The Kia Niro EV: It's the Electric Vehicle Consumers Should Be Buying
Tesla dominates the electric car segment in the United States. Chances are, when you ask someone to name a fully-electric vehicle, they'll name something that begins with the word "Model." Good marketing, publicity, media coverage, and knowledge of how to make electric vehicles that are more than just forms of transportation has made Tesla the king of all things electric.
However, for consumers that aren't interested in badge recognition or having the latest in cutting-edge technology, there's a whole other world of EVs that are more affordable and nearly just as usable. When it comes to that other segment, the Kia Niro EV is one of the better options.
You may not have heard much about the Kia Niro EV. It's obviously a fully-electric compact SUV, a very good one at that, but Kia's decision to not market the vehicle or put out much information on the EV is a little confusing.
It's an affordable EV with a decent amount of range and loads of versatility thanks to its subcompact SUV body style. And yet, few people know much about the model.
One could blame the Niro EV's small market reach – the electric car is only available in 12 states – or the fact that the similar Hyundai Kona Electric exists, as it's clearly the star child with more range and a more affordable price tag.
Regardless of why, the Niro EV flies under the radar. It's a shame, because this is exactly the kind of EV that should be flying off of dealer lots. It's essentially what every consumer that's been wanting to make the switch to an EV has been asking for.
The Niro EV is the third piece of the puzzle in the Niro family. All of the Niro models are electrified, though the amount of electrification varies. The regular Niro is a hybrid, there's a Niro plug-in hybrid, and lastly the Niro EV – the fully-electric model. Kia kindly lent us a Niro EV EX Premium with a sticker price of $47,155 for a week to see what its latest electric vehicle is like.
It's All About The Powertrain
Automakers continually make small updates to electric vehicles to squeeze out every single mile of range possible. Range is the make-it-or-break-it figure for EVs, as range anxiety is a real thing that dominates the purchase decision.
Luckily, the Niro EV has 239 miles of range, which isn't the most in its class, but more than useable for everyday driving. Power comes from a 201-horsepower electric motor, while electricity is stored in a sizable 64-kWh lithium-ion battery pack.
If those figures sound familiar, it's because they're identical to what you'll find in the Kona Electric and the upcoming Kia Soul EV. They're also very competitive for the segment, beating out the Nissan Leaf Plus, BMW i3, Audi e-tron, Hyundai Ioniq Electric, Jaguar I-Pace, Porsche Taycan, and Volkswagen e-Golf.
With the changes that General Motors made, the Chevrolet Bolt is one of the few mainstream EVs that actually has better numbers than the Niro EV, as the Bolt EV has a 259-mile range.
In the real world, 239 miles is plenty. But that number depends on what kind of driving you're doing. In the city, we have no doubt in our minds that the Niro EV could travel that far. Even in a mix of city and highway driving, the Niro EV could easily go that far.
During our time in the city, the Niro EV sipped electricity, traveling miles and miles without much juice. It's a different story on the highway, as the electric car gobbles down miles at an alarming rate. A journey that was mapped out at 55 miles actually took 75 miles of range off of the clock when traveling at highway speeds.
Part of what makes the Niro EV so good at lower speeds (especially in the city) are its three levels of regen. Like many electric vehicles, the subcompact SUV has paddles behind the steering wheel that allow drivers to control how much regeneration is taking place.
The right paddle adjusts the level of regeneration that occurs (Level 1, Level 2, or Level 3 with a higher number indicating more severe regeneration) when coasting, while the paddle on the left is another way to engage regeneration. The paddle on the left, though, is an immediate way to engage Level 3 regen on the fly.
Around the city, Level 3 regen is the best way to maintain range. The amount of regeneration with Level 3 is strong and when using the paddle on the left, capable of bringing the vehicle close to a stop without using the brakes. It's not exactly "one-pedal" driving like the Chevy Bolt offers, as regeneration is either on or off and hard to modulate. In addition, the left paddle doesn't hold the vehicle from drifting backward after coming to a stop.
Level 1 and Level 2 regen aren't nearly as severe. For people that have never rode in an electric car before and get nauseous from having their head jerk back under braking, Level 1 and 2 regen are the way to go.
There's also an "Automatic" regen setting, too, that lets the vehicle sort out what the best amount of regeneration is based on their current driving style. Unfortunately, the Auto function doesn't work that well in practice. There were a few times we left regen in Auto and the vehicle decided to go back to Level 3 regen on the highway, which isn't safe or helpful.
Drive Modes Galore
Also helping the Niro EV with getting more range are four driving modes: Eco, Normal, Sport, and Eco+. The names all correspond to how the vehicle performs, with Eco+ being the most interesting of the settings. Putting the vehicle in that mode helps it extract the most range by limiting the EV's top speed to 60 mph and setting regen to Level 3.
If you plan on driving in the city, Eco+ is the way to go. The rest of the time, we kept the Niro EV in either Eco or Normal mode, as all Sport did was make the throttle pedal super touchy and add weight to the steering wheel.
The Niro EV is a heavy vehicle, weighing in at just under 5,000 pounds. But on the road, it still has decent performance with the addictive and instantaneous thrust that electric vehicles are known for. With the roads slightly wet from a recent rain shower, the Niro EV will happily roast its front tires, proving that all of the powertrain's torque is indeed being put down on the road the second you pin the accelerator pedal.
Despite the wheelspin and the instant torque, the Niro EV is a solid, comfortable vehicle. Other electric vehicles have this sense of being flimsy, of lacking the same sturdy quality as vehicles with internal combustion engines. That's not an issue at all with the Niro EV, as it's quiet, rides well, and doesn't have any glaring quality issues – no rattles or squeaks to find here.
However, there's absolutely no sportiness to the way the Niro EV handles, instead the model is all about comfort, which should appeal to a majority of consumers.
Get A Level 2 Charger
With 239 miles of range, the Niro EV can really be used as a single vehicle. Range isn't an issue with the vehicle. What makes living with an EV tough is the lack of available EV chargers. I currently reside in Baltimore, Maryland, which is one of the few states that hands out quite a lot of money for buying an electrified vehicle. While Maryland has that part of the equation down, it sure doesn't have a lot of available chargers, at least in Baltimore.
Even my apartment complex, which boasts being LEED certified and environmentally friendly, only has two Level 2 chargers. The chargers, though, are actually private parking spots. That means that one of them is occupied by a Tesla Model 3 throughout the day, while the other belongs to an individual with a Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The C-Class, if you were wondering, isn't electric.
Why the front office allowed a C-Class to park in an electric spot is unbeknownst to me. Since I was only able to charge in one of those Level 2 chargers for a few hours during the day, I had to go to my local park, which has multiple Level 2 chargers and a couple of DC fast chargers. Those however, are regularly in use, which means one could be required to wait.
You're going to want to look into a Level 2 charger, because charge times are lengthy. On a Level 1 charger, the Niro EV takes over two days (59 hours) to recharge. Hooking up to a Level 2 charger drops the time down to 9 hours, 35 minutes. A 50-kW DC fast charger can fill the Niro EV up to 80 percent in 75 minutes. A 100-kW DC fast charger handles the same task in just 60 minutes. Get a Level 2 charger, because charging on a Level 1 is useless, unless you have two days open to charge your Niro.
Another Normal Car
The thing that really makes the Niro EV such a good option when it comes to electric vehicles is that it's mostly another car. It doesn't have any funky quirks that you have to live with nor does it ask you to make compromises. The electric vehicle's cabin features comfortable seats and the interior is spacious, especially compared to other affordable EVs. Cargo space is also quite impressive, thanks to the subcompact SUV body.
But what the Niro EV does really well is being a value option. The electric vehicle, especially in the EX Premium trim we tested, was packed to the gills with features. Some of them were nifty, like the map that showcased a radius for the vehicle's current range of how far you could travel.
Other cool things like an EV driving monitor and close chargers are displayed on the 8-inch touchscreen. Other features on the EX Premium include an eight-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, wireless phone charging, and nearly every single driver-assist safety feature in the book. For an electric vehicle, the Niro EV maintains Kia's panache for value.
The EV Consumers Should Be Buying
Ignoring the fact that Tesla has made electric cars that are more than just vehicles and cars that represent social status and come with cutting-edge technology, the Niro EV is attractive because it checks so many boxes. It's still eligible for the entire federal tax credit, it's backed by a lengthy warranty, it's relatively affordable, and it feels like a normal car on the inside.
The major issues with the Niro EV are that Kia only sells the darn thing in 12 states, electric chargers still aren't accessible everywhere, and the car isn't as fun to drive as other affordable electric vehicles. However, for the rational consumers out there searching for a sensible electric vehicle, the Niro EV is as good as it gets.
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