I’m not one to go easy on the throttle.
After over 10 years of car testing, I like to punch it and see how the car feels on the open road. No reason to hold back, especially when there’s a little oomph available.
Recently, I took the 2023 Kia Niro SX Touring for a spin and really had to question myself and how I drove. The massive digital display, which sits right in front of you above the steering column, is a constant reminder of how you are driving and how much you are saving the planet.
Listen, this is not really meant as a preachy review. I like combustible engines and exhaust roar as much as the next driver, possibly a lot more. I do think there is a time for having a little fun on the road. However, I also know that we can all do our part to use the available resources on this planet in a measured and intentional way.
On the Niro, the display shows real-time power usage in an animated display that not only looks cool but also helps you know how to drive. In my testing, I noticed I could ease off the throttle and watch as the regenerative braking (which actually works even when you don’t brake — it works when you let off the acceleration as well) restore power. There are three levels to the regenerative braking, and at the highest setting, the Niro hybrid will actually come to a full stop. I remember the days from testing a lot of UTV off-road vehicles that this was more common on four-wheelers and other small-engine vehicles back in the day, but in a full hybrid like this, it’s quite useful. You don’t have to think about it that much, the Niro just restores power on its own.
How much power? I can’t say for sure, but the braking is quite pronounced and it’s obvious you are doing something to restore some energy. I liked how the display shows the energy flow so you can monitor if the gas engine is providing all of the power or if the electric motor is propelling you. And then, you can also watch as the braking restores power.
This type of educational data is helpful now and will be even more important as we all start driving more and more hybrids and electrics. For me, it did change how I was driving. It’s almost like a video game — how much energy can I restore? How long can I drive on the EV motor only? Can I lay off the accelerator a bit more and save more of the power?
I will say during my week I was able to focus more on how I was driving, and make better decisions about whether I would punch it or not when needed. Honestly, it doesn’t come up that often on the road, where you need to merge into traffic quickly. Most of the time, it’s just a matter of eventually hitting the speed required without worrying too much about quickly merging. And, even in those situations where you do need to accelerate quickly, it’s not always important to floor it all the day. I found in my testing that I could pretty easily drive around town, and even commute to a remote office, without having to do any “spirited driving” at all.
Easy access to this data in the main display on the Niro helped a ton because I didn’t have to glance over to a secondary display. I thought about it a lot more, and by the end of the week, the car had me thinking about the energy I was saving — and not accelerating as fast.