by Ian Wright
The Kia Niro EV arrived with less fanfare than it deserves. The Chevrolet Bolt and Hyundai Kona EV arrived earlier to the electric crossover party and Tesla holds the controversial spotlight that sucks the life out of any fresh electric offerings in any category. Which is a shame, because the Kia Niro offers something different, if not exciting: It's competent, feature-packed, has range, and covers the entry-level electric subcompact crossover market. It's the pint-sized electric crossover the EV enthusiasts should be hyping along with the Kona EV, It's got everything the Niro is celebrated for, including a surprisingly spacious back seat, but also an electric drivetrain with plenty of daily driver range. That drivetrain is a 201 horsepower electric motor with 291 lb-ft of torque and lifted from the Hyundai Kona EV. The more than competent range extends to 238 miles, which should go a long way to ease the range anxiety of the average commuter.
The Niro EV is all-new for 2019, added to the roster as the third Niro derivative alongside the Niro hybrid and Niro Plug-In Hybrid models which have been on the market since 2017. Finding a basis on Kia's new Dedicated Hybrid Car Platform, it transplants the battery and electric motors from the Kona Electric, while body styling is adjusted from the regular Niro for enhanced aerodynamic efficiency.
It's a Niro in name and design, but the Niro EV boasts a few differences from the two hybridized derivatives. The grille is blanked out on the EV with a body-color panel with textured patterning and an integrated charging port. Blue exterior accents are also present, but the black fender and rocker rail cladding remain, giving the Niro EV a rugged look. The base EX trim features projector headlights, while the EX Premium adopts LED headlights. Regardless of trim, though, LED daytime running lights are standard. Both models feature aerodynamically designed 17-inch alloy wheels. A power sunroof is absent on the EX but standard on the EX Premium model.
Proportionally, there's no telling the Niro EV from the other models in the range and it has a similar size and proportions to most other crossover SUVs out there. Curb weight is the same for both Niro EV trims at 3,854 lbs, making it heavier than the Niro Plug-In by 400 lbs. It measures the same in width as its hybridized counterparts at 71.1 inches, but measures 0.7-inches longer at 172.2 inches, while maintaining the 106.3-inch wheelbase. The EV stands an inch taller than the Plug-In at 61.8 inches tall but rides a little lower with a ground clearance of only 6.1 inches. It's no off-roader, but still carries impressive approach and departure angles of 16.6- and 29 degrees respectively.
The Niro EV comes in a selection of five colors that are available across both trim levels The standard colors available include Aluminum Silver, Platinum Graphite, and Gravity Blue, while the premium hues of Snow White Pearl and Aurora Black Pearl are available at no extra cost. Runway Red and Silky Silver are cut from the palette of the regular Niro, leaving the Niro EV with a somewhat sedate palette.
The hybrid and electric platform underpinning the Niro EV may differ from that of the Kona Electric, but what doesn't differ between the corporate cousins is the drivetrain. Kia engineers have performed a straight transplant of the Kona's 201 horsepower, 291 lb-ft electric motor setup on the front axle, paired with a single-speed reduction gear. But there's less pomp and circumstance surrounding the delivery of the Niro's juice to the ground, with less wheelspin and more control, despite being just a smidge slower than the Niro off the line with a 0-60 mph time of just 6.5 seconds on its way to an electronically limited top speed of 104 mph. Rolling acceleration is equally impressive, with Kia's own claims pegging the 50-75 mph sprint at just five seconds. It does this all while achieving a 238-mile electric range, matching the Chevrolet Bolt but coming up 20 miles short against the Kona Electric. It's only available as a front-wheel-drive crossover, though, although most electric crossovers are.
A borrowed powertrain from the Kona Electric and soon to be launched Soul EV sees the Niro EV fitted with a 64.0 kWh battery pack, sending power to a 201 hp electric motor on the front axle through a single-speed reduction gear. It's the same across both trims, and both are equipped with fast-charge capabilities.
