The 2023 Kia Niro Delivers Top-Drawer Tech and the Joy of Electric Driving at a Very Approachable Price

2023 Kia Niro Hybrid Featured Image

Even the hybrid version gets you into the electric groove.

Pay attention, MPG geeks. One pedal driving and regenerative braking paddles — the energy-saving technique that makes electric driving sooooo good — are something you usually only see on electric cars and PHEVs (plug-in electric hybrids) but not on conventional hybrids. Kia, which just introduced the 2023 Kia Niro, clearly thinks if a car’s system can regenerate energy by braking, that the driver ought to be able to regulate how much regen is happening. The hybrid system in the 2023 Kia Niro has this, and I found it to be the most fun feature in the Kia Niro HEV (which is what Kia calls its hybrid) when I took it out for a quick test drive. 

This system is, of course, also available on the Kia Niro PHEV and EV. We got a quick drive in the EV but not the PHEV — so those are another test drive for another day. The hybrid is what got our attention when Kia recently rolled out the 2023 editions of this popular fuel-efficient SUV.

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Kia Niro Hybrid Driver Information Screen

Kia Niro Hybrid driver information screen shows your fuel efficiency and MPG. Photo: Scotty Reiss

It’s All About the Eco in the 2023 Kia Niro 

There are so many nice features and details that it was almost easy to overlook the fact that the paddle shifters on this compact 139-HP front-wheel drive SUV do double duty: in sport mode, they give you the semblance of manual paddle shifting. 

But in eco mode (tap the “mode” button on the steering wheel) and the left paddle turns this demure little SUV into an MPG boss, maximizing the amount of energy re-routed to the battery. As you ease off the accelerator and the car slows, pull the left paddle and hold it down. It quickens the halt as a blue meter increasingly glows to show you how much energy you’ve just sent to the battery. 

Related: Test Drive Electric Cars, E-Bikes and E-Scooters at Electrify Expo

View From The Drivers Seat In The Kia Niro

The view from the driver’s seat in the 2023 Kia Niro. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Niro Helps You Gloat About Fuel Savings

For positive reinforcement, take a quick look at your MPG meter. On our test drive, we were able to push the fuel economy past 60 MPG, a good 7 MPG more than the EPA estimate of 53 MPG. I can’t tell you how happy this made my inner gamer-geek.

Once I discovered this delight, I spent the rest of my test drive going up and down the Pacific Coast Highway through the small villages that dot the coast. On the longer stretches, I accelerated to get up to highway speed and watched the MPG dip toward the estimate (though never that low). But coasting into the village I’d pull the paddle and see the numbers tick up. To 57. Then 57.3. Then 57.6. Then 58. Yes, it’s small, but sometimes it’s the little things that matter most. 

Related: Are Electric Cars Actually Better for the Environment?

The Front Of The Kia Niro

A front view of the 2023 Kia Niro. Photo: Scotty Reiss

A Better Kia Niro For The Electric Age

Kia’s Niro nameplate isn’t new to electric driving. In fact, it’s one of the old-timers. It made its debut in 2016 and has been sold in hybrid, PHEV and electric versions. Think of the Niro as Kia’s R&D lab on wheels for electric driving; everything they learn from this car (and its drivers) works to help the company build more and better cars and SUVs for the future.

For that, we’re glad the Niro wasn’t retired to make room for Kia’s other electrics, including the hybrid and PHEV versions of Sportage and Sorento, and the all-electric EV6 and EV9 3-row SUV, which we should see soon. These models simply take a spot alongside Niro instead. 

But while the Niro is the first and led the way for its siblings, it still strives to be distinct and offer a lot for the money. For 2023, Kia offers more features and benefits, better battery range, and more space and comfort in this compact SUV. 

Also, it keeps a few original details: It’s only available in front-wheel drive, and it generates 139 horsepower in the hybrid model and 201 in the electric – as it did in its original incarnation. However, both are slightly more efficient. The hybrid is now estimated to get 53 MPG, though it clearly can do better, and the EV is estimated to get 253 electric miles on a charge, up from about 239 on the last model year (we were not truly able to put this to the test, but I’m pretty sure you can do better than that with good electric driving technique).

Plus, it adds some noteworthy features and designs to bring it into the modern lineage of Kia.

Related: 2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid: Space, Comfort and Tech for Plenty of Plug-n-Play

The Front Cabin In The 2023 Kia Niro

The front cabin in the 2023 Kia Niro. Yes, these leatherette seats are made from eucalyptus. Photo: Scotty Reiss

A Beautiful New Interior Made from Earth-Friendly Materials

Leatherette seats made from Eucalyptus. Plastic materials made from reclaimed ocean plastics. A ceiling headliner made from recycled wallpaper. And, Kia has eschewed ordinary automotive paint for one that is free of benzene, toluene and xylene isomers, petrochemicals that are a danger to exposed workers as well as to the earth.

These sustainable materials are not just a lure to earth-aware consumers who find these choices are a good complement to the fuel efficiency of the Niro. They also deliver a very delightful look and feel.

The headliner was the most notable. Despite being made from recycled wallpaper, which left me immediately curious, the texture is soft but firm. It lacks the ‘squish’ that foam and fabric headliners have, and instead has an almost organic, micro-porous look and feel, more like the packaging you might get with a luxury candle. The color is a demure flat beige-gray that reflects light and soaks up sound, glare and heat. And if I hadn’t mentioned it, you might never notice the headliner or know its backstory. 

The seats are made with eucalyptus, a plant known for its relaxing qualities and odor-neutralizing fragrance (though the fragrance here is all new-car-smell, not eucalyptus). And, in the Niro, the impact is lovely; the seats look more expensive and modern than you’d expect in a car this price (and it’s standard in all but the base model, which has cloth seats).

