Our electric car future receives another jolt of energy with the arrival of Kia’s Niro EV.
If you believe electrics are a fad or experiment and that internal combustion is the only way to go, well you’re in for a shock, ultimately. Because all the carmakers are rushing to get full electric cars and crossovers onto the highways as quickly as they can. Short-term the hybrids and plug-in hybrids are the way to go, but with mainstream cars like the Niro being electrified, it’s only a matter of time until one is in your driveway.
First, Niro is a small crossover that already has a fine reputation as an economical compact family vehicle, plus one that is available as a hybrid (like the top-selling Toyota Prius), or plug-in hybrid. The tested Platinum Graphite (dark metallic gray) Niro EV EX Premium is the top-level pure electric from South Korea’s Kia.
Like all electrics it has the advantage of quiet operation and instantaneous torque for quick getaways. It also has a price tag that likely will give you pause when considering purchasing one. What you won’t have to worry about, much, is range.
Early electrics had 30-50-mile ranges that made them acceptable for city driving and short commutes. The Niro has a roughly 240-mile range. My test car registered 244 miles on the dash when fully charged, but after a drive on a frigid day with high temps in the single digits, that dropped to about 200 miles after a roughly 20-mile drive.
When the weather warmed to the mid-20s, I seemed to get the mileage Niro’s dash readout predicted. An overnight charge with the 120-volt circuit in my garage gained me about 50 miles of charge. A 16-hour charge got me 70 miles. For the record, Kia says 59 hours will fully charge the battery if it were completely drained. Unlikely you’d ever let that happen.
If you have a 220-line in your garage a full charge takes 9.5 hours, basically overnight. And if you go to a fast-charging site, such as at a car dealership, an 80% charge takes only 1 hour and 15 minutes.
But let’s be practical. My round-trip daily commute is 24 miles, and if this were my car I’d likely plug it in every night, or every other night to keep a full, or nearly full, charge. And let’s be realistic too. I did spend a lot more time watching my charge numbers and driving range than I ever would have with a standard gasoline-powered vehicle. But you’d get over that in a few weeks.
From a family vehicle standpoint, the Niro EV is as useful and comfortable as any small crossover, and more handsome than its cousin, the Hyundai Ioniq. While it doesn’t compare directly to a hybrid or plug-in Prius, it easily beats its looks.
Power comes from a 150kW electric motor that generates 201 horsepower and 291 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s a lot for a car weighing less than 3,900 lbs. Touch the accelerator and the Niro immediately jumps to life, powering away from stoplights while all those gas-powered beasts are struggling up to speed and third gear.
Think you can’t spin those front drive wheels? Ha, I could chirp them nearly at will, especially when there was a bit of frost on the morning pavement.
There are three drive modes to select from too, Eco, Normal and Sport. Normal was fine and allowed for quick starts, but tap the button to enter Sport Mode and you transform the EV into a pocket rocket to make any drifter dude or dudette smirk.
Handling was good too as the car’s battery pack is mounted low and between the wheels giving the Niro nice balance. In turns there was no body lean or sway. That said, the power steering feels overboosted at times, which makes it feel almost too quick, giving the car a bit of a twitchy feel at lower speeds. It seemed to calm on the highway. The steering also became too heavy in Sport mode, which aids shift points and throttle response too.
Ride though is stiffer than I’d like. Niro seemed to power through some big potholes and rough roads to the point of jostling its occupants. I’d like to see this ride damped down some for our Midwest roads.
Inside, the Kia’s interior feels and looks more luxurious than you might expect for a small crossover. This one had black perforated leather seats with electric blue (some may say teal) stitching and the black dash and doors also featured similar blue trim, including around the air vents, while black gloss trim graces the door panels by the door releases. Niro carries that blue accent theme outside to the grille and around front and rear lights too. .