While electric motors offer instant torque, the Niro EV doesn't deliver anything special off the line. While acceleration is a consistent surge, there's no big thrill and no tire squeal from an enthusiastic jamming down of the throttle pedal. Instead, it takes off reasonably quickly and without drama because the tune Kia has given the Niro EV is a mature one. You're not going to be bouncing in the seat wishing it faster to join the freeway, and you'll be thanking that when you're debating if it can go another day before charging.
That maturity doesn't carry over into the driving experience. It feels as solid and sturdy as the weight suggests, but also feels unbalanced and front-heavy to drive. The steering feels vague and takes the fun out of poking around town that the Niro should have with sharper and more direct steering. However, picking up friends, family, and shopping is a breeze due to the space available despite being a sub-compact. Longer road trips on open roads does bring road noise that makes you appreciate the sound system though. The ride is firm, which is fine most of the time but becomes exasperating on particularly rough streets.
One peddle driving is possible using the wheel-mounted paddles to control the levels on the variable regenerative braking. This is fun for a while or for the entertainment of trying to get as much regenerated power back on a boring journey. It is useful though when switching occasionally in freeway traffic or from city or town driving to more open roads, but using them all the time gets old quickly. As a whole, the regenerations system is smooth with no noticeable grab as the transition is made to using the standard brakes.
To make consumption and power efficiency easier to understand, the EPA rates electric cars using MPGe, an equivalent figure to regular gas mileage estimates. It's these figures that show how exceptional the Niro is, with EPA estimates pegged at 123/102/112 MPGe on the city/highway/combined cycles. Of course, the number that matters most is 238 - the number of miles the Niro EV is capable of traveling on a full charge, which is the same as the Chevrolet Bolt EV and only 20 miles short of the range a Kone Electric is capable of. The Niro is fast-charge compatible too, with 80% charge taking just one hour on a level two DC fast charger, while regular level two charging will give 100% charge in a little over nine and a half hours.
The big advantage of that 238-mile range is a sub-30-mile round trip commute leaves 5 days of not having to charge and plenty left over for running errands. Charging off the home mains is an excruciating affair, so you want at least level 2 charging installed for overnight in the garage. However, access to a level 2 DC charging system means some shopping and a cup of coffee later and you're on your way again. We had the Niro EV for a week in the summer, so cold weather wasn't a factor for us in range.
It may utilize the Kona Electric's powertrain, but based on a bespoke platform the Niro is larger, which bodes well for interior space. It's where the Niro is superior to its corporate cousin, boasting seating for five in relatively comfortable accommodation. Headroom is particularly generous, but toe room is robbed by batteries located under the front seats. That bodes well for a spacious trunk, though, meaning the Niro EV is one of the more practical EVs around. Limited rear legroom is the only concession made against the standard Niro and Niro PHEV as the rest of the space is classy and near-on identical to its siblings. A cleanly designed dash is loaded with easy to use controls and a fluid infotainment system, while materials throughout feel high-quality and predominantly soft-touch in the areas that see regular contact with bare skin.
A key point to the Niro is how roomy and practical that space is. There's plenty of headroom for tall people, although those in the back with longs suffer from raised knees due to the raised floor. The seats are firm yet comfortable and, in the top trim, they are leather-trimmed with colored piping and manage to be stylish without going overboard to remind you you're in an electric vehicle. There's also plenty of storage and cubby holes, and even a place to stash a small handbag upfront. The cupholders can even be stashed in the center console to free up some extra space for larger objects such as a camera.
While the trunk loses a little to the standard and PHEV Niro, it's not enough to cause concern in everyday use. Even for an airport run, there's still room for a couple of suitcases and a couple of duffel bags.
The first thing that greets you in the Niro EV is a lot black plastic across the dashboard, and cheap looking plastic at that, and it's clearly where some cost saving went on. Once you get beyond that though, everything is fine and the soft touch materials feel good and are in the right places. The leather and seat material in the EX Premium shown was hard wearing yet comfortable, and the colored piping and pattern in the door inserts help break up the sea of black nicely. All the switch gear feels comfortably Kia, which means its all logically laid out and doesn't feel hollow. Overall, the build quality is solid and feels like it will last in the same manner we expect from premium vehicles.
