2023 Kia Niro First Look: Bye Bye, Boring

The idea of Kia’s Niro was probably as appealing as the vehicle itself when the hybrid hatchback debuted for 2017. Here was a dedicated hybrid that, much like Toyota’s Prius, lacked a solely gas-fed “regular car” counterpart. Its somewhat generic tall-hatchback styling housed a pleasantly roomy cabin and a platform that also would come to play host to plug-in hybrid (Niro PHEV) and full-electric (Niro EV) powertrain options. But the humdrum styling meant most most casual onlookers would forget the Niro—if they noticed it at all—as thoughts of grocery lists or calls to comparing  streaming service rates took higher priority in their heads.

2023 Kia Niro First Look: Bye Bye, Boring
© Motor Trend Staff 2023 Kia Niro First Look: Bye Bye, Boring-featured

Hubba, Hubba, Habaniro

Arriving for 2023, the second-generation Kia Niro should have more mental stickiness. Modeled after the 2019 “HabaNiro” concept—Get it? Like the pepper but mixed with “Niro?” Such fun!—the new Niro has a similar overall shape to its predecessor, but the details between the bumpers are toughened up with blockier forms and edgier flourishes.

Don’t just call the Niro interesting-looking “for a hybrid.” This is a genuinely compelling small crossover, with angular new headlights, a broad hood, and chunky sculpting around its wheel wells and lower body. There are clear parallels to the HabaNiro concept in the contrast-color panel slicing up each side of the body behind each rear door, and Kia also mined that show car for those V-shaped LED headlight accents and the vertical taillights that frame the rear hatch.

2023 Kia Niro First Look: Bye Bye, Boring
© Motor Trend Staff 2023 Kia Niro reveal 10

A Better Inside Game

The outgoing Niro’s cabin generated few complaints, with a simple layout and a refreshing lack of the techy weirdness permeating its chief competitor, the Toyota Prius. Kia appears to have kept that same basic thinking for the 2023 Niro, albeit with a few jazzy new slants and curves and things to spice up the visuals. Each door panel features a long diagonal arc housing the window controls as well as other ancillary controls on the driver’s side, while the dash now forms a long, gentle full-width arc.

A new, two-spoke steering wheel juts from beneath a tablet-style panel with an embedded digital gauge cluster and large central touchscreen. Happily, a horizontal panel beneath the center screen hosts a row of physical climate-control knobs, though also what appear to be touch-sensitive buttons. Physical seat heating and ventilation buttons are fitted to the center console, along with a starter button and a rotary shift dial for selecting park, drive, reverse, and neutral.

2023 Kia Niro First Look: Bye Bye, Boring
© Motor Trend Staff 2023 Kia Niro reveal 5

Everything Else Is a Mystery

Now is probably a good time to inform you that we know virtually nothing about the Niro beyond the observations above. The latest version debuted over the Thanksgiving holiday at the 2021 Seoul Mobility Show in Korea without details about the platform, powertrain, or efficiency.

Currently available in hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and EV variants, the Niro is promised to return in all three guises. The current Niro hybrid utilizes a 1.6-liter I-4 paired with an electric motor and a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission to deliver up to 53 mpg in the city, 48 mpg highway, and 50 mpg combined. It also starts at $25,865, making it appealingly affordable.

Plug-in hybrid Niros borrow the hybrid’s basic running gear (delivering an identical 139 combined horsepower) and add a larger 8.9-kWh lithium-ion battery capable of delivering up to 26 miles of electric-only driving range. Finally, the all-electric Niro boasts a 201-hp electric motor (as on the hybrids, this powers only the front wheels) fed by a 64-kWh battery; it delivers an EPA-estimated 239 miles of range per charge.

2023 Kia Niro First Look: Bye Bye, Boring
2023 Kia Niro First Look: Bye Bye, Boring
2023 Kia Niro First Look: Bye Bye, Boring
2023 Kia Niro First Look: Bye Bye, Boring
2023 Kia Niro First Look: Bye Bye, Boring
2023 Kia Niro First Look: Bye Bye, Boring
2023 Kia Niro First Look: Bye Bye, Boring
2023 Kia Niro First Look: Bye Bye, Boring
2023 Kia Niro First Look: Bye Bye, Boring
2023 Kia Niro First Look: Bye Bye, Boring
2023 Kia Niro First Look: Bye Bye, Boring
2023 Kia Niro First Look: Bye Bye, Boring
2023 Kia Niro First Look: Bye Bye, Boring

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Given the apparent similarities between the 2023 Niro’s body shape and that of the old car—and how Kia’s press materials for the Niro describe a “refreshed exterior”—it seems likely that the new model simply carries over the original’s chassis and powertrains. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, because, remember, this is a dedicated model designed for hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and all-electric duty, not a gas-only model converted to host those energy sources.

There is a chance that some of Kia’s latest hybrid know-how, such as that utilized in the K5 hybrid (formerly known as the Optima hybrid) midsize sedan, makes its way into the new Niro. Ditto some of the EV advances found in the new Kia EV6 electric SUV, though the expected price separation between the Niro and the pricier, EV-only EV6 might preclude, say, using the latter’s larger battery.

So the 2023 Kia Niro might be more of the same where that’s acceptable (underneath) and more more where it really needed a boost (everywhere else). That’s okay, especially if Kia holds the price in the $25,000 to $30,000 range for the hybrids and somewhere south of the newer, sexier EV6’s for the Niro EV. Full information and U.S.-specific details are expected next year, so stay tuned.

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