Top News

2019 Kia Niro EV is an electric vehicle at the top of its class

The 2019 Kia Niro EV.
The 2019 Kia Niro EV. - Justin Pritchard

The Niro electric vehicle is the range-topping model in Kia’s Niro model lineup. Three Niro models are available here, including a Niro Hybrid, a Niro Plug-In Hybrid that handles trips of less than 40 kilometres electrically, and can drive hundreds of kilometres further on gas-hybrid power.  And, topping the range, it’s the Kia Niro EV, which is the subject of this story.

Said all-electric Niro variant is the fastest, smoothest, quietest and priciest in the lineup. As a full-electric model, it’s entirely battery-powered. You couldn’t put gasoline into this car if you wanted to.

Power comes from a 356-volt permanent synchronous magnet motor, good for 201 horsepower, and nearly 300 pounds of torque. That’s fed from a rechargeable battery pack, embedded within Niro’s floor that enables an officially-rated range of 385 kilometres per charge. On my watch, that figure was somewhat conservative; with the remaining range display often advising that just over 400 kilometres of driving was possible with a fully-charged battery.

Drivers can expect unbelievable torque and throttle response with no gears, shifting, power curves, RPM’s, lag, or kick-down getting in the way. Throttle response is superior to virtually anything I’ve ever driven with a gasoline engine, and even at full-throttle, while receiving a pleasing shove into your seat; the driveline is all but noiseless. 

With 0-100 km/h figures comparable to any number of sporty turbocharged compact cars; it’s no slouch in the performance department either. Niro’s most entertaining acceleration comes at lower speeds and make it perfect for zipping noiselessly through city traffic, though it’s got more than adequate reserves of torque for quick, confident and noiseless passing and merging manoeuvers, too. That, with no kick-down, since there’s no transmission, and no gears to shift.

In Niro EV, the only thing between the power and the road are the wheels. Those who appreciate a driveline that’s quick, quiet, and very responsive will like what the Niro EV’s synchronous magnet motor is cooking. 

Entry and exit are easy, thanks to big door openings, low-profile rocker panels that stay out of the way of your feet, and a slightly-elevated seating position. Up front, two average-sized adults will have plenty of space in each direction, and plenty of nearby storage and recharging options for smaller items and electronics. Within direct reach of the driver are no less than 3 power outlets and a wireless recharging pad for your (compatible) Smartphone. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are on board, allowing easy access to numerous smartphone functions, controlled entirely by voice. 

However used, the touch interface serves up solid graphics, a straightforward layout, and an easy-to-learn demeanor.
My tester was a Niro EV SX Touring, which is to say, fully-loaded. 

Climate-controlled seats, a heated steering wheel, a sunroof, a premium stereo, a full driver computer, and a full arsenal of advanced, radar-driven safety features were included. Safety is a big story with this machine, and disappointment is not likely in terms of feature content. Notably, Niro EV supports drivers with a full perimeter of outward-looking hazard detection technologies that work reliably, and are easy to interface with. On my watch, I particularly appreciated its ability to warn me of incoming vehicles while I backed into various laneways, sometimes with impressive detection distance. 

Most shoppers will find it a practical package. Though the cargo hold is a touch smaller and shallower than some shoppers may expect, the rear seats easily split-fold, nearly full-flat, for added room, though you’ll have to leave the cargo cover behind for maximum hauling volume.

With the rear seats in use by occupants, space is relatively generous, especially where legroom is concerned. Headroom will tighten up quickly for taller rear-seat passengers, however.  Don’t miss the flat rear-seat floor, which provides plenty of room for everyone’s feet.

Ouward-looking hazard detection is just one technology accessible from the cockpit. - Justin Pritchard
Ouward-looking hazard detection is just one technology accessible from the cockpit. - Justin Pritchard

Just below said feet, Niro’s battery pack is built into its floor. This lowers the centre of gravity of the vehicle, to the benefit of handling and stability in fast cornering, if you’re so inclined. This lays a foundation for some motoring fun: steering and handling are quick and sporty, and combine nicely with the on-demand access to full torque output to make this little electric a good bit of fun to zip through traffic, or around your favourite twisty backroad. Engaging sport mode dials this effect up further. 

Noiselessly blasting away from traffic lights may become your new best hobby.

