The Kia Niro came to fruition as a practical, less polarizing answer to the Toyota Prius. Like its chief competitor, the Niro is incredibly efficient with some versions getting over 50 mpg. There are even plug-in and all-electric variants, the latter of which can travel 239 miles per charge. All three flavors were also relatively good to drive, something unexpected out of a crossover focused on sipping fuel.
A few years later, things got shaken up in the hybrid segment. Automakers started equipping their vehicles with new generation electrified powertrains that had power and efficiency. Suddenly, efficiency-focused models like the Niro became less attractive because they weren’t no-compromise solutions like hybrid variants of the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Sonata, and the new Kia Sorento. You no longer need to sacrifice anything for the sake of maximizing fuel economy.
There’s a second-generation Niro (code-named SG2) just around the corner and it appears Kia is reinventing the model so that it’s more than just practical and efficient. How will the Korean automaker do that? Let’s run through what we know and get a sense of Kia’s plans for this lovable crossover.
2023 Kia Niro exterior
Remember the HabaNiro concept that Kia first showed off at the 2019 New York Auto Show? The one with the butterfly doors and the thick red stripes on the C-pillar? Yeah, that thing. Kia essentially previewed the second generation with that show car so expect many styling cues to find their way into the production model. Kia’s new “tiger face” look will get another iteration in the Niro, think of it as an evolution of the one found on the K5 and Sorento. Expect the headlights to blend seamlessly with the grille and feature LED daytime running light strips that should give the car a distinct face.
2023 Kia Niro platform and suspension
The current Kia Niro rides on a convergence platform built to accommodate hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and all-electric vehicles. Kia will keep the current architecture for the second-generation model but it’s getting heavily modified. This is likely so newer powertrain options can be used for the hybrid and a larger battery can fit in the all-electric variant. Another possibility for the extensive platform updates is that Kia may be planning to do an e-AWD system for the second-generation Niro. That requires an electric motor mounted on the rear axle, something that’s not possible in the platform’s existing iteration.
Don’t expect the Niro to lose the fully independent suspension layout, though. That helps the current car stand out with good ride quality and surprisingly agile handling. However, with Kia’s intentions to make everything sportier across its whole lineup, the second-generation Niro could get a significant suspension revision to improve ride and handling. Additionally, the steering could also be made quicker for better turn-in and improved responses.
2023 Kia Niro powertrain
The biggest question for the Niro will be the powertrain options. EV variants will likely get an upgraded electric motor and a larger battery to increase the range to near or over 300 miles on a single charge. A dual-motor variant could also join the lineup as the option for four-season regions while providing more potent performance. Kia could also employ a similar setup to give the hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants AWD, which should cut development costs.
Hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the second-generation Niro could go in two different directions. Kia could utilize the system found in the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Korean market K5 Hybrid. Those use a 2.0-liter I4 coupled to a six-speed automatic, a 51-hp electric motor, and a 1.62-kWh lithium-ion battery. In the two sedans, this power plant makes 192 hp combined. The U.S.-spec Sonata Hybrid is EPA-rated for 50/54/53 mpg city/highway/combined in the Blue trim or 45/51/47 mpg in the SEL and Limited grades, which are heavier and come with 17-inch alloy wheels and wider tires.
The other direction that hybrid variants of the Niro could take is to use the new turbo hybrid system on the Kia Sorento. That unit takes a 1.6-liter turbo-four and couples it to a six-speed automatic, a 60-hp electric motor, and a 1.5-kWh lithium-ion battery. In the upcoming 2022 Hyundai Tucson and 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe, it’ll get a 59-hp electric motor and 1.49-kWh battery instead. Total system output is 227- to 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque in the Sorento while offering 39/35/37 mpg.
Plug-in hybrid variants could follow the same two routes as the conventional ones. However, Hyundai and Kia haven’t shown an updated version of the 2.0-liter I4-based system. The iteration found in the outgoing Optima PHEV made 202 hp combined thanks to a larger 9.8-kWh lithium-ion battery and a 67-hp electric motor.
REVIEW: 2020 Kio Niro PHEV
Should Kia use the newer 1.6-liter turbo I4-based system, the Niro could stand out even more. Every vehicle slated to get this unit has a 90-hp electric motor and a 13.8-kWh battery. As a result, this could give the Niro PHEV up to 261 hp combined, turning it into one of the quicker subcompact crossovers on the market. The larger battery should also increase the Niro PHEV’s all-electric range past the current car’s 26-mile rating, making it more viable for consumers with longer commutes. The Kia Sorento promises 30-mile all-electric range with this same plug-in hybrid powertrain.
Regardless of which powertrain Kia decides to use for the Niro hybrid and PHEV, the battery will be mounted low. The smaller unit in the standard hybrid should go under the rear seats while the PHEV’s will be mounted under the passenger cabin. Doing this lowers the vehicle’s overall center of gravity, which should aid in improving handling and body control.
2023 Kia Niro tech
The latest version of Kia’s suite of driver assistance technologies (dubbed Drive Wise), should find itself into the next-generation Niro. Expect collision prevention systems to be standard while semi-autonomous features like Highway Driving Assist will likely be only on the upper trims.
On the multimedia front, the latest interface, which is found on the K5 and Sorento, should find its way into the 2023 Kia Niro. Hopefully, by the time it does, Kia has found a way to make wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible with the larger 10.25-inch touch screen. Currently, wireless smartphone integration is only available with the standard 8.0-inch display. A 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and a Bose premium audio system could also be offered but it’ll likely be limited to pricier versions.
Kia is poised to reposition the Niro as a no-compromise electrified subcompact crossover. With economy-focused hybrids slowly going out of style due to newer electrified models providing both power and efficiency, sacrificing one or the other is no longer necessary. As Kia continues to move toward a sportier direction, expect its electrified models to be some of the better-driving ones available. The automaker wants to be known for fun and it intends to make good on that promise with its upcoming EVs and hybrids.