With the battery packs housed under the floor and only affecting toe room for rear occupants incrementally, the Niro EV is free to use the full extent of its trunk, almost. Yes, almost, as there is still a slight concession made with the battery pack mounted in the floor of the framework, resulting in a cargo volume of 18.5 cubic feet compared to the Plug-In's 19.4 cubic feet. That's marginally less than the Kona EV's 19.2 cubic feet, but substantially larger than the Bolt EV's 16.9 cubic feet, and is enough space for a week's worth of groceries with space to spare. The rear seats are 60/40 split folding, however, which increases cargo volume to 53 cubic feet, which is substantial and versatile enough for most needs.
Commanding a price far higher than a hybrid Niro, the Niro EV is packed with features, including automatic headlights, a rearview camera, and on the EX Premium, a standard power sunroof. But there's more, with adaptive cruise control, dual front USB ports, a rear US port, tilt-and-telescopic steering column, keyless entry, automatic temperature control with a 'driver only' mode to conserve power, and adaptive cruise control. Driver assistance features are standard on both trims, including blind spot warning, driver attention warning, forward collision avoidance, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane change assist, and on the EX Premium, rear park sensors and front and rear park distance warning. The standard EX misses out on a couple of comfort features, but the EX Premium even gives buyers ten-way power driver's seat adjustment, heated and ventilated front seats, and the option of a heated steering wheel.
Infotainment is becoming one of Kia's strongest points. The touchscreen is responsive and quick while the system is logical and intuitive to navigate. Voice command shines through as being fast and making very few errors, and, unlike some systems, it doesn't care very much about accents. The steering wheel controls are equally unfussy and little guesswork or feeling around is necessary to control things is necessary after some basic exploration. Our tester came with Harman Kardon sound system which is a substantial upgrade over the standard system, although it tries too hard to impress with booming bass. Apple Carplay and Android Auto are always welcome, but the Niro EV's infotainment system is good enough that they don't feel like a necessity.
New to the market, the Niro EV is yet to be the subject of any recalls or record any reported issues. However, with a 76kW charge rate, using Electrify America charge stations may see Niro drivers charged more for their recharges based on EA's tariffs should the charge speed exceed 75kW. Kia covers the Niro with a standard five-yea/60,000-mile limited warranty, a ten-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, and a ten-year/100,000-mile warranty on several hybrid components.
The Niro EV hasn't yet been evaluated for crash safety by either the NHTSA or the IIHS. The Niro Plug-In was, however, awarded as a Top Safety Pick + by the IIHS, which Kia hopes will apply to the equally well-equipped Niro EV.
While not yet rated by government safety rating agencies, the Kia Niro EV boasts a strong line-up of safety features. This includes seven airbags (dual front, front side, side curtain, and driver's knee airbags), ABS, EBD, stability control, and on the advanced front, blind spot warning, driver attention warning, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, lane change assist, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, smart cruise control, and rear cross-traffic alert. LATCH anchors are equipped for the fitment of child safety seats, too.
The Niro EV falls into the category of a good crossover, as it feels like a hatchback with extra ground clearance and all-wheel-drive isn't offered. Yet, walking away from it after a week of driving it there's a feeling of a missed opportunity in there and the Niro EV could be a great crossover. It feels better made than Chevy's offerings and even better built than any of Tesla's current batch. The interior is well thought out and the sea of black plastic across the dashboard is easily forgiven due to the price point, and then forgotten anyway do to everything else.
The missed opportunity is in the driving experience. The beauty of a sub-compact is in how responsive and fun it can be to drive around a town and city to slip through traffic, and the Niro EV lacks that one ingredient. For those that like to hustle, and don't need the extra space, should definitely look at the Kona EV first. For those that like to relax and drive, then the Niro EV is absolutely worth a test drive.
