Regardless of personal views on electric vehicles, they’re coming to replace vehicles with internal combustion engines. It may not happen for decades, but it will happen — eventually. Early adopters of electric vehicles have predominantly chosen from a few brands: Nissan, Tesla, and Chevrolet. It makes sense, as Nissan was one of the first to come out with an electric vehicle, Tesla made the electric car cool, and Chevrolet introduced a useable electric car that’s actually affordable.
One name that doesn’t come up often when talking about electric vehicles is Kia. The South Korean brand predominantly known for cheap, value-packed vehicles hasn’t marketed its latest all-electric vehicle much. There was no product demonstration with a rock being hurled at a window. No talk about how it’s going to change the world. Nothing. Instead, the 2019 Kia Niro EV just appeared out of thin air. It wasn’t there one minute and then it just was.
It’s a shame Kia didn’t do more to market the Niro EV or more to showcase just how good the electric car is, because it’s a hell of an EV. Look at the Niro EV through your rational glasses and it makes so much sense. Upon first glance, this is exactly what electric car consumers have been begging for. The major issue with the EV, is that it’s only offered in 12 states. That could explain why Kia’s not marketing the vehicle and why no one knows about it.
Still, for those in the know, the Niro EV is arguably the EV to have. It lacks the wonky futuristic design as other electric cars, somehow manages to feel like a value option, and does its best to keep range anxiety at bay. It also has decent cargo space. For consumers in the know, this is the EV to buy.
The Niro EV we tested was the EX Premium Trim with some optional packages. Pricing for the vehicle ringed in at $47,155.
Range. It’s all about the range with electric vehicles, and rightly so because charging an electric car isn’t as easy as filling up on gasoline. Luckily, the Niro EV has 239 miles of useable range. For an automaker that recently had an EV with a range of 111 miles (last-gen Kia Soul), that’s quite an extraordinary figure. If you’re being honest with yourself, 239 miles is good enough to make the Niro EV the primary vehicle in anyone’s garage.
Beyond range, the Niro EV has an electric motor that sends 201 horsepower to the front wheels. There’s also a 64-kWh lithium-ion battery pack in the mix. These numbers don’t mean much without anything to go off of, but they’re competitive for the segment. And the Niro’s power figure means the little EV packs a wallop.
The last bit of boring figures are charge times. Find a DC fast charger that’s pumping out 100 kW of juice and the Niro EV can get 80 percent of its charge back in just 60 minutes. That’s not a crazy wait time for a good amount of range. On a 50 kW DC fast charger, getting 80 percent of juice takes 75 minutes. Those two chargers are the easiest ways to charge the Niro EV, but they’re also the most difficult to find.
Instead, the majority of consumers will probably hook their Niro EV up to Level 2 (240 volts) chargers. Unfortunately, wait times with that charger are quoted at 9 hours and 35 minutes. If you choose to plug the car into a Level 1 (120 volts) charger, you’re insane. Bonkers. Bananas. Crazy. Don’t even think about trying it, because it will take 2 and a half days to charge the vehicle. In case you were wondering, the official figure is 59 hours.
Want some advice? Get at least a Level 2 charger for your home if you’re interested in an EV.
Moving away from the numbers, the Niro EV is a sprightly little thing. The instantaneous torque from the electric motor makes the EV feel quick off the line and even slightly damp roads will result in wheelspin. The little SUV has no problem dusting other vehicles while making a futuristic whirring sound.
Around corners, the Niro EV fails to thrill like other EVs. It’s mainly a weight thing, as the SUV heaves and hurls with more rolls than a cinnamon bun. The Niro EV doesn’t feel all that enjoyable to drive, which is fine, everything’s not meant to be a sports car. But even compared to non-sporty EVs, the Niro EV feels behind the curve. What it does well, is be a comfortable car. It doesn’t translate bumps to the cabin, handles rough city roads well enough, and never feels floaty on the highway. For all intents and purposes, drive the Niro EV in a similar manner to a regular car and it feels like, well, a regular car.
Like a lot of other EVs, the Niro EV has paddles behind the steering wheel that allows drivers to toggle through different levels of regen to gain some miles back. Unlike other EVs that tout one-pedal driving (the act of just being able to focus on the throttle while using paddles instead of the brake pedal), it’s not really a possibility with the Niro EV. While the paddles work, they’re frustrating at best and not super enjoyable to use. And even with Level 3 regen engaged, the paddle doesn’t hold the vehicle at a stop, requiring you to eventually jump on the brake pedal.
