The 2019 Kia Niro EV has already had some glowing reviews, so now it was our turn to have one for a week-long press loan, compliments of Kia. We took advantage of our time with the Niro EV and piled up over 900 miles on the odometer in seven days.
The Niro EV comes in two trim levels, EX and EX Premium. The EX base MSRP is $39,495 and the EX Premium starts at $44,995 and adds heated and air-conditioned front leather seats with power adjustment for the driver, an eight-inch touchscreen with navigation, (the EX has a 7-inch screen), a moonroof, Harman/Kardon stereo system, wireless phone charging, and LED taillights.
Engadget recently reviewed the Kia Niro EV and proclaimed that it was "relentlessly sensible". The truth is, I could have come up with something similar to describe how I feel about the Niro EV's styling, but in all honestly, Engadget nailed it, so I wanted to give them the credit they deserve. I don't dislike how it looks, nor do I love how it looks. It's OK. It's definitely more of form following function, which is what you'd expect from a small crossover from Kia.
No part of the exterior really stands out, except perhaps Kia's way of closing the front grill area that the regular Kia Niro and Niro PHEV have. Similarly to how Hyundai replaced the Kona's grill, Kia closed off the grill section, but retained the outline of their trademark grill styling, while adding triangular-shaped dimples in the plastic.
I do like how Kia added the blue accent trim to the Niro EV, making it quickly identifiable. They didn't do too much; adding just the right amount of accent, in my opinion. Overall, it's a decent looking crossover; not much to complain or brag about. Change the grill area and add a different badge and it could have easily come from a number of other manufacturers. It's, well, relentlessly sensible.
Interior Styling & Comfort
Kia provided me with the top of the line, EX Premium version, which is typically the case with press loaners (Why not put your best foot forward?). The Premium added niceties like heated and air-conditioned leather seats, a moonroof, Harman/Kardon premium audio system, wireless phone charging and an 8" touchscreen center display with navigation and satellite radio.
The air-conditioned seats were probably my favorite feature and quickly cool off the leather seats, even if they've been baking in the sun for hours. Speaking of seats, the Niro EV's seats were comfortable and supportive with pronounced side bolsters to keep you in place even when taking turns aggressively. Comfortable, supportive seats are really important to me, and the Niro EV definitely gets my nod of approval.
Like the exterior, there's really nothing to really get excited about with the interior styling, but it all works and is laid out nicely. There's a nice little storage compartment on the floor in between the driver and passengers' seats which my wife really appreciated. She said there's rarely a place to put her pocketbook in a car other than the passenger seat, and when that's occupied she has to put it in the back, so she gave that compartment a thumbs up.
There's lots of hard plastic on the dash and door panels, but the armrests are soft and comfortable to use. The gear selector is a large knob on the center console which you twist to the right for drive and the left for reverse. The backup camera includes guidelines, but the picture isn't as clear as many of the backup cameras available today. It's not nearly as clear as the one on my BMW i3S, or even the one on my Toyota Tacoma.
There's a ton of storage space in the rear hatchback, and it looked like it could fit more back there than a Bolt EV or Kona Electric, possibly more than a LEAF. However, there's no frunk storage space at all. Pop the hood and it looks similar to an ICE engine bay.
As with the exterior, the interior trim has a nice blue piping accent, giving the Niro EV Premium a little more, well, premium look and feel. There's plenty of room in the rear seating area, and much more rear legroom than the Hyundai Kona EV has. It actually reminded me a lot of the rear seating area of a Nissan LEAF, which is actually 4" longer than the Niro EV.
Performance & Safety
The Niro EV is a small people-moving crossover, not a performance car. That said, it certainly won't hold up traffic. It has 201hp and 291 lb. ft. of torque, which translates into plenty of power to pull the 3,854lb Niro EV around. According to Kia, it goes 0-60 in 7.8 seconds, which is .2 seconds slower than the Hyundai Kona Electric using the same spec motor. Personally, I believe the Niro EV does everything as good or better than its sister-EV, the Kona Electric does, except the performance is slightly worse.
The front-wheel-drive Niro EV has a decent amount of torque steer, especially when it's in Sport driving mode and will definitely understeer if pushed too hard in a turn. With four adults in the vehicle, the added weight makes a difference, but the Niro EV still has plenty of power to accelerate when necessary, especially when in Normal or Sport driving modes.
All Niro EVs come standard with a full suite of safety features, you don't need to order the Premium trim, which is usually the case with most cars today. Standard safety features include:
- Advanced Smart Cruise Control with Stop & Go
- Lane Following Assist
- Lane Departure Warning & Lane Keeping Assist
- Forward Collision Avoidance & Collision Warning
- Blind Spot Warning & Rear Cross Traffic Alert
All of these systems worked fine in my time with the Niro EV, and I especially appreciated the lane departure warning. Whenever I'm road testing a new EV, there's sometimes when I may be checking out the display, or scrolling through the driving modes and the Lane Keeping Assist made sure I knew if I was approaching the lane line, or drifting onto it. The Smart Cruise Control combined with Lane Following Assist worked pretty well on highway roads, but it's definitely not up to the tasks of secondary roads, where the lines aren't always present or clear.
Range & Efficiency
The Niro EV is EPA rated at 239 miles, exactly 1 mile more than the Chevy Bolt EV. However, my time with the Niro EV seemed to indicate the EPA range rating was a bit on the conservative side.
I've been driving EVs as my daily driver for nearly ten years now, so I'm intimately familiar with the concept of range being a moving target. Here in New Jersey, I can expect anywhere from 20% to 40% better range in the spring and early fall, when temperatures are in the 70's, as compared to winter when it can get down to zero degrees.
However, the Niro EV beat the EPA range rating by an unusual margin in my week with the car, in which time I put over 900 miles on it. I averaged about 270 miles per charge, and even pushed it to a little over 300 miles once. I'm sure winter driving will slice a good number of miles off of what I witnessed; however, the Niro EV does have an optional heat pump that will mitigate the range loss in the colder months.
As for efficiency, I averaged 4.6 to 4.8 miles per kWh driving around town at lower speeds, and 3.6 to 3.7 miles per kWh on the highway at 70 - 75 mph. At 4.7 miles per kWh, the 64 kWh battery should deliver 300 miles exactly.
I posted an article last week on my 225-mile round trip to use an Electrify America DC fast charge station in Bloomsburg, PA. My Niro EV topped out at 78 kW, but only held that for a few minutes before settling down to about 60 kW for the majority of the time. Charging from 9% to 80% took 54 minutes, and I averaged 58 kW over that time.
Level 2 charging was a bit of a surprise for me. One day I depleted the battery down to 3% and fully charged it on my JuiceBox Pro 40 to record the charging profile and total electricity delivered to the vehicle.
It took 9 hours and 37 minutes to fully charge and the vehicle took 70.83 kWh! Kia lists the Niro EV as having a 64 kWh battery, so that's obviously the usable portion of the battery, and the total capacity has to be a good bit more. There's charging losses to consider, and even if that's 10%, which would be high, that's still 64 kWh delivered to the battery and it was at 3% SOC when the charging session began.
Plus, the Niro EV took the full 32 amps the entire charging session. Usually, there's a ramp-down period that begins on most EVs at around 90% SOC. Some EVs hold the full charge rate a little longer, like my 2018 i3S does, and charges at the full rate until it's about 94-95% charged. I've never seen an EV take the full charge rate all the way up to 100%, and then just stop charging without any kind of ramp-down like the Kia Niro did. Impressive.
Driving Modes & Regenerative Braking
The Niro E has three driving modes: Eco, Normal & Sport. I found Eco mode "acceptable", but much preferred driving in Normal mode when I wasn't playing with Sport mode, which sharpens the throttle response significantly. I think most people will find Normal the best balance, as one might expect.
I really didn't have enough time to tell how much of a difference in driving range that Eco mode makes. However, as I've found with most EVs, you can usually make the most difference in range by how well your right foot behaves, and how efficiently you use regenerative braking, rather than the driving mode you're in.
Speaking of regenerative braking, the Niro EV's system is definitely more complex than most EVs available today, but does that make it better? The Niro EV has four different settings for regenerative braking (0-3). Zero is freewheel coasting and eliminates the regenerative braking system completely. To select zero, you have to pull the paddle on the right side of the steering wheel and hold it for a couple of seconds.
If you just pull it and release, it will only reduce the regenerative braking down one level. The paddle on the left side of the steering wheel increases the level one notch, each time you pull it towards you. Pull and hold the left side paddle, and the car jumps to maximum regen, and quickly slows the car down to a stop.
I've seen some other reports that criticize the Niro EV for not having one-pedal driving like some other EVs do, and that's not entirely fair in my opinion. Yes, even in the highest regen level (#3), the car will not come to a complete stop and will continue to creep along. However, all the driver has to do is pull in the left paddle and hold and the Niro EV will come to a complete stop and hold there, even once you release the paddle.
I had no problem driving with one pedal once I got used to the Niro EV's system, and actually missed the paddle when Kia took the car back. I found myself reaching for it while I was driving my 2018 BMW i3s, and wishing it was there. As much as I liked the Niro EV's regenerative braking system, the Chevy Bolt EV still has the best implementation in my opinion.
I discuss my time with the Niro EV on this week's "plugged In" on E For Electric.
I'm definitely joining the long list of reviews that have roundly praised the Niro EV. It's far for perfect for everyone, but for many people I do think it's just about as good an EV as you can buy today. It all depends on what you want out of your car.
Its large, 64 kWh usable battery pack provides much more than the EPA rates 239 miles per charge in favorable conditions, and with careful driving 300 miles is absolutely attainable. It would have been nice if the Niro EV had a higher DC fast charge rate, and 100kW charging would make the occasional long-distance road trip more convenient. At the current rate, you need to stop for about an hour to charge to 80%, and probably another half hour to get to 100% if your journey requires it.
It doesn't handle all that well, but it's a small family crossover, not a sports car. But honestly, I'm nitpicking a bit. The Niro EV is so good at most everything else it does, that I have to think hard to find something to criticize.
The biggest thing to criticize about the Niro EV, isn't actually about the Niro EV, it's about availability. The Niro EV is only available in California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. That's too bad, because this EV has a lot to offer, and would appeal to a wide audience, if only they ever had the opportunity to experience it.