Which is better: an EV with older tech but more features and equipment or a newer EV with better tech but fewer gadgets and gizmos?
Are you bleeding edge or in the slipstream?
Do you need to be first with new technology no matter the cost, or are you happy to wait a generation and pocket the savings?
This is an interesting and potentially heretical conundrum in a country where new-generation smartphones infect the population faster than a new strain of the influenza virus.
Aussies love shiny new technology. According to a recent Roy Morgan survey, almost one-in-five Australians over 14 are considered early adopters, ambitious and passionate individuals keen to get their hands on innovative new products first.
But when it comes to electrified vehicles, is being the first necessarily the best?
We’ve gathered two new electric vehicles with the intent of investigating that very question.
The second-generation Kia Niro EV arrived in October 2022 barely 12 months after the original landed in 2021 (which first launched overseas in 2017, but Europe made us wait). The 2023 Kia Niro EV is a new-from-the-ground-up model and a smaller companion to the headline-grabbing, sold-out Kia EV6 electric car, with much of its interior design and technology packaged into a small SUV body about the same size as a petrol-powered Kia Seltos.
The advanced technology and new look come at a price, however. While the basic Niro hybrid range starts from $44,380 plus on-road costs, the cheapest ticket into an electric model is $65,300 plus on-road costs. With premium paint and all government charges included, our test car is more than $71,000 drive-away (in NSW) before any tax incentives or cash rebates.
That price – which is $7000 less than the top-of-the-range EV GT-Line ($72,100 plus on-road costs) – positions the Niro EV S alongside some strong competition.
Enter the Nissan Leaf, which was the first modern EV Australians could buy and own when it landed in 2012 – the Mitsubishi iMiEV beat the Leaf to our market in 2010 but was only available for lease.
The second-generation Nissan Leaf arrived here in 2019 and underwent a major midlife update in late-2022, effectively making this Generation 2.5. There are two variants to choose from, but for this comparison, we’ve plumped for the top-spec Leaf e+ priced at $61,490 plus on-road costs ($64,105 drive-away).
Nissan calls this MY23 update to the second-generation Leaf a “wheels-up redesign”, and the most obvious visual change is to the alloy wheels. Those 15-spoke black dish rims are anything but subtle. Beyond that, it’ll take a keen eye to spot the differences.
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Where the Kia’s electric powertrain has been upgraded for 2023, the Leaf’s mechanicals are largely carryover: 59kWh battery with 160kW/340Nm outputs and a maximum driving range of 385km.
Nissan touts some safety enhancements, although they’re not of the semi-autonomous nature we expect in this day and age.
Now that we’ve introduced the contenders let’s get to know them better as we seek to answer the question: Is newer driving tech always better in EV-Land or can older be better if you get more features for the money?
How much does the Kia Niro EV cost in Australia?
It’s no secret sales of electric vehicles (EVs) are on the rise in Australia, and the 2023 Kia Niro EV small SUV is one of the newest arrivals aiming to cut a slice of the market.
The car you see here is the second generation of the Niro launched in Australia. The first generation went on sale in Europe in 2017 but didn’t arrive in Australia until mid-2021.
It appears to have been a warm-up of sorts for this new-from-the-ground-up model, which has a larger and more futuristic design – inside and out – and is based on new underpinnings.
On the electric car spectrum, the Kia Niro EV is among the more conventional offerings, and based on a platform shared with petrol-powered Hyundai and Kia models rather than a dedicated electric car such as Tesla and other recent arrivals.
The new Kia Niro is available with hybrid or electric power locally – there’s no more plug-in hybrid option for Australia, unlike the outgoing model – in a choice of two specification grades, S and GT-Line.
With about 75 to 100 cars coming to Australia each month, Kia expects the electric model to be the stronger seller over time. Initial demand indicates the GT-Line grade is more popular.
The Niro EV is a smaller companion to the headline-grabbing, sold-out Kia EV6 electric car, with much of its interior design and technology – but packaged into a small SUV body, about the same size as a petrol-powered Kia Seltos.