There are three levels of regen: Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3. Regeneration goes from low to high, with Level 1 being like slightly pushing the brakes and Level 3 feeling like a firm, steady application of the brakes. Depressing the paddle on the left automatically engages Level 3 regeneration. The paddle on the right toggles through the varying levels of regen, which occurs when the vehicle is coasting. There’s an “Auto” function that’s supposed to figure out what kind of driving you’re doing and whether a vehicle’s in front of you to put the vehicle into the perfect regen mode. It, though, doesn’t work all that well. There were a few times when “Auto” saw the vehicle go to Level 3 regen on the highway, which can be a scary thing when you’re going 70 mph and being tailgated.
Aiding the Niro EV in being as efficient as possible are four drive modes: Eco, Normal, Sport, and Eco+. Forget about Sport. It only makes the throttle touchier and adds artificial weight to the steering wheel. It does turn the instrument cluster red, but it doesn’t really do anything all that special or sporty. Eco, Normal, and Eco+ are where it’s at. If you’re in the city, Eco+ is the best mode, as it limits the vehicle’s top speed to 60 mph and makes the vehicle go to Level 3 regen. In this mode, we were able to do multiple trips in the city without using any electricity.
The Niro EV does comfort and fuel efficiency well. Two good things consumers wanting an EV are probably looking for.
Nearly all of the electric vehicles I’ve driven have all felt cheap. They feel like 90 percent of the money has gone into the powertrain, while the rest of the money was simply left into fill the cabin with rough plastics and subpar materials that were hastily put together. To fix this issue, some automakers resort to penning wonky designs to hide the glaring quality issues. You won’t find these glaring drawbacks in the Niro EV.
The straightforward cabin feels sturdy and well built. The cabin is quiet at most speeds – above 70 mph things do get a little noisy – and there are little to no squeaks, rattles, and buzzes anywhere to note.
As I said before, the Niro EV feels a lot like a normal car. The seats are comfortable and super spacious in the back. Cargo space, thanks to the subcompact SUV body style, is great, as well. There’s even a nifty little storage compartment underneath the cargo area that can be used to store all sorts of goodies – we primarily used it for booze.
Moving along with the whole normalcy thing, the Niro EV comes well equipped with nearly everything under the sun. Things like a sunroof, a 10-way power driver’s seat, an eight-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, heated and ventilated front seats, a wireless charger, and a heated steering wheel were all included in our test vehicle. There’s nearly every safety feature, which includes high-tech driver-assist stuff, too.
The infotainment system includes an 8-inch touchscreen that has some nifty features. There’s a map that has a bubble of where you can travel depending on the vehicle’s current range, close charger locations, and a cool EV driving monitor.
The Niro EV is a well-equipped electric car that feels normal.
Appealing? Uhh maybe not. But what the Niro EV makes up for with its safe and honest exterior design is something that you won’t want to trade in after two years. The all-electric model fits right in with the rest of the Niro lineup, the sole changes being a filled-in grille, blue trim pieces, and a charging port at the front.
The Niro EV still has its, am I a wagon or an SUV styling with black body cladding, but there’s no mistaking this for being an off-roading machine. I enjoy the subdued styling of the Niro EV, but then again, I’m also a fan of the Niro’s styling in general. It’s not the most soul-stirring thing on the road and it certainly won’t draw a crowd like a Tesla or the new Ford Mustang Mach-E, but it’s not something that you’ll be embarrassed to say you’re driving.
The Niro EV is a darn good electric vehicle. Look outside of the Tesla bubble and the vehicle manages to do everything right. But, and this is a big but, it’s pricey and not everyone will understand where their money is going. No one really knows about electric vehicles yet, they’re kind of like that great hole-in-the-wall restaurant that a specific clientele only knows about. Rather than find a place to eat that’s off the beaten path, the majority of people would rather go to McDonald’s.
Then, there’s the larger issue of Kia’s corporate twin having a better product. Hyundai sells the Kona Electric, which is cheaper, sold in more states, and capable of traveling 258 miles on a single charge. It also comes with nearly all of the same goodies as the Niro EV, but has slightly more futuristic styling. At the end of the day, more consumers would probably go with the Kona.
That’s a shame, because Kia’s option is a practical, versatile, usable electric vehicle that consumers could, theoretically, use as their primary car. If only Kia would help market it or make it more competitive in the segment with a lower price tag, we have a feeling that it would do much better.