Every new Kia is a little weird. The Soul is the poster child of weird. The Carnival is weird because it’s a minivan that goes to great lengths to convince people it isn’t one. The Telluride has those bendy taillights clearly inspired by the Maserati 3200GT, and the Seltos is outwardly pretty handsome and thoroughly normal, except it has the name of a brand of mints people stopped popping in the ’90s.
The theme continues with the 2023 Niro. The real five-tool player in the Kia lineup, the Niro will come in hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery-electric varieties. The interior looks much sleeker than its predecessor’s; I’m sure it’ll be relatively pleasant for an economy car. None of those things make the Niro weird.
The Niro’s exterior makes it weird. It’s like the designers took the basic silhouette of a small crossover and garnished it with as many graphic elements as possible. And while it sort of works on the back with those novel boomerang-shaped tail lamps meeting the deviated-color C-pillars, things get really strange at the front.
Lots of new cars today do the split-headlight thing. There’s usually a strip of daytime running lights or LEDs up top, underscored by the projector that’s actually going to illuminate the road ahead when it gets dark out. It was a neat idea when Nissan and Jeep introduced it on their SUVs in the early 2010s, but it’s gotten a little stale since every other automaker decided to crib it. Even BMW’s stealing the motif for the new X7. Hey — they couldn’t possibly make modern Bimmers look uglier than they already do, so why not?
At first glance, the Niro appears to employ this trick too, until you look closely and realize that the strip of black and silver that looks like it could contain something is all but trim running across the top of the bumper. That means the entirety of the forward lighting is contained within those six-sided blobs positioned far off to the sides and back, near the leading edges of the fenders.
Some readers who have commented on the Niro’s appearance in Lawrence Hodge’s larger story about the car think it looks good, but I don’t. I actually kind of really hate it. But I thought it would be a fun experiment to expunge this bit of trim from the Niro’s face and see what we get.
Without the black eyebrows that visually complete the headlights but don’t actually do anything, the clusters’ placement looks even more random — like they’re floating out in no man’s land. The edited image above is one of the EV variant, where the upper black portion and about half of the lower one are merely trim, with no aperture for airflow. On the hybrid, the mouth part is more hollowed out, while the upper strip still isn’t but is nonetheless styled a little differently from the one on the battery-electric model.
I thought I made the Niro look worse with my shoddy Photoshop, but as it happens Lawrence told me he digs the look without the eyebrows more. What do you think? Personally, I’d take either of these over the old Niro, which I always likened to a naked mole rat in EV guise. I’m also looking forward to the Cherokee-style mid-cycle refresh in three or four years when they put the headlights back in the proper spot again.