUTCH AUTO $39,990 2021 Kia Niro 2021 HEV S (hybrid) Pricing and Specs
HEV Sport (hybrid) 1.6L, Hyb/ULP, 6 SP DUAL-CLUTCH AUTO $43,890 2021 Kia Niro 2021 HEV Sport (hybrid) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.8
Price and features6
Design7
Practicality7
Engine & trans9
Fuel consumption9
Safety8
Ownership9
Driving7
Matt Campbell
Managing Editor - Head of Video

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Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.