There are two flavors of Niro EV, the cheapest of which is the EX with a starting MSRP of $38,500 before tax, licensing, registration, and a destination charge of $995 - provided you live in one of the 12 states in which you can buy a Niro EV. The EX Premium takes a step up in specification, but also in price, with a base MSRP of $44,000. The Niro EV is, however, eligible for up to $7,500 in federal tax credit, as well as California Clean Vehicles Rebates of $2,500 among other state-specific incentives.
The Niro Electric is available in two trims, EX, and EX Premium, both of which are powered by a 201 hp electric motor.
The EX is the entry-level model and comes with 17-inch wheels and black cloth upholstery, as well as a seven-inch infotainment unit with a rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity, Android Auto and Apple Carplay, UVO, A USB input port, two USB charging ports, and AM/FM and SiriusXM radio. It also has a leather-wrapped steering wheel, keyless ignition, and a six-way adjustable driver's seat with height adjuster. Some of the safety features include blind-spot collision warning, rear cross traffic alert, forward collision warning, lane following assist, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, lane following assist and lane keep assist.
The EX Premium adds black fake leather upholstery, an eight-inch touchscreen with navigation, and a Harman Kardon premium audio system with 12 speakers including a subwoofer. It also has a compass, center console mood lamp, LED lighting and an optional wireless device charger, while a power sunroof adds extra comfort.
There are no additional packages available for the EX model but the EX Premium model gets the EX Premium Launch Edition package for $1,000. The package includes LED headlights, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, heated steering wheel, a cargo cover, and front and rear parking distance warning.
With no difference in the power train between trims, the choice becomes simple. As an entry-level model, the Niro EV comes standard with a lot of features that would usually come with a middle trim level and Kia isn't being stingy on the safety features to keep costs down. The EX Premium is exactly that and adds extra comfort and quality, which makes it hard to recommend one over the other except for one point. Both price points are a lot of money for a Niro and demonstrate the fact that EV buyers are still early adopters as it'll take longer than most people keep their cars to benefit from the low cost of fueling them. When we look at it from that angle, and if you can comfortably stretch to the EX Premium, then you may as well go the whole hog.
The Kia Niro EV and the Hyundai Kona Electric are corporate cousins, but while sharing an electric powertrain, they're built on completely different platforms. While they occupy the same segment, their respective manufacturers have gone about things differently, with the Kona catering to out-there styling while the Niro is more traditional in appearance. Pricing for the Hyundai starts at $36,950 compared to the Niro which starts at $38,500. They both share the same powertrain and performance is comparable, although the Kona is more theatrical in the way it leaps off the line. The Kona also handles more like a hot hatch, while the Niro is a little more comfort biased. Shorter in length than the Niro, the Kona Electric doesn't give rear occupants much legroom, but both models are equally practical with similar amounts of trunk space. Both boast high-quality interiors, and both are incredibly safe, but where they differ is in their electric range. The Niro falls 20 miles short of the Kona, and with the Kona nearly $2,000 cheaper, it seems it may be the more appealing choice. Ultimately, both are exceptional EVs.
The Chevrolet Bolt landed in 2017 with much fanfare as GM's first fully electric car, priced competitively, and with a real-world applicable range that few could match. Two years later and the market has changed, with more competition and those competitors discovering longer-range batteries. The Bolt and the Niro have similar power outputs of 200 and 201 horsepower respectively, and both are relatively even in the performance stakes, although the smaller Bolt is a little quicker. Likewise, both have a near identical range of around 238 miles. Both are highly equipped, although the Bolt has better infotainment and arrives standard with a Wi-Fi hotspot. Pricing is similar as well, although the Bolt undercuts the Niro by nearly $2,000, and the Bolt is available across the US while the Niro can only be had in 12 states. But buyers may be willing to hand over the extra cash considering the Niro is a trendy crossover SUV, with great space for rear occupants, and competitive cargo space, too. In an age where the crossover is king, little separates these two EVs. Provided you live in one of the dozen states where the Niro EV is available, we'd recommend buying it as the superior EV.