Test Drive:2019 Kia Niro EV

Christian Wardlaw | Feb 05, 2019

Introduction

Affordable, long-range electric cars are becoming more widely available. The trend, kicked off a couple of years ago by the Chevrolet Bolt EV, shifts into high gear in 2019 with the debuts of the Hyundai Kona Electric, Nissan Leaf Plus, and the Kia Niro EV.

By affordable, we’re talking the $30,000 neighborhood after the federal income tax credit is applied, and around $27,500 if you live in California, which offers a $2,500 rebate. Prices for the 2019 Kia Niro EV are expected to align with these values, unless you upgrade from the standard EX trim to the EX Premium trim.

2019 Kia Niro EV

Choosing EX Premium adds leather seats, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, and heated and ventilated front seats. The infotainment system gets a larger 8-in. touch-screen display, navigation system, Harman Kardon premium sound system, and wireless smartphone charging. Additionally, the EX Premium includes a power sunroof, rear park-assist sensors, and LED lighting inside and out.

Styling and Design

Like many car companies, Kia uses blue accent trim to identify its electrified vehicles, and the Niro EV is no different. The biggest visual difference between the Niro EV and other models, however, is the closed-off body-color grille panel with its offset, illuminated charging port. Otherwise, the Niro EV looks much like the standard Niro, which is a good thing.

Inside, the Niro EV’s cabin exudes quality. From the matte-finish plastic panels to the rock-solid construction, the Niro EV is finished with care. It looks good, too, less like a mainstream compact and more like an entry-level luxury vehicle.

Features and Controls

Seating is comfortable up front, thanks in part to the tested EX Premium’s leather-wrapped, heated, and ventilated front seats with 10-way power adjustment. Furthermore, my test vehicle had a heated steering wheel—an option for the Niro EV EX Premium.

The back seat is less hospitable for adults, and mainly due to packaging constraints required by the Niro EV’s sizable battery pack. The result is reduced headroom, legroom, and thigh support. Smaller people, however, will be happy enough in the rear quarters.

Cargo volume measures 18.5 cu. ft. with the rear seat raised, and 53 cu. ft. with the rear seat folded down. This is just a bit less than a standard Niro, and remains on par with other vehicles of similar size and with similar utility.

Especially in EX Premium trim, the Niro EV leaves you wanting for little. In all ways but brand name, this car could pass for an entry-level luxury vehicle. Yet at the same time, and in spite of its technological complexity, it is a simple car to use and drive. Controls are logically located, clearly marked, and intuitive. Even the dial controlling the transmission, though unusual, is simple.

Safety and Technology

Every Niro EV is equipped with Your Voice (UVO) telematics service, with EV-specific remote features related to battery level, charging status, charging start time, and interior pre-conditioning with air or heat. A 7-in. touch-screen display is standard, along with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and satellite radio. Of course, Bluetooth is standard, along with 3 USB ports.

Choose the EX Premium trim for a larger 8-in. display, navigation, wireless smartphone charging, and an 8-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system. My test vehicle had this setup, and in addition to rich sound the navigation system worked well to keep us on a route with four pre-programmed waypoints.

Kia Drive Wise is standard on the Niro EV, a suite of driver-assist and collision-avoidance technologies that includes a driver-monitoring system, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, and forward-collision warning with automatic forward emergency braking. Kia also equips this electric car with a blind-spot monitoring system and rear cross-traffic alert.

Though the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not rated the Niro EV for crashworthiness, the Niro Plug-in Hybrid receives a “Top Safety Pick+” rating, earning the best possible marks in all crash-test categories, along with a “Superior” collision-avoidance rating and an “Acceptable” LATCH anchor access rating.

Driving Impressions

Kia insists on calling this handsome 5-door multi-purpose vehicle a crossover SUV, but with front-wheel drive and just 6.1 ins. of ground clearance, that amounts to wishful thinking.

A 150-kW electric motor provides 201 horsepower and 291 lb.-ft. of torque. Like other electric cars, the torque is available instantly, hustling the 3,854-lb. Niro EV off the line with notable thrust. The car isn’t fast like a Tesla, though, getting to 60 mph in about 7.8 seconds, according to Kia.

With 239 miles of estimated driving range, the Niro EV is considered to be a long-range electric car. Equipped with a 64-kWh battery pack that is housed under the passenger and cargo compartment, this Kia supplies standard DC fast-charging capability, giving you approximately 100 miles of range in half an hour, or 80% of maximum battery charge in 75 minutes, the automaker says.

Of course, if you get an EV like this one, you’ll want to install a 240-volt home charging station. That provides a full charge overnight, in 9.5 hours. Then again, if you’re like the typical American, driving no more than 37 miles per day, on average, you can probably just connect the Niro EV into a standard 120-volt household power outlet, soaking up 4 miles of range for every hour it is plugged in.

Typically, an electric car weighs much more than a gasoline vehicle, and that’s true of the Niro EV. It weighs 748 lbs. more than a standard Niro hybrid. This increased weight lowers an EV’s center of gravity, but at the same time can create disturbing handling characteristics in terms of a stiff and choppy ride.

I’m happy to report that the Niro EV demonstrated little in the way of weight-related ride and handling deficiencies. On the roads between Santa Cruz and Big Sur in California, it rode and cornered like the sophisticated little car it is. On some surfaces, road noise was louder than might be preferred, but otherwise the driving dynamics aim to please.

It is possible to drive the Niro EV without using the brake pedal, but only under certain conditions. This act, known as “one-pedal driving,” allows the driver to coast to a stop without stepping on the brake pedal. Instead, he or she holds a paddle on the steering wheel to activate maximum brake regeneration when coasting.

Successful one-pedal driving takes advance planning and an actively engaged driver, which makes it challenging and, when done correctly, rewarding. Some might even call it fun. But I understand that most people would not find this enjoyable. For them, the Niro EV’s brake pedal stands ready and able, and it feels great when used.

Kia also offers four driving modes for the Niro EV, and four different levels of coasting regeneration aside from holding the paddle for one-pedal driving. Drivers select between Eco+, Eco, Normal, and Sport driving modes. The results are predictable, and Eco+ even shuts down the climate system and other unnecessary draws on the battery pack. Minimum coasting regeneration is zero, and maximum measures 2.5g when you lift your foot off of the accelerator pedal.

During my test drive, I used Normal mode with maximum regeneration. Over the course of 155 miles of driving, I consumed electricity at 3.8 miles per kWH, and the car still had 93 miles of range at the end of the day. Extrapolate, and I beat Kia’s estimated range by 9 miles.

Overall, driving the Niro EV can be very similar to driving a regular car if that’s the way you wish to set things up. Use Normal mode with zero regeneration and the differences are mainly related to the futuristic warble it makes at low speeds to notify pedestrians that a car is operating nearby, and the electric motor whine that you can hear while accelerating.

Oh, and of course, you never visit a gas station. Unless you need to air the tires up.

Conclusion

More and more electric cars are coming, and owning one is getting both easier and less expensive. Short-range electrics like the Smart EQ Fortwo and Fiat 500e are the most affordable, but can create something known as “range anxiety” in situations where you must deviate from your typical routine.

Long-range electrics cost more, but largely eliminate range anxiety. Except for Teslas, which benefit from a nationwide network of exclusive charging stations, they’re still not perfectly suitable for fast, cross-country travel, but for nearly all other situations they’re perfect. And you can always rent a traditional car for a longer trip.

Among the growing list of long-range EVs, the new Kia Niro EV is a compelling choice, blending good looks, a fairly roomy and useful interior, and a long list of features with 239 miles of driving range.

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