Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: November 12, 2019
Making the daunting switch from combustion to electric propulsion is never easy. It comes with a learning curve, takes commitment, and is a long term investment to save money and our green planet as well. But the Kia Niro EV aims to make that transition as seamless as possible with a competitive 385 km of fully-electric range on tap. And while manufacturer claims and real world mileage rarely go hand in hand, the moment we fired up our fully charged Kia Niro EV test vehicle, the digital gauge actually read an eyebrow-raising 400 km. Of course, we put on our investigative hats and realized that both the air conditioning and heated seats were off, and the chilly zero-degree Celsius weather had us demanding for a bit of cabin warmth. That range also did not consider the long stretches of highway that we were about to drive from Mississauga where we picked up the Kia, to our home back in Markham. And after sifting along the highway for a few minutes and cranking the heat up, that range dramatically dipped down to 370 km. Still, not too far off, and should be enough to warrant cross-shopping with the Tesla Model 3 (402 - 518 km) and Chevrolet Bolt (383 km).
Having that much range at our disposal easily remedied our anxiety of making it across the city, and we never had to worry about making sure our Niro was fully charged in case another quick sojourn was required. The Kia Niro is actually available with three types of powertrains: a conventional combustion engine, plug-in hybrid, and fully electric variant, the latter costing $44,995, and up to $53,995 for the SX Touring trim. The Niro EV uses the same 64-kWh battery pack that underpins the Kia Soul and familial Hyundai Kona Electric, and along with the single-speed transmission, it relays 201 hp and 291 lb-ft to the front wheels. With that much torque on tap, mashing the throttle creates an instantaneous surge of acceleration that will catch EV first-timers off guard. The throttle can come off as overly sensitive and springboard-like, but nothing you can’t get used to. The Niro does not generally falter when egging it to go quickly, just ease its way in when the tires are cold. The instant torque however can overwhelm the front tires as they slip and squeak when you surprise them. And driven fast at highway speeds, we did notice the skinny eco-winter tires skip and tramline around - not what you want when bruising through a snowstorm.
The Niro EV effectively drives like a tall hatchback, similar to the Mercedes GLA or BMW X1. The driver is not situated so low to the ground that they can’t see anything, but are high enough that they will find a commanding view from all sides. It is easy to modulate its small footprint through corners, body lean is kept in check thanks to a low center of gravity - the batteries are mounted low to the rear floor bed - and there is no drama from any of the four corners. With snow tires equipped, the front wheels were able to slice through our first November snowstorm, and handled quick braking maneuvers and hot corners without breaking too much of a sweat. Be that as it may, the Bolt and Model 3 are still the better choices if driver involvement and enjoyment rank higher on your priority list.
The three adjustable levels of brake regeneration, commanded via the paddle shifters, is a helpful addition, allowing you to essentially ‘one-pedal’ drive your way around town. The Niro also makes use of an Auto Regenerative feature, which uses the front camera and sensors to automatically detect when to engage a higher level of regen braking, feeling much like adaptive cruise control. It works very well, though any significant braking motion can catch you off guard if you aren’t expecting it. On the charging side, a normal household outlet will fill up the battery pack in 59 hours. That time is reduced down to 9.5 hours with a level 2 charger, and 1.25 hours on a 50kW DC fast charge.
While I wouldn’t say the Kia Niro EV stands out in the concrete jungle, it does carry some aesthetic hints to its zero emission mobility ethos, like the grill-less front end, charging ports, and green plates loaded onto my test vehicle. While the Niro is not as quirkily styled as the Soul, it is just as practical with a sizable trunk and rear accommodations. The overall cabin design feels more cohesive and premium than the Chevrolet Bolt, with a clean simplistic appeal. A rotary gear shifter sits on the largest piece of center real estate, while a sizable touchscreen and physical hard buttons make it effortless to navigate to your desired function. Other neat interior features include the ‘Driver Only’ button that ventilates only the driver side of the cabin to help save battery life, while the multitude of driver displays will show energy usage, flow, and current mileage for you to keep track and maximize your range. We did experience a fair amount of wind and tire noise seeping into the cabin, especially at highway speeds, disturbing an otherwise tranquil and feature-rich place to spend time in, making it not the most ideal road trip companion but the range and hatchback practicality speak for itself.
The Kia Niro makes a compelling case that switching to electric can be easy. With a boatload of range on tap, range anxiety is out the window, and having a dedicated charger at home only sweetens the deal. Add to that its roomy cabin and the equally appealing price after federal rebates, and the Kia Niro EV doesn’t have to sell itself. It already has.
Model: 2019 Kia Niro EV SX Touring
Paint Type: Snow White Pearl
Base Price: $53,995
Price as Tested: $54,195
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,375 / 1,805 / 1,570
Curb weight (kg): 1,764
Powertrain: Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motor + 64-kWh lithium ion battery pack
Horsepower: 201 hp
Torque: 291 lb-ft
Transmission: Single speed reduction gear
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, FWD