You would have to be living under a rock not to be aware of the Kia brand and the value these vehicles have promised – and delivered on – for decades. With so much emphasis on the electrified vehicle category, Kia has no intention of being left behind. According to Kia, they plan to have half of their global sales be EVs by 2023, which includes hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and battery electric vehicles.
While most auto manufacturers are on similar trajectories with the EV plans, with some even more aggressively pushing EVs, the question is: when will consumers be ready to take the leap? After testing the 2023 Kia Niro SX Hybrid for a week, you can probably count me in as one of the believers.
It’s true I might not be on board just yet for an outright EV, but the Hybrid segment really does offer up two very attractive benefits: one, a solution to range anxiety since there’s a gas engine available to power the vehicle; and two, impressive fuel economy numbers that minimize trips to the gas pump.
On the outside, the Niro is an attractive compact that no longer looks like a hybrid might, with a frumpy character and overstated aerodynamic lines. Nope, the Kia Niro is a handsome hatchback with tight character lines and a refined feel from front to back. My tester featured the black C-Pillar look ($195) which may or may not be your cup of tea. It’s starting to feel a bit overdone at this point, though it doesn’t feel out of place on this particular vehicle.
My Niro was the SX Touring trim that starts out at $34,790. In addition to sporty aluminum pedals inside, the oversized LED projector headlights and 18-inch alloy wheels add additional character to the Niro’s sleek profile.
“It’s true I might not be on board just yet for an outright EV, but the Kia Hybrid segment really does offer up two very attractive benefits: one, a solution to range anxiety since there’s a gas engine available to power the vehicle; and two, impressive fuel economy numbers that minimize trips to the gas pump.”— John Stein
The cabin of the Niro is shockingly roomy. This may be partly due to the lower seating position and the extensive amount of glass surrounding the occupants (great for visibility and opening up the cabin), and a power sunroof to open things up even more.
Infotainment screen sizes carry over from the previous model, but placement is much better above the center console rather than tucked inside. While an 8.0-inch infotainment system with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is standard, my SX Touring package included a much larger 10.25-inch touch screen with navigation, satellite radio, a premium sound system, and Kia Connect remote services, including a shareable Digital Key.
I found the Kia system to be highly intuitive to use, and the interface is pretty quick, though I am less of a fan of the smallish knobs. The center console offers a dial-type shifter, heated and ventilated seating controls, a heated steering wheel, and an EV-only mode.
Seating in the Niro is very comfortable for passengers in both the front and rear rows. Rear legroom was plentiful and power adjustments up front ensure great seating positions for everyone. Adding to the experience is a Harmon-Kardon premium audio system.
All Niros are front-wheel drive, and no all-wheel drive option is being discussed yet. Niro’s have a standard 1.6-liter four-cylinder paired with a 32.0-kilowatt electric motor as the powerplant. This pairing delivers 139 horsepower and 195 ft-lb torque. This combo is 35 hp and 86 ft-lb over the previous hybrid model.
The hybrid (and PHEV) is equipped with a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission that performs admirably on demand. I really enjoyed shooting around town locally, and my couple of jaunts on the highway were a breeze (especially with no range anxiety).
This is a very responsive hatch that feels athletic and a value for the base model, as well as the top-end version. Fuel economy for the Niro Hybrid is EPA-rated at 53 city, 45 highway, and 49 combined mpg for the Touring model.
Pricing for the 2023 Kia Niro Hybrid starts at $26,490 for the base LX; the EX, EX Touring, SX, and SX Touring elevate the experience dramatically. My top-of-the-line SX Touring landed at $34,790, add destination at $1,295, and the final price was $36,435.
Kia corporate estimates that two-thirds of buyers will opt for the hybrid, likely due to a starting price of less than $30,000 and an EPA-estimated 53 combined miles per gallon, a best-in-class claim. I say, where do I sign?
• John Stein is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. He has more than 25 years of experience driving, testing, and writing about the automotive industry, its latest innovations, and vehicles.