Almost 3 years after its release overseas, Kia has finally decided to launch its first fully electric car in Australia.
The 2021 Kia Niro is a range of eco-conscious small SUVs that haven’t been available in Australia until this year. Manufacturers have always been reluctant to sell electric or plug-in hybrid cars in Australia for various reasons.
However, Kia has decided to take a leap of faith this year with the new 2021 Niro. The electric model of the Kia Niro is more expensive in Australia than a Tesla Model 3 long range. So, let’s dive into an in-depth review and find out whether it’s worth that money.
In terms of size, the Kia Niro can be considered a midsize SUV. It’s a bit bigger than the Kia Seltos, which is Kia’s most popular range of SUVs, but smaller than the much larger Honda CR-V.
The 2021 Kia Niro has 3 variants in Australia, the EV (electric), the Plug-in Hybrid (PEV), and the Hybrid (HEV). All of them have the same exterior features, except for the front grille.
The Niro has a split grille design. You get the signature Kia tiger-nose grille between the headlights and a smaller grille at the bottom of the number plates. On the EV model, the tiger-nose grille is actually replaced with a charging unit, where you plug in the charger.
The exterior outlook of the Kia Niro isn’t something you’ll instantly fall in love with. Although it’s launched this year in Australia, the Kia Niro is actually a 3-year-old model, launched back in 2018 overseas. It actually shows in the exterior. The design is very simple, with big headlights and a flat back. We’re not saying that simplicity is bad. If you’re a fan of simple and classic design, then the 2021 Niro will impress you. But if you prefer that posh, luxurious, and stand-out exterior design, then the Kia Niro might not be the best option.
Let’s talk about the wheels because it’s a very important feature of the Niro. All of the variants come with standard alloy wheels. The EV model comes with 17-inch alloy wheels with Michelin Primacy 3 tyres which provide outstanding energy efficiency to make the most of your battery charge.
The PHEV model also has the same Michelin Primacy 3 tyres, but the wheels are 16-inch alloy. On the hybrid model, you can actually choose between 16 or 18-inch alloy wheels, and the rims also have a more dynamic look to give it that sporty vibe.
All of the models have a ground clearance of 16cm, so the Niro is very efficient for both on and off-road driving.
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Much like the exterior design, the interior of the Niro also feels a few years old. However, it’s a very practical and well-built cabin. There’s a lot of space both in the front and back seats. Kia’s ambition with the Niro was more about comfort than design. You get massive cup holders, a large dashboard and door bins, and a really soft armrest between the two front seats.
For the infotainment, the base model of each variant comes with a standard 8-inch touchscreen, and the sports model comes with a 10.25-inch screen. The infotainment system is button-heavy. You can quickly access different features without having to go to the screen every time. The PHEV and the Hybrid come with a traditional gearbox, but the EV actually has a small circular selector instead of a gearbox. The absence of the gearbox does make the EV feel more spacious.
It’s a very toned down interior. There’s not much colour to the cabin, as everything is blended together in black and dark grey. For the seats, you get a mix of cloth and leather upholstery, which gives it that premium feel. By just looking at the seats, you can’t really tell that it’s not fully leather. The height of the seats is really good.
The Niro’s commitment to comfort is much more noticeable on the back seats. There’s plenty of legroom and headroom for an average 6-feet adult. You also get air vents at the back. Unfortunately, you don’t get advanced features like heated seats on the Niro, which is something you’d expect from an SUV at this price range.
You get 451 litres of boot space at the back, with large additional space under the floor. The PHEV model has only 324 litres of boot space. This is because that model is housing an electric battery and a combustion engine, which tends to eat up a lot of the space.
Overall, the interior of the 2021 Kia Niro might not stand out in terms of design and aesthetics, but it does a great job of building a very comfortable and spacious cabin.
The performance specs of the 2021 Kia Niro are focused more on eco-consciousness and fuel efficiency than speed and mobility. Let’s talk about the hybrid models first.
The Kia Niro has 2 hybrid variants, the HEV and the PHEV. The HEV is the traditional hybrid model which uses a petrol engine and an electric motor simultaneously. In the hybrid, you don’t need to charge the battery, because it’s charged by the engine itself.
