2021 Kia Niro Australian launch | Ralph Lauren

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Kia has officially entered the electric vehicle race in Australia, with the Niro small SUV arriving in showrooms with a trio of electrified powertrains: hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric power.

Kia Australia has modest sales goals — 100 a month, which would make it its lowest volume seller — but says the Niro was an important vehicle to bring in to kickstart its electric presence Down Under ahead of further green models arriving later such as the Sorento hybrid.

However, it says it will all be conquest sales, drawing in fleets and early adopter types it is currently missing out on.

Kia Niro.
Camera IconKia Niro. Credit: Supplied

It must be keen, as the Niro has been on sale overseas for so long Kia Australia concedes a new generation will be available within 12 months.

The delay was due to buyers wanting more cars than Kia could make, and the brand dedicating its vehicles to countries with stricter emissions standards.

It means it was in a rush to get it into Australia, resulting in the Niro not receiving the Australia-specific suspension and steering tune other Kias get.

The brand expects the hybrid version to do most of the heavy lifting and account for roughly 70 per cent of sales.

It has a traditional set-up including a 1.6-litre petrol engine and lithium-ion battery to offer a frugal 3.8-4.4L/100km claimed fuel efficiency.

It’s a similar figure to the Toyota C-HR Hybrid, but the Niro adds a couple of grand to the asking price, starting $39,990 plus on roads.

Kia Niro.
Camera IconKia Niro. Credit: Supplied

The plug-in hybrid version is a significant $6600 pricier than the standard hybrid despite offering the same combined maximum outputs of 104kW and 265Nm.

It also has the smallest boot of the trio at a ho-hum 324 litres, compared to the hybrid’s 410 and EV’s 451.

The payoff, of course, is up to 58km of purely electric driving plus the convenience of fuelling up traditionally, however Kia still expects it to only make up 10 per cent of Niro sales.

Kia has opted to pair both hybrid powertrains with a six-speed dual clutch automatic rather than the usual CVT; it claims it offers a more engaging and “natural” drive.

Topping the line-up is the EV — known as the e-Niro in other markets — armed with a 64kWh battery and an impressive 455km range.

Unfortunately, like most EVs in Australia currently, the generous range comes at a cost with the electric Niro starting at $62,590 plus on roads.

It’s $590 more than the starting point for the Hyundai Kona EV it shares a platform with, however Kia reckons the Niro is a more attractive package due to a superior interior design, more interior space and the brand’s seven-year warranty.

Speaking of which, the high voltage componentry is only under warranty for 150,000km, however the rest of the car is covered for unlimited kilometres like other Kia models.

Kia Niro.
Camera IconKia Niro. Credit: Supplied

Also, the brand guarantees 75 per cent battery capacity after seven years or 150,000km.

Each powertrain is available in two trim levels: S and Sport.

Standard gear includes most safety tech expected now days (except for blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and high-beam assist which are only on the Sport), plus a leather appointed steering wheel, 8-inch multimedia screen, 4.2-inch digital driver display, digital radio, wireless smartphone integration and more.

Stepping up to the Sport adds $3400-$4000 and brings with it perks including a 10.25-inch multimedia screen, LED headlights, smart key, sat nav with 10 years of updates and, in the EV, an eight-speaker JBL premium sound system.

The hybrids get a five-star crash safety rating carried over from Euro NCAP, while the EV is unrated.

We had the EV for a few days this week — we’re in the plug-in in a few weeks time — and arguably the most striking first impression was how conservative it is.

Kia Niro.
Camera IconKia Niro. Credit: Supplied

That’s not meant as a knock, rather a comparison to manyother EVs which scream their green credentials to the heavens.

The Niro EV plays it cool. It has a closed off front grille, some teal highlights and an ‘electric’ badge on the back, but otherwise it’s very subdued, from the exterior styling to the greys and blacks of the interior.

But it’s an impressive vehicle.

We picked it up with 420km of range indicated and, unlike many EVs, the figure didn’t plummet disproportionately to the amount of distance travelled.

We didn’t need to charge it, but unless you want to wait 29 hours for a 0-100 per cent charge from a standard household socket, you’ll want to spend the $2830 for the installation of a home wallbox which will drop it to 9 hours 35 minutes.

Like all EVs, acceleration is brisk. It can feel a tad heavy at times — it’s carting a big battery, after all — but never feels cumbersome.

Kia Niro.
Camera IconKia Niro. Credit: Supplied

Engaging sports mode makes things feel far more effortless.

Comfort is good, though a local suspension/steering tune would be appreciated.

Storage is excellent, with door pockets, a big centre cubby, retractable cup holders and a big extra shelf under the shift-by-wire gear selector dial.

Head and legroom is great throughout; I could sit behind my driving position with plenty of knee room.

Of course, the elephant in the room is the price. No, this doesn’t feel like a $60,000-plus car in any aspect other than the powertrain — but people with this type of money to spend who aren’t looking for an EV aren’t considering this anyway.

But if you have th efunds and the want for zero emissions motoring, then you’ll get a very practical and capable vehicle.

The Niro range may feel something like a placeholder model before Kia starts its electric shift in earnest with the upcoming EV6, but as an entrant into the green motoring world it’s an impressive first step.

2021 KIA NIRO SPECIFICATIONS

  • Variants EV S; EV Sport
  • Price $62,590; $65,990
  • Engine Electric motor with 64kWh battery
  • Outputs 150kW/395Nm
  • Transmission Single-speed reduction gear, FWD
  • Range 455km

  • Variants PHEV S; PHEV Sport
  • Price $46,590; $50,490
  • Engine 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol plug-in hybrid
  • Outputs 104kW/265Nm (combined)
  • Transmission Six-speed automatic, FWD
  • Fuel economy 1.3L/100km (58km electric range)

  • Variants Hybrid S; Hybrid Sport
  • Price $39,990; $43,980
  • Engine 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol hybrid
  • Outputs 104kW/265Nm (combined)
  • Transmission Six-speed automatic, FWD
  • Fuel economy 3.8L/100km; 4.4L/100km



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