Whirring down a residential street in Carmel, California, my 2019 Kia Niro EV closes in on a young couple, walking hand-in-hand toward the tiny town’s business district. As the electric car approaches, its distinctive pedestrian warning system emitting a futuristic whine, they both whip their heads around to see what’s coming toward them.
During a day spent driving the latest affordable long-range electric car along the coast of California, it was the most attention generated by the Niro EV.
It is not a head-turner for the sake of turning heads. Except for blue accent trim, arrowhead-shaped running lights, and a closed-off grille with a charging port, it looks like any other Kia Niro, which is a stylish multi-purpose vehicle offering the ride height and utility of a crossover SUV combined with the efficiency of a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and, now an electric car.
When it goes on sale in a handful of states at the end of February 2019, the Niro EV will be sold in EX and EX Premium trim. Prices were not final as this review was published, but Kia says they will be similar to the related Hyundai Kona Electric, which stickers for as little as $37,495.
Remarkably Enjoyable to Drive
Unlike some EVs, the Niro EV does not come with a frunk (front trunk). Instead, Kia uses the engine bay to house the car’s 150-kW electric motor, which makes 201 horsepower between 3,800 rpm and 8,000 rpm, and 291 lb.-ft. of torque between 0 rpm and 3,600 rpm.
The motor powers the Kia Niro EV’s front wheels, and a liquid-cooled 64 kWh Li-ion battery supplies the electricity. Located under the car’s cabin, the battery recharges in 59 hours using a Level 1 household outlet, or 9.5 hours when plugged into a Level 2 home or public charging station. Level 3 DC fast charging capability is standard, providing 100 miles of extra range in 30 minutes, or an 80% charge in 75 minutes.
Quick, but not fast, the Niro EV accelerates to 60 mph in just under 7.8 seconds, according to Kia. You’ll be happy with how the Niro squirts forward around town, and it can run at 80 mph on the freeway without any trouble. But if you’re planning to drag race Teslas, forget about it.
Four driving modes are available: Eco+, Eco, Normal, and Sport. Four levels of regeneration are also available, the most aggressive setting providing 2.5g of deceleration when you lift your foot off of the accelerator. Kia also allows you to program each driving mode with a specific level of regeneration, giving Niro EV owners plenty of drivetrain customization options.
You can drive a Niro EV without using the brake pedal. Between the maximum regen setting and holding the left steering wheel paddle toward you, the car will come to a complete stop. Eventually. Because maximum regen is not as forceful as in some other EV models, you’ll need to plan carefully and be patient. Once you’re stopped, an Auto Hold button on the center console will hold the car in place until you step on the accelerator again.
Among the different driving modes, I preferred Normal with maximum regeneration. In Eco mode, the car returns sluggish response, and in Sport mode the steering adds weight without improving responsiveness or accuracy. Though equipped with regenerative brakes, the Niro EV’s brake pedal felt perfectly natural underfoot.
Kia calls the Niro EV a crossover SUV, but with just 6.1 inches of ground clearance, and without all-wheel drive, it isn’t one. So rather than drive dirt trails, I stuck to the highways and byways between Santa Cruz and Big Sur on the north-central coast of California.
In terms of ride and handling, Kia has done a great job of masking the 1,008 pounds of battery weight in the 3,854-pound Niro EV. Around town and on the freeway, you can’t really tell that it’s carrying a hefty battery under the passenger compartment. Over pavement undulations, the extra poundage is more evident but wasn’t unsettling on the winding road to Big Sur. The standard 17-inch wheels wrapped in 215/55 tires aren’t going to inspire hard-charging around mountain curves, but they’re perfect for commuting and zipping around town.
Officially, the Kia Niro EV offers 239 miles of driving range on a single battery charge. I started the day with 260 miles of range showing on the trip computer, traveled 155.7 miles at an average consumption rate of 3.8 mi/kWh, and had 93 miles of range remaining when I handed the key back to Kia.
Roomy, Practical, and Loaded with Technology
Looking good inside and out, the Niro EV features a high-quality interior. Everything feels rock solid, and the plastic surfaces avoid the thin, hollow, glossy look that is evident even in some luxury vehicles. Choose EX Premium trim for LED exterior and interior lighting, a power sunroof, a 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat, heated and ventilated front seats, and leather upholstery. A heated steering wheel is available for the EX Premium.
For the most part, the EV drivetrain doesn’t impact interior space. Up front, dimensions match a standard Niro, and the EX Premium’s seats are mighty comfortable. Kia thoughtfully provides a manual seat height adjuster for the front passenger, helping to improve support.
The Niro EV’s rear seat loses 1.4 inches each of headroom and legroom to the requirements of the car’s battery pack. As a result of the higher floor, thigh support evaporates, making adult passengers feel as though they’re about to dine on their kneecaps. Kids, however, will be just fine back there. And Kia provides air conditioning vents and dark-tinted glass to help keep people cool.
Inside the cabin, Kia supplies a whole bunch of storage space, and the center console is especially useful because it isn’t a bridge-style design with storage underneath. Instead, the transmission knob sits on an angled pedestal, leaving lots of open space to access the floor tray and plenty of room for a relatively commodious center console.
Cargo space shrinks just a bit compared to a standard Niro, but remains on par with other subcompact crossover SUVs. The trunk holds 18.5 cubic-feet of luggage, down less than a cube from a standard Niro. With the back seat folded down, cargo room expands to 53 cubic-feet. (down 1.5 cubes).
Safety is standard, thanks to the Kia Drive Wise suite of driver assistance and collision avoidance systems. They include adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist, and a Driver Attention Warning monitor that issues an alert when the driver is distracted. A blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert is also standard equipment.
Every Niro EV also has an infotainment system with a 7-inch display, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, and 3 USB ports. Upgrade to the EX Premium for a larger 8-inch screen, a navigation system, wireless smartphone charging, and a Harmon Kardon premium sound system with Clari-Fi digital music restoration technology.
Kia’s Your Voice (UVO) telematics system is standard. In this application, in addition to its usual safety and convenience features, it supplies EV-specific functions controlled with your smartphone:
- Remote monitoring/checking of battery and charging status
- Real-time charging station availability updates
- Charge scheduling to leverage cheaper electricity rates
- Cabin pre-conditioning with heat or air conditioning
This version of UVO also provides a Panic Notification system and the ability to program navigation instructions from your smartphone using the send-to-car feature.
Best-in-class Potential in the Affordable Long-range EV Segment
Compared to years past, electric vehicles (EVs) offer more range and utility than ever, are faster and easier to recharge, and are more affordable. This makes them increasingly practical for daily driving, especially when used as a second vehicle.
With several EVs offering more than 200 miles of driving range and overnight recharging using a Level 2 home charging station, you might be thinking it’s time you gave an electric car a try. You should know that the new Kia Niro EV makes a compelling case for consideration against its primary competitors, which include the Chevrolet Bolt EV, Hyundai Kona Electric, and Nissan Leaf Plus.
In fact, in my opinion, the Kia is the one to get.