However, the advanced technology and new look come at a price. While the basic Niro hybrid range starts from $44,380 plus on-road costs, the cheapest ticket into an electric model is $65,300 plus on-road costs. With premium paint and all government charges included, our test car is more than $71,500 drive-away (in Melbourne) before any tax incentives or cash rebates.
That price – which is $7000 less than the top-of-the-range EV GT-Line ($72,100 plus on-road costs) – positions the Niro EV S alongside some strong competition, including Tesla, the country’s best-selling electric vehicle brand.
The Niro’s rival from Kia’s sister company Hyundai – the similarly sized Kona Electric small SUV – costs about $5000 less ($60,500 plus on-road costs) in equivalent Elite Extended Range form.
China’s BYD Atto 3 and MG ZS EV offer more features (but less driving range, in the MG’s case) for less than $50,000 drive-away in most states.
A Tesla Model 3 sedan is listed for $65,500 plus on-road costs – and even once order/delivery fees and government charges are added, it is cheaper than the Niro at $68,300 drive-away (in NSW). The bigger Tesla Model Y medium SUV is closer to $75,000 on the road.
The base Kia EV6 Air costs about $7000 more than the Niro EV S – but is larger, better equipped, can go further on a full charge and accelerate faster. However, the queue for one of these stretches up to two years.
A complete list of standard equipment is detailed in our price and specs guide here, though highlights include an 8.0-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, a 10.25-inch instrument display, cloth/faux leather seats, climate control, an electric driver’s seat, and 17-inch alloy wheels.
However, items such as LED headlights, heated/ventilated seats, a wireless phone charger and satellite navigation are exclusive to the GT-Line.
How much does the Nissan Leaf cost in Australia?
Nissan calls this MY23 update to the second-generation Leaf a “wheels-up redesign”, and the most obvious visual change is to the alloy wheels. Those 15-spoke black dish rims are anything but subtle.
Beyond that it’ll take a keen eye to spot the updated badging, reprofiled front grille, and tinted covers for the new LED headlights. At the rear, the airflow diffuser is new, as is the spoiler and LED tail-lights. Foglights front and rear complete the understated makeover.
Nissan touts some safety enhancements, although they’re not of the semi-autonomous nature we expect in this day and age. Instead, Nissan has given the Leaf a driving sound called Canto, which the company says is only operational under 30km/h and is “designed to be audible but not alarming, to those outside the car”.
The cabin’s central rear-view mirror is still a mirror, and now has a second ‘screen’ mode linked to a camera in the Leaf’s butt.
So, the Leaf has changed but so has the competitive landscape. Today, there are too many EV alternatives to mention (see here). But the competition around $50,000 is still thin on the ground. The recently arrived BYD Atto 3 and the MG ZS are the cheapest (circa $45K), but then it’s a jump to the Hyundai Kona and Tesla Model 3 (around $59K).
We have no doubt that the next few years will bring new electric vehicles in the $40–65K price range. So the question is: has Nissan done enough with this new Leaf to keep up with current and future competition?
The Nissan Leaf’s price of entry has moved up slightly (by $1000) to $50,990 plus on-roads (or $53,515 drive-away), but that’s still less than the $51,500 demanded by the original back in 2012.
The flagship Leaf e+ we’re testing here costs $61,490 plus on-roads, which takes it to $64,015 on-road. The two-tone paint job adds $1090 to all of that.
Standard features on the entry-level Leaf include 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and tail-lights, dual-zone climate control, 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with smartphone mirroring, front and rear parking sensors, 360-degree cameras, and a host of safety features (detailed in the Safety section below).
|Key details||2023 Kia Niro EV S||2023 Nissan Leaf e+|
|Price (MSRP)||$65,300 plus on-road costs||$61,490 plus on-road costs|
|Colour of test car||Interstellar Grey||Grey Pearl with black roof|
|Options||Premium paint – $520||Two-tone paint – $1090|
|Price as tested||$65,820 plus on-road costs||$62,580 plus on-road costs|
|Drive-away price||$71,517 (Melbourne)||$65,195 (Melbourne)|
How much space does the Kia Niro EV have inside?
The eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat and faux leather-wrapped, tilt- and reach-adjustable steering wheel make it easy to find a comfortable driving position, and there’s plenty of headroom and elbow room, even for taller drivers.
The front seats are comfortable on longer journeys – with no tight spots or pain points – and the fabric and artificial ‘leather’ material trimming them looks, feels and breathes better than you might anticipate.
The Niro’s dashboard draws cues from the larger Kia EV6 electric car and Sportage family SUV, with a curved panel integrating a pair of screens that are easy to read and placed within reach of the driver.
While the full-size screens look slick in the flagship GT-Line, the smaller 8.0-inch infotainment screen, matte-black plastic surround and blank buttons below in the S remind you this is the entry-level model. The touch panel below the infotainment screen is sized well, with buttons large enough to tap while on a bumpy road.
Physical dials are located either side of the panel – but you’re required to press a small touch button to switch them from their primary purpose of volume and tuning control to make them adjust the air-conditioning. It’s only a minor annoyance, but it does mean you need to take your eyes off the road for longer than is ideal.
Dual-zone air-conditioning, keyless entry and push-button start are standard in all Niro EVs. The rest of the cabin is a mix of hard plastics and some soft-touch fabric.
Storage is good up front, with two cupholders, a large open-air storage bin, and a tray in front of the shifter that’s home to a 12-volt socket and USB-A and USB-C ports. Glovebox aside, the only closed storage area is the centre console bin – and it’s on the smaller side.
One gripe: the Niro S is the only model grade with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, yet it’s also the only one without a wireless smartphone charger.
Rear-seat space is good, with ample headroom and legroom behind my 183cm driving position, and good visibility thanks to the straight window line. The floor is flat, which improves the experience for the middle passenger, though the battery under the floor compromises toe room under the front seats. The seat base could also do with some more sculpting.
Second-row passengers have access to USB-C ports on the edge of the front seats, a fold-down centre armrest with two more cupholders, ISOFIX child restraint anchor points in the outboard seats, a map pocket on the passenger seat, and rear air vents.
All four door pockets are large enough to accomodate 600ml water bottles.
Behind the manual tailgate (the power tailgate is a GT-Line exclusive) is a 475L boot, which expands to 1392L with the 60:40-split rear seats folded. It’s one of the larger cargo areas in the small SUV class, and aided by an adjustable dual-level floor to maximise space or ease of loading – though the trade-off is a lack of a spare wheel, with a repair kit instead.
Features specific to the Niro EV include a front storage area – albeit a small one, with a 20L capacity – under the bonnet, and a power outlet (known as vehicle to load, or V2L) under the rear seats, which allows you to charge a computer or power another small electrical device from the car’s battery.
How much space does the Nissan Leaf have inside?
The Nissan Leaf’s interior is a strange mix of new-world and old-school. One example of ‘new-world’ is the ball-mounted toadstool-style gear selector that reinvents PRND T-bars and joysticks without any tangible functionality advantage.
An example of old-school is the graphics on the multimedia screen, which are chunky and low resolution, but eminently functional.
Both of those elements feel like carryovers from the pre-update Leaf, as does much of the interior – including the steering wheel that still only adjusts for tilt and not reach. This, and the relatively high seat, compromises driving position flexibility, which means not all shapes and sizes will find a comfortable driving position, me included.
For me, the relationship between the steering wheel and the pedals didn’t suit my preferred seating position, which admittedly has me sitting close enough to the steering wheel to have my arms comfortably bent. If you’re an old-school straight-arm steerer, this may not be a problem.
The heated leather front seats themselves are relatively comfortable over short and longer distances. All adjustments are manual, not electric.
The Leaf’s foot-activated park brake is an anachronism, especially in a ‘technologically advanced’ EV. It’s functional but crude.
The front doors have bottle holders and there are two cupholders in the centre console ahead of the small armrest.
A digital rear-view mirror is now fitted inside – which projects a camera feed from the rear into the centre mirror, available at the push of a button – while there’s also the ‘Canto’ sound, which plays below 30km/h to notify other road users if the vehicle is accelerating forwards, braking or reversing.
Access to the back seats is easy through decent-sized doors, and there’s a good amount of legroom and headroom for anyone six foot or less. Footroom under the front seats is limited.
There is no centre armrest for back seat passengers, nor are there any air vents or climate controls.
Interestingly, the front-drive Leaf has a transmission tunnel or driveshaft tunnel that a middle seat occupant has to straddle, even though it doesn’t need one. Nissan says the transmission tunnel is used to house high-voltage cables and easy access to the fuse box. Other EVs manage to house this stuff without compromising the cabin.
The Leaf’s boot opens manually (not electrically), offers a competitive 405L of storage, and is commendably deep. There is now a temporary-use spare tyre under the floor.
Is it just me, or does an EV come with the expectation that things like seats and boots should move electrically, too?
|2023 Kia Niro EV S||2023 Nissan Leaf e+|
|Boot volume||475L seats up
1392L seats folded
20L under bonnet
|405L seats up
1176L seats folded
Does the Kia Niro EV have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto?
The Niro EV S is distinguished inside by its 8.0-inch centre touchscreen – rather than the GT-Line’s 10.25-inch display – with wireless Apple CarPlay, wireless and wired Android Auto, and digital radio.
The software is easy to use, with clear (if basic) graphics and enough processing power to run Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. However, the system is starting to show its age – having spread across Kia’s range, including to the $16,000 Picanto – and lacks satellite navigation.
Wireless Apple CarPlay worked reasonably well in our week with the car, dropping out once and only for a few seconds. The option of wired connectivity as a backup would be a simple workaround, but Kia’s system allows wireless CarPlay connectivity only (though wireless and wired for Andoid Auto).
Ahead of the driver is a 10.25-inch digital instrument display. While you can’t change its layout, switching between Eco, Normal and Sport (as well as Snow) modes swaps the colour scheme – with slick animations and no lag – and all the key driving information is either displayed by default or a button press away.
The six-speaker sound system in the Niro EV S should be potent enough for most drivers, though audiophiles will want to upgrade to the EV GT-Line, which scores an eight-speaker stereo with Harman Kardon branding.
The Niro EV S also misses out on the GT-Line’s support for the Kia Connect ‘telematics’ service, which offers upgraded navigation and voice-recognition systems, and a smartphone app with remote lock/unlock, vehicle location, driving range and charging functions, among others.
Does the Nissan Leaf have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto?
The Nissan Leaf’s driver instrument cluster is a combination of old-school speedometer dial and 7.0-inch TFT display for driving range, driving efficiency and other performance monitors. It can also display navigation instructions and media updates.
The Leaf also has a centrally mounted 8.0-inch multimedia screen with built-in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
This screen is small by today’s standards and the graphics have a grainy, chunky, old-school vibe to them. The system works well enough but can be a bit laggy at times. It includes media playback, satellite navigation and digital radio.
There is also a ‘driving range’ screen and an ‘energy usage’ screen to give the driver visibility over the Leaf’s planet-saving ways. It also details how much driving range you’re sacrificing by running ancillary systems like the climate control.
The Leaf includes an eight-speaker Bose sound system with a subwoofer in the boot, but the sound quality wasn’t all that impressive or bassy.
Is the Kia Niro EV a safe car?
The new Kia Niro was recently awarded a five-star safety rating by ANCAP under the 2020–2022 criteria.
It received scores of 88 per cent in adult occupant protection, 84 per cent in child occupant protection, 76 per cent in vulnerable road user protection, and 87 per cent in safety assist technology.
Is the Nissan Leaf a safe car?
The Nissan Leaf was crash-tested by ANCAP in 2018, which means the five-star rating it earned will time-out at the end of 2023. While both variants of the Leaf are structurally similar, ANCAP does not provide a rating for the 59kWh Leaf e+, and only officially rates the 39kWh short range Leaf.
ANCAP scored the Leaf a highly respectable 93 per cent for adult occupant protection, 85 per cent for child occupant protection, 71 per cent for vulnerable road user protection and 70 per cent for safety assist.
|At a glance||2023 Kia Niro EV S||2023 Nissan Leaf e+|
|ANCAP rating & year tested||Five stars (tested 2022)||Unrated|
|Safety report||ANCAP report||ANCAP report (for Leaf 39kWh)|
What safety technology does the Kia Niro EV have?
Advanced safety features standard on the Niro S include autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian/cyclist detection and intersection support, lane keeping and centring assists, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, driver attention alert, traffic sign recognition, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
The only safety features exclusive to the GT-Line are front parking sensors (the Niro S only gets rear sensors), a safe-exit warning system (which tells you if you’re about to open your door into the path of an oncoming vehicle), and a low-speed autonomous emergency braking system when reversing.
Eight airbags are standard, including a driver’s knee airbag, and one between the front-seat passengers to prevent their heads colliding in side-impact crashes.
The lane-keeping assistance is slightly overzealous, though it wasn’t frustrating enough to warrant turning it off every time I stepped into the car.
The lane-following function keeps the car close to the centre of the lane on freeways – though this isn’t meant to be a fully autonomous car, so the system struggles on tighter turns or slower suburban roads, where you’ll feel the vehicle start to drift out of its lane.
The radar-guided adaptive cruise control also works well, with four presets to vary your distance from the traffic ahead.
Something to note: the system remembers your last regenerative braking setting, so if you’re driving in one-pedal mode in town, turn onto a freeway and activate cruise control, and then deactivate it without your foot on the accelerator, the car will want to come to a grinding halt.
What safety technology does the Nissan Leaf have?
The Leaf comes with six airbags front and back, and two ISOFIX anchor points in the back seat.
Active safety technology ticks the main boxes but falls short of standards set by newer vehicles. It has intelligent forward collision warning with emergency braking that also detects pedestrians but not cyclists. It has lane-departure warning with steering intervention, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert. Neither of those last two will take a hand in helping you avoid trouble.
Front and rear parking sensors are complemented by a 360-degree surround-view camera set-up.
How much does the Kia Niro EV cost to run?
As with all Kia models in Australia, the Niro comes with a seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty – the equal longest of any electric car in Australia, tied with MG’s ZS EV.
Servicing is required every 12 months or 15,000km. Buyers can choose to pay as they go or buy a service plan upfront (helpfully for buyers on a budget, the servicing costs amount to the same price in the end, no matter which option is chosen).
Over five years, the Niro EV costs $1186 to maintain – thanks to costly, near-$500 services in the second, fourth and sixth years – or $1754 for seven years, for an average of $250/year.
That compares favourably to rivals: a BYD Atto 3 costs $1384 over five years/100,000km, and a Hyundai Kona Electric costs $1445 over five years/75,000km – though an MG ZS EV costs $804 over six years/60,000km, or $1611 over eight years/80,000km.
A year of comprehensive insurance coverage will cost about $1825 based on a comparative quote for a 35-year-old male driver living in Chatswood, NSW. Insurance estimates may vary based on your location, driving history, and personal circumstances.
How much does the Nissan Leaf cost to run?
All Nissan vehicles come with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty that also includes 24-hour roadside assist.
Servicing the Leaf happens in 12-month or 20,000km intervals, and will cost $852 for the first three years or $1476 over five years under Nissan’s capped-price servicing plan. If you service at a Nissan dealership, they’ll even give your car a clean inside and out to finish each service.
The Nissan Leaf’s comprehensive insurance quote is surprisingly high for a $60,000 car at $2073. This is based on a comparative quote for a 35-year-old male driver living in Chatswood, NSW. Insurance estimates may vary based on your location, driving history, and personal circumstances.
Is the Kia Niro EV S energy-efficient?
Kia claims the Niro EV will consume 16.2kWh (kilowatt-hours) of energy per 100km. In our week with the car, we saw an indicated consumption rating of 14.8kWh/100km – after a mix of urban commuting, main suburban (60–70km/h) streets, winding back roads, and stretches of freeway.
On multiple occasions, the car’s trip computer listed energy efficiency in the region of 11.5 to 12.5kWh/100km – equating to more than 500km of range, if you’re able to maintain that economy over a longer distance. Those figures were measured in Normal mode with the air-conditioning on, and the one-pedal driving mode active (which optimises regenerative braking).
At other times, we saw energy consumption of up to 21kWh/100km.
These consumption figures suggest Kia’s 460km driving claim (per European WLTP lab testing) is achievable – or even beatable – in the real world, which is refreshing given many petrol and electric cars struggle to meet their official range claims.
While the Niro’s driving range is great for a car of its size – and on par with its $70,000 rivals, which all offer about 450–500km of WLTP range – it can’t charge as quickly as Kia’s larger dedicated electric car, the EV6.
Kia claims the Niro can charge from 10 to 80 per cent in 45 minutes on a 100kW DC fast charger, or 43 minutes on a 350kW socket – however despite charging faster on a 350kW socket, the Niro is only estimated to max out at 80-85kW.
In our testing, a 30 to 80 per cent fast-charge on a 165kW Chargefox station took 41 minutes – short of Kia’s claim – with a peak speed of 65kW observed at about 50 per cent battery capacity (or ‘state of charge’).
There may have been other factors at play, such as battery heat and ambient temperature (the car displayed 14 degrees Celsius) – but even with Kia’s official claims as a guide, shorter charge times would be nice, particularly for long road trips with regular stops.
Is the Nissan Leaf energy-efficient?
Nissan claims the Leaf will cover 270km between charges according to the WLTP standard. The Leaf e+’s bigger battery raises this claimed figure to 385km. During our time with the car, the most we saw was 350km between recharges at an average consumption of 16.8kWh/100km.
Plugging the Leaf in at home means it will take 21 hours to recharge. The bigger battery in the Leaf e+ takes that out to 32 hours.
If you take Nissan up on its 7kW wallbox, then charging times drop by almost two-thirds to 7.5 and 11.5 hours respectively.
DC fast charging enables a one-hour 20 to 80 per cent fast charge in the base Leaf, or 1.5 hours in the Leaf e+.
For most of our week with the Leaf, we plugged it into a standard domestic socket overnight and in the office carpark, so range was simply never an issue.
We did try one of two free public charging stations in Geelong that promised 22kW/h, but after 14 minutes plugged in, the Leaf had absorbed a paltry 0.04kWh, so we gave up and moseyed on over to the second site only to find four Teslas hooked up. Waiting another 15 minutes changed nothing, so we gave up again.
This is not a slight on the Nissan Leaf but is symptomatic of Australia’s unreliable and overworked recharging network.
|At a glance||2023 Kia Niro EV S||2023 Nissan Leaf e+|
|Warranty||Seven years, unlimited km||Five years, unlimited km|
|Service intervals||12 months or 15,000km||12 months or 20,000km|
|Servicing costs||$621 (3 years)
$1186 (5 years)
|$852 (3 years)
$1476 (5 years)
|Fuel cons. (claimed)||16.2kWh/100km||17.1kWh/100km|
|Fuel cons. (on test)||14.8kWh/100km||16.8kWh/100km|
|Driving range claim (WLTP)||460km||385km|
|Charge time (7kW)||11hr 30min|
|Charge time (11kW)||6h 20m (10-100%)|
|Charge time (50kW)||1h 5m (10-80%)||1h 30m (20-80%)|
Powering the new Niro EV is a single electric motor driving the front wheels with outputs of 150kW and 255Nm.
The overall power output is the same as the previous-generation Niro – but torque has been cut by 140Nm from 395Nm to make the car easier to drive, and less likely to burst into wheel spin from a standstill on a wet road.
It doesn’t accelerate like a top-of-the-line Tesla – but nor is it designed to.
Kia’s claimed 0–100km/h time of 7.8 seconds feels about right in the real world; it’s punchy enough to accelerate out of a tricky situation, and the electric motor delivers instant response when on the move.
The new electric motor’s reduced torque output does curb wheel spin as intended, though floor the accelerator on a slippery road or out of a tight corner and you can still feel the traction control working away to keep the front wheels under control.
Acceleration is dulled in Eco mode, and made more responsive in Sport mode. I left it in Normal mode for most of my week with the car, finding it a good middle ground – though initial acceleration off the traffic lights could be sharper in all three settings.
Four regenerative braking modes are available, ranging from coasting with minimal deceleration, to a full ‘one-pedal’ driving mode (called i-Pedal) that can bring the car to a halt, activating the brake lights accordingly. These modes are controlled by the paddles on the steering wheel.
If you’ve never driven an electric car before, one-pedal driving will be a weird sensation – but you quickly get used to it and learn to modulate your inputs so the car comes to a stop right on the traffic light line, without touching the brake pedal (you’ll save on brake-pad wear too).
Beyond regenerative braking, the conventional disc brakes (or ‘friction brakes’ as they’re now being called to make the distinction between the electric motor’s regenerative braking ability) are smooth and we had no complaints.
However, the one-pedal mode is strong enough that, for sharp corners on a tight country road, you may never need to touch the brake pedal anyway.
The Niro’s suspension was tuned for our roads by Kia’s engineers in Australia – including, for the first time since the start of the pandemic, the weight and responsiveness of its steering.
Suspension comfort over bumps errs on the firmer side of the spectrum, but it’s not stiff or harsh, and does a fair job of absorbing road irregularities in the city and on the open road.
In spirited driving, the Niro feels its 1727kg tare (without driver or fluids) weight, so it’s not as agile or light on its feet as the lighter Niro Hybrid, or a standard petrol-engined car.
The steering is light for around-town driving, but accurate enough to place the car on a tight road – though, of course, this is no hot hatch. The claimed 10.6m turning circle is on par for similarly sized cars in the Niro’s class.
Road roar and wind noise are largely kept out of the cabin, aside from the inevitable tyre hum on coarse-chip country roads.
What lets down some of the driving experience at night-time is the headlights. Whereas the Niro GT-Line gets LED projector beams, the Niro S has old-school halogen lights, which do not provide the kind of illumination you expect from a modern electric car, let alone one that costs in excess of $70,000.
Fortunately, a fix for this would only be a model-year update – and a price rise – away. Here’s hoping Kia upgrades what, as of writing, is currently Australia’s most expensive new SUV with halogen headlights.
What is the Nissan Leaf like to drive?
The Nissan Leaf’s edgy external styling is in no way a teaser to edgy driving dynamics lurking within. In fact, this EV is as vanilla as it gets on the road – comfortable and competent but lacking in character.
If you want an EV that delivers solidly on its promise and doesn’t waste time on driver engagement, then look no further. The Leaf drives, rides and steers as effectively as a commuter car should. It’s quiet, it has a decent amount of accelerative urge even at highway speeds, and it brakes smoothly and without hiccups caused by the energy regeneration system.
In addition to that, the Leaf can be driven in one-pedal mode by pushing a button near the gear selector. This means the car slows aggressively when you lift off the accelerator by using the electric motor as a generator to harvest electrical energy, and will ‘brake’ in that way long enough to bring you to a stop.
The system is actually one of the more aggressive ones that I’ve driven, and it will upset your passengers if you step off the accelerator, so it’s best to instead reduce pressure smoothly until you’re totally off.
One-pedal mode is not suited to parking manoeuvres, so it’s good that the switch to disable it is close to hand.
One thing I found a bit strange: when reverse is selected, the Leaf makes an ongoing chiming noise that for some reason reminds me of the sonar ping you hear in submarine movies when they’re trying to sneak up on a target. So, instead of making me calmer, it adds a bit of stress.
On second thought, maybe that’s not such a bad thing while reversing.
Also, despite the multimedia touchscreen that should in theory centralise many vehicle controls, there are still close to 50 buttons scattered around the Leaf’s interior. And some of them are in very strange positions.
For example, the car’s four driving modes – Eco, D, B and e-Pedal – are activated by three different controls in two different locations. The e-Pedal toggle rests near the transmission selector, but the Eco mode button is on the other side of the steering wheel – next to a recharging flap release button.
|Key details||2023 Kia Niro EV S||2023 Nissan Leaf e+|
|Engine||Single electric motor||Single electric motor|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive||Front-wheel drive|
|Transmission||Single-speed automatic||Single-speed automatic|
|Spare tyre type||Tyre repair kit||Temporary spare (underslung)|
|Tow rating||750kg braked
Should I buy a Kia Niro EV or a Nissan Leaf?
Let’s start with these two vehicles’ real-world driving capabilities. The Leaf has more power and torque and therefore better real-world acceleration. But it has a smaller battery and uses more energy per 100km so has a much smaller driving range.
In fact, the best we could get out of the Leaf was 350km between charges, while the Niro’s consumption in our hands suggested that its 450km claim is achievable. That’s quite a gulf between these two front-drive hatchbacks.
Looking at running costs, the Niro’s seven-year warranty and $250 per year servicing cost (over seven years) beats Nissan’s still impressive five-year warranty and $295 per year servicing cost (over five years).
The Kia also has a 10 per cent lower comprehensive insurance premium, too, despite its higher purchase price, which equates to an annual saving of $248.
If we look at equipment now, the Kia has a more impressive active safety suite, which is what you’d expect on a newer vehicle. The Niro has also been awarded five stars for safety by ANCAP, whereas the Leaf (at least in e+ specification) has no rating.
Now for features and equipment, and this should be an area where the Leaf e+ wins, because it is effectively the flagship of its range, whereas the S is the ‘entry-level’ Niro.
The Leaf has a proximity key which means the car senses your approach and will unlock for you when you tug on a door handle. The Kia’s key has remote unlocking, but only at the push of a button.
The Leaf has 360-degree cameras and both front and rear sensors to make parking easier, the Kia only offers a rear camera and rear sensors.
The Leaf has LED headlights, the Kia has older halogen lights.
The Leaf has satellite navigation, road-sign recognition, voice recognition, tyre pressure monitoring, darkened rear windows (privacy glass), a clever digital rear-view mirror and a heated steering wheel. The Kia has none of this.
However, the Kia has a power tailgate and height-adjustment for the front passenger seat.
So, on the surface that looks like a win for the Leaf, because it has more kit. But we highly recommend you read the Safety sections above, because the Kia has a huge advantage in this important area.
Right, time for a conclusion. The thing about early adopters is that they don’t mind paying extra to be first. This makes the Kia Niro’s higher price something of a non-issue for this comparison.
If that’s not the case, and you’re keen to pocket the $6K difference, then we totally respect your decision and politely suggest that you’re not an early adopter who absolutely must have the newest and shiniest tech available.
If it was our money, we’d buy the Niro S despite its shorter features list. It has a longer driving range, a better back seat and a much longer active safety list. All three of those more than make up for a few missing features. And let’s face it, who hasn’t used Waze or Google Maps on their smartphone instead of inbuilt satnav!