Ever since it was announced, Kia’s Niro EV has been an interesting proposition. Fred did a fantastic one day first look at the Niro earlier this year , but I wanted to spend some more quality time with it and throw in my family for extreme testing.
Our Tesla Model X lease is ending soon and my wife is looking for a replacement that rides high, has good range, and is all-electric. Obviously the Model Y makes a lot of sense for us, but it won’t be ready until late next year and figuring “Elon Time”, ramp up, and first dibs to Californians, it will probably be well into 2021 before these are rolling out en masse.
A recent trip to the Bay Area to visit relatives provided a good week-plus opportunity to test the Kia Niro EV with the whole family and