There is some compromise though, in terms of ride quality. Niro EV largely feels good on smooth roads and highways, soft and comfy, but not too much, and relatively quiet, too. But rougher roads will leave some test-drivers wishing for a softer set of springs. It’s not a spine-basher; though you’ve got better options where maximum ride comfort is an all-out priority.

Most drivers will find Niro Electric feels planted, secure and a little heavyset on the road, which works nicely with the slightly-elevated seating position many shoppers like.

It’s a very easy machine to drive. At low speeds (for parking), steering is featherlight, maneuverability is good, and regenerative braking allows the driver to drive using just one pedal, most of the time if they like. Lift the throttle, and the Niro EV slows down, as if you’ve hit the brakes, even though you haven’t. This is the result of the electric motor generating electricity for storage, driven by the existing momentum of the rotating wheels as you slow down and stop. This effect can be toggled between several levels via steering-wheel mounted paddles, or turned off, if you like. Many EV users find regenerative braking to be a fun way to boost efficiency and reduce wear on the conventional braking system. Others do not. 

Unlike a gasoline car, filling the Niro EV can take hours, or overnight, depending on how empty the battery is, and what it’s plugged into. On a Level-2 charger, which you can install at home, a full-from-empty charge is achieved overnight. On a public Level-3 fast charger, the battery can be brought from 0 to 80 per cent in just under an hour. Using this type of charger, I was able to add over 100 kilometres of range to the battery in the time it took me to grab a quick coffee and lunch break. 

Note that the battery doesn’t have to be charged fully, nor does it have to be empty before it can be charged. In an EV, many owners plan their running around to stop and trickle charge the battery, taking little sips of electricity from public chargers wherever they stop. For others, an occasional overnight charge at home is sufficient. Others still slow-charge the battery on 120-volt power, topping off at public fast charge stations while they’re out shopping or seeing a movie.

Shoppers should assess their daily driving routines and the availability of public charging infrastructure in their area before deciding to switch to an electric vehicle. Owning one may not be feasible for everyone, and in my locale, some trips are impossible, due to the lack of charging stations. For other users, an EV makes a great second car. Your results may vary. 

Charging can take hours, but you don't need to fully charge the vehicle for a trip to the grocery stores. - Justin Pritchard
Charging can take hours, but you don't need to fully charge the vehicle for a trip to the grocery stores. - Justin Pritchard

Remember that charging can make some trips longer, if they exceed the Niro’s range. However, you’ll never need to stop at a gas station (or get an oil change) again. 

One final note: The up-level LED headlight system fitted to my tester was exceptional. Vivid, clean, bright light is precisely cast far and wide up unlit roads, with plenty of peripheral illumination of tree lines and culverts nearby. This is top-notch lighting performance.
In some circles, Niro EV’s pricing may be its biggest problem. 

On one hand, the $54,000 pre-rebate ask for my fully-loaded tester is fairly reasonable for a modern EV with nearly 400 kilometres of range. In other circles, that price tag makes folks spit out their Timmies, and wonder why one wouldn’t just buy a comparably-equipped gasoline compact car for half the money. 

Note that the mathematics are one of many reasons people consider an EV, or, don’t.  

You’ve got numerous choices in how you get around, and this is just one of them. Still, EV-curious or not, I’d advise a test drive of this machine to anyone with time to take one. It’s some remarkable technology and you’ll be more impressed than you probably think.

In-market shoppers ready to make the switch to electric will likely find the Niro EV a compelling package, especially where flexibility, range, convenience and some surprisingly-spirited driving manners are concerned. 

The specs

Model: 2019 Kia Niro EV

Engine: 356-volt DC Synchronous, 201 horsepower

Drivetrain: front-wheel drive

Transmission: Single-speed reduction gear

Features: push-button ignition, climate-controlled seats, heated steering wheel, sunroof, Harman Kardon audio system, smart cruise, LED technology headlights, drive mode selector, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto

What’s hot: Fun to drive, grin-worthy performance, loaded with features, excellent headlights, kiss the gas station

What’s not: refueling takes hours (not minutes); ride may be too stiff for some, less-than-expected cargo space

Starting price (approx.): $45,000

Price as tested (approx.): $54,000

RELATED:

Recent Stories