The PHEV however, is a plug-in hybrid, where the petrol engine and the electric motor work separately. The car primarily runs using the electric motor and only switches to gas when the battery runs out of power. So, the petrol engine is actually used as a backup plan. Because it’s a separate unit, the PHEV requires the battery to be charged by plugging in just like a fully electric car.
Both the HEV and the PHEV come with a 1.6-litre petrol engine, with the PHEV having an additional 8.9kWh chargeable battery. The main reason you’d be tempted to consider the Kia Niro range is because of its amazing fuel efficiency and low running cost. The base model of the HEV has a fuel economy of 3.8L/100KM and 4.4L/1000KM on the Sport model.
The PHEV has a fuel economy of only 1.3L/100KM for both the base and sports models. The 8.9kWh battery of the PHEV will only cost you around $2 to fully charge at home. It is a very small-sized battery, so you’d be expecting around 45-50 KM range with it on a full charge.
Now let’s talk about the EV, which is the fully electric variant of the 2021 Kia Niro. This one has a massive 64kWh battery. You can charge it at home for between $10-$20, depending on whether you’re using peak or off-peak electricity hours. You can also charge it on a DC Fast Charger in any of the Chargefox charging stations around Australia, which will cost you around $25 for a full charge. It can go from 0-60 within 6.5 seconds and has a top speed of 167 kPh, whereas the HEV and PHEV have a top speed of only 120 kPh.
All of the models feel great on the road. They all have smooth handling, which is great for long drives, and not much sound gets inside the cabin because of how well-built it is. With the HEV and the PHEV, you won’t get that speedy performance. But the fully electric EV is better for both speed and efficiency.
The EV also has better handling than the other two models. Its heavy battery is located at the bottom of the car between the axles, so the whole weight is centralised. It allows for a better balance when driving on those curvy country roads.
The 2021 Kia Niro has all the basic tech features you’d expect. It has an 8-inch touchscreen display for the base models, and a 10.25-inch display on sports versions. It’s compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, however, there’s no wireless connectivity on the 8-inch display. It has built-in navigation and a 7-inch digital screen in front of the driving wheel. This is where your speed meter, fuel, and low-battery warnings show up.
Just like other modern SUVs, the Kia Niro also has the new smart keyless unlocking system. As long as you have the key in your pocket, the car doors will automatically unlock. It also has a push-button start, so you actually never need to remove the key from your pocket.
The 2021 Kia Niro has a 5-star ANCAP safety rating, with a 91% score in Adult Occupant Protection. You get most of the latest safety features such as Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Lane Keep Assist, and Lane Follow Assist.
Advantages and Disadvantages
- Environment-conscious and fuel-efficient range.
- Great performance on the EV model.
- Spacious, comfortable, and practical interior.
- Outdated design.
- No stand-out tech features.
- Average performance level on the hybrid models.
The Kia Niro HEV starts at $41,990 AUD, with the Sports version priced at $45,990. The PHEV is priced higher, starting at $49,990 AUD, with the Sports version at $53,990. The fully electric EV is the most expensive model in this range, starting at $67,490, with the Sports model costing $70,990.
Other Options to Consider
Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
If you’re looking for hybrid options within this price range that stands out in terms of design and tech features, then the 2021 Toyota RAV4 is the perfect choice for you. Its 2.5L hybrid engine gives you the perfect balance between performance and efficiency. It has a fuel economy of 5.8L/100KM. It’s a bigger and more spacious car than the Kia Niro. The base model of the RAV4 starts at around $42,000 AUD.
Toyota C-HR Hybrid
The 2021 C-HR hybrid is the perfect alternative if you’re looking for a compact SUV, a sporty outlook, and one of the most fuel-efficient hybrid engines out there. It has a 1.8-litre hybrid engine, with a fuel economy of 4.3 L/100km. It starts at $41,610 AUD.
Hyundai Kona Electric
If you’re looking for an EV alternative that stands out in the design department, then the Hyundai Kona Electric is the best alternative. It’s Australia's first 100% electric small SUV. In terms of looks, the Kona electric looks like a car straight out of sci-fi movies.
It has a 150 kW Electric Motor, and a 64kWh battery. It is a smaller car than the Kia Niro, but it’s loaded with the latest tech features. On top of that, its’ priced around $59,336, which is a lot cheaper than the Kia Niro EV.