Small Details Bring Together This Intuitive Space

From there, you’ll notice some features seen on the Kia Sportage and EV6: an oversized single-panel multimedia screen that houses a 10.25” touchscreen media system and driver information screen (again, in all but the base model, which has smaller screens), a wide, open center console with retractable cup holders and a small cubby. The 2023 Niro also has the upgraded, redesigned Kia Connect system, a pleasant and functional set of screen apps that let you easily find the functions you need. 

The large center console, frankly, is a luxury for a car this size. Typically, compact cars and SUVs have to make compromises, and the center console often takes the brunt of it. But not here. Under the dashboard, there’s a small cubby with USB charge ports and, again in all but the base model, a wireless charge pad. The center of the console holds the gear selector and buttons for options like heated and vented seats and a surround-view camera. This is also where the auto hold and the parking brake are located. Then, between the driver command console and the armrest is a large, wide cubby with retractable cup holders. 

Let me stop here for a second and tell you how much I like this feature. Just push a button, and a circular cup holder arm pops out. Push it back to retract it. With it retracted, you have a huge space to put phones, a tablet, anything that’s about the size of a box of tissues. Plus, there’s still room under the armrest. 

This design is one we first saw in the Telluride, then in the Sportage (as well as the Hyundai Palisade!). It’s a good one and we are so glad Kia is keeping it rather than trying to reinvent it.

Kia Niro Tail Lights And Black Rear Panels

Kia Niro tail lights and black rear panels. Photo: Scotty Reiss

An Exterior Look that Surprises, and Maybe Divides

On the outside, the Niro looks completely new and perhaps, aside from the “Niro” logo, not instantly recognizable. It elicits a “What car is that?” reaction.

The front end has new headlights and a new “tiger nose” grille, which is less grille and even less tiger nose, especially compared to prior Kia designs. The new face is more of an inverse than an interpretation of the tiger nose, and it works. Gone is the mesh grille, replaced by a body-colored panel that spans the front. There are horizontal air vents below, framed by squarish headlights. 

The side of the Niro is notable for black cladding that extends from front to rear, swooping up the sides of the rear panels from the wheel well to the roof line. The black rear panels give a ‘swoosh’ effect that is further accented by the taillights, which span the vertical line of these panels, from just under the roof spoiler along the sides of the tailgate. And, they deliver an actual swoosh: They are also air vents that help air move along the Niro’s sides and sweeping it out behind as you drive. The overall look is new and novel, and no doubt will be the topic of conversation, for good and bad.

2023 Kia Niro Exterior

2023 Kia Niro Exterior with panels of black cladding. Photo: Scotty Reiss

All the Driver Assist and Safety Tech You Need

Kia relishes the joy of delivering more tech for the price than almost any other car. Every model includes:

  • Forward collision avoidance 
  • Lane keep warning and assistance 
  • Lane following assistance 
  • Driver attention warning
  • blind spot monitor 
  • Rear cross traffic warning and collision avoidance 
  • safe exit warning 
  • Rear occupant alert
  • Speed limit signs

And in all but the base model, adaptive cruise control and highway driving assist are also included. 

Rear Seat Legroom In The Kia Niro

Rear seat legroom is good for a compact SUV. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Is the 2023 Kia Niro Good for Kids in Car Seats? 

Of course! But with these caveats: 

  • LATCH anchors are installed in the rear outboard seats but not the center seat
  • Rear seats are roomy but not oversized, with 39.8” of legroom
  • The Niro’s SUV shape allows for ample headroom, too, so kids should be comfortable, and seats should be relatively easy to install
  • There are air vents on the rear of the center console but no temperature or fan controls (in all but the base model)
  • There are two USB ports in the backs of the front seats 
  • A fold-down armrest between the rear seats has cupholders

And for gear such as strollers and diaper bags, the cargo area is nicely sized at 22.8 cubic feet. There is an additional storage cubby under the cargo floor, and if you don’t have rear-seat passengers and need more space, fold the seats down for a full 63.7 cubic feet of space. 

Me And My Drive Partner Carly Schaffner

Me and my drive partner Carly Schaffner of Automotive News. Photo: Scotty Reiss

How the 2023 Kia Niro is Priced

Kia Niro Hybrid: 

  • LX –  $26,490, includes driver assist and safety features, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, 5 USB ports and Kia’s suite of driver assist and safety systems
  • EX – $29,090, adds the larger touch screen multimedia system, wireless phone charger, vegan leatherette seating, ambient lighting, heated front seats, power driver’s seat
  • EX Touring – $31390
  • SX – $32,490, which adds premium sound, digital phone-as-key, 
  • SX Touring – $34,790 which adds sport details

Kia Niro PHEV has up to 33 miles of all-electric driving and is available in two of the more premium Niro trims:

  • PHEV EX – $33,740
  • PHEV SX Touring – $39,490

Destination charge: $1,295

Front Of The 2023 Kia Niro

Front of the 2023 Kia Niro. Photo: Scotty Reiss

The Most Fuel-Efficient Hybrid SUV on the Road

The Kia Niro is the most efficient hybrid SUV on the road, and with the regen paddle, it may vie for the most efficient hybrid— a great feat for an SUV. We can’t wait to give the PHEV and the EV a thorough test, if not just for the efficiency, but for the great features and fun-to-drive characteristics of this compact SUV. Because electric driving is fun, and it’s the future. This little SUV will put you in the groove.

Disclosure: I was a guest of Kia for this test drive; travel and accommodations were provided, but all opinions are my own.

Kia Niro Rear Seat Usb Ports

Kia Niro rear seat USB ports. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss