Cynics that we are, we are slowly becoming fans of Electric Vehicles.
While we still love the sound of a good engine, there’s a lot to love about the newest wave of fully electric and plug-in hybrid models.
Our favorite plug-in may be the Honda Clarity, whose futuristic good looks and reasonable 47 miles of EV mode range won us over. More important was the Hyundai Kona Electric, with an amazing 258-mile Tesla-baiting range, and great fun-to-drive spirit. We could easily drive it every day.
Maybe the Kona is a little too small? Good news, we now have the Kia Niro EV, a bit larger, but with much of the goodness of its cousin the Kona. Let’s take a fully-charged 239-mile test drive!
The Niro remains somewhere between a tall hatch and small crossover, offering the nice visibility and tall seating position while still feeling close the road. After driving the stylish Kona EV and the exuberant Kia Soul EV 3, the Niro comes across more restrained, a bit more mature.
For those on the lookout, you can tell the Niro you’re looking at is powered by electrons by a unique front fascia with a closed-off grille, a redesigned lower intake with “EcoDynamics” blue accent, reshaped rocker panels, and unique aero 17-inch alloys. Topped off with “Arrowhead” LED daytime running lights, The Niro EV looks fresh and modern. Being the upscale Premium EX model, our tester also enjoyed LED headlamps and a power moonroof – all working nicely with our Silky Silver exterior.
The upscale experience continues inside. Like the Kona EV, the traditional shift lever is gone – replaced here by a shift-by-wire rotary shifter dial, that’s large, chunky and intuitive to use. Getting rid of the traditional shifter opens up space for large center console with cool adaptable cup holders, lots of storage bins and 3 USB ports; 2 for charging and one for connectivity.
There’s loads of cool tech on display, including a fully-digital gauge package that morphs with driving mode, and a host of EV-friendly features on the info-tainment, to track everything from range, driving style to finding the nearest charge. All very useful.
Like previous Niro’s (Nirii?) we’ve been in, the seats are large and supportive, the steering wheel is thick and feels good to the hands, and the switchgear is clear and logically laid out. The “Ecodynamics” blue accent continues in the interior with contrasting stitching and a cool, blue and black holographic door trim, elevating the experience.
Every Niro EV is well-equipped, with a standard 7-inch color touchscreen, rear view monitor and parking guidance, plus 6-speaker audio system with SiriusXM, USB input, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless smart phone charging, and Bluetooth wireless connectivity with voice recognition.
Our tester makes the case for the upscale Premium trim, with a 1-inch upgrade to an 8-inch color navigation touchscreen, 8-speaker Harmon/Kardon audio system, heated steering wheel, LED interior lighting, mood lighting, and small odds and ends like an auto-dimming mirror and deluxe scuff plate.
It’s also a bit roomier than the Kona, with a comparable 18.5 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat up, and a notably larger 53 cubic feet with the rear seat down. (Kona measures out at 19.2/45.8, cubic feet, respectively). Those in back will appreciate that the Niro has three inches more legroom than the smaller, sportier, Kona.
Charging to the front
We’ll cut to the chase, because we love you – the Niro features an EPA estimated all-electric range of 239 miles. Honestly, we saw a higher number when our tester was fully charged. But even at that number, it makes the Niro a strong choice against the Chevy Bolt (236), Nissan LEAF PLUS (226) and Tesla Model 3 (220).
In fact, the only EV’s with a longer range in its class are its siblings the Kona EV (258) and the upcoming Kia Soul EV (243). Long range runs in the family!
The Niro not only goes far, it charges fast, with a standard 100kW Combined Charging System (CCS) DC fast charge that’s standard equipment. How fast? Approximately 100 miles in just 30 minutes, or 80 percent battery capacity in 75 minutes.
You’ll pay extra for a 100-kWh charger on the Chevy, and it’s not available on the LEAF.
If you end up charging with a Level 2 (240v) 7.2kWh charger, you’ll need approximately 9.5 hours for a full charge. Basically, an overnight at home, or a long day at work.
You’ll be enjoying those EV miles, too – the Niro EV is a ball to drive. With 201 horsepower and an instant 291 lb-ft of torque, it feels extremely strong off the line and in passing. It weighs about 150 lbs. more than the Kona, but the difference in acceleration is negligible. You get 4 modes to play with; Eco, Normal, Sport and Eco+ that automatically adjust regenerative braking level, air conditioning and heating settings, and even set speed limits to help manage operations.
Regenerative braking is handled by the paddle shifters, and we kept ours maxed at 3 (0-3 are your choices) to get the most charge back into the system, and to enjoy one-pedal driving – braking is so strong as you ease off the accelerator, you seldom need to touch the brake. There is a Brake and Hold system that allows you to bring the vehicle to a full stop with the paddle shifter, but we prefer the system in the Nissan LEAF, that does it all through the pedal.
All Niro EVs also feature adaptive cruise control, lane-centering steering assist, and blind-spot warning, so it’s a comfortable and confident drive.
Being a tad heavier and with a longer wheelbase, the Niro feels a more plush and relaxed than the Niro, with a softer ride that’s also a bit quieter. All the better to enjoy the Start Trek style sound that the Niro generates inside (to entertain) and out (to warn pedestrians).
What’s the charge?
Pricing has not been announced but our best guess is that the Niro EV will start around $37,500. (The Kona EV starts at $36,450). A loaded Kona EV Ultimate is $44,650, so we guess our Niro EV Premium will start around $45,750.
Like the Hyundai, the Niro will take advantage of the Federal and State tax credits, which make them even more desirable. Also, like our Kona, we feel that with its long range and desirability, this is an EV to consider owning as well as leasing.
Ok, when we tested the Hyundai Kona EV we said it was the best EV we’ve driven. Until now. (Yeah, we’re fickle…)
The larger, more usable Kia Niro EV is the true competitor to the Tesla Model 3 and Chevy Bolt and it knocks them on their electric butts.
Niro is the EV to own.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.