The power driver’s seat is comfortable with both it and the passenger seat featuring good support for hips and lower back, plus a power lumbar adjustment. And the interior is roomy enough for four to travel comfortably, five for short hauls. The rear seats split and fold flat for cargo hauling too and the hatch includes a wiper. Front seats also offer three heating levels and quickly fire up.
A heat pump and battery heater also were added options, costing $1,080. In our climate this is a wise addition as the heat pump ensured hot air was being spread around the interior within about 2 minutes of the car being started.
This model’s 8-inch touchscreen is simple to use and includes two knobs for radio volume and tuning, plus buttons on the dash for the navigation system and climate controls, which include two dials for temperature adjustment.
Overhead is a sunroof and down under the center stack is a wireless charging station for your phone, bravo!
The test car was the EX Premium, which added that sunroof, a Harman Kardon premium audio system, that 8-inch screen, the heated seats, navigation system, charger, interior mood lighting, LED interior and tail lights, and the power driver’s seat.
A $1,000 option package also added a heated steering wheel, LED lights, auto-dimming rearview mirror, park distance warning front and rear and a cargo cover. Other options where minor, cargo mats, floor mats and a cargo net.
Standard are many of the safety items we now expect, blind-spot warning, lane keeping assist, rear cross traffic alert, smart cruise control, forward collision avoidance assist and fog lights.
One might assume from this review that there’s nothing, other than ride, that would put me off the Niro. But, there was a disturbing groan to the steering wheel some mornings. It wasn’t on the coldest ones, so I can’t blame temperature solely, and I’m hesitant to call it “morning sickness” as that was a GM problem many years ago. The groaning wasn’t consistent, but it was fairly loud when it occurred.
Also, in a smaller vehicle like this I’d prefer a flat-bottomed steering wheel to increase leg and knee room when entering and exiting the vehicle. Not a deal breaker to be sure, but something Kia might consider.
Then there’s the price. For the test car, which starts at $44,995 including delivery, the options pushed this to $47,155. That’s luxury car pricing that would allow you to slip into most German makes. Yet you should know that currently you’d get a $7,500 federal tax credit for buying electric, dropping your cost below $40 grand. Also, you could forego some of the bells and whistles here with an EV EX model that starts at $39,545, and it receives the same credit.
If you’re not yet willing to go all electric, Niro has other strong options. The base is a hybrid with 1.6-liter I4 gas-powered engine generating a combined 104 horsepower. It starts at $24,430 and pricing, and power, goes up from there. A plug-in hybrid that gives you about 25 miles of charge, is backed up with a gas-powered engine and delivers 139 horsepower. It starts at $29,545 and earns a $4,543 federal tax credit.
So Niro in within many people’s price range; its powerplant being the biggest variable. Go with the tried and true, or move up to hybrid or plug-in hybrid if you wish to save gas and help clear the air. Or you can now go full-on electric to further lessen your carbon footprint.
FAST STATS: 2019 Kia Niro EV EX Premium
Hits: Attractive electric crossover with good range, good power, good handling and comfy well laid out interior. Three drive modes, solid compliment of safety systems, easy dash and screen, sunroof, wireless charging, heated wheel and three-level heated front seats.
Misses: Stiff ride, overboosted power steering with heavy steering feel and steering wheel groaned some mornings. Could use flat-bottomed steering wheel. Pricey!
Made in: South Korea
Engine: 150 kW electric motor, 201 hp
Weight: 3,854 lbs.
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 172.2 in.
Cargo: 53.0 cu.ft. (rear seats down)
Range: 240 mi. (approx.)
Base Price: $44,995 (includes delivery)
Cold weather package (battery heater, heat pump), $1,080
EX Premium launch edition (heated steering wheel, LED lights, auto-dim rearview mirror, parking distance warning front/rear, cargo cover), $1,000
Cargo mat, $95
Carpeted floor mats, $135
Cargo net, $50
Delete: EX Premium package (HomeLink, cooled front seats), -$200
Test vehicle: $47,155
Sources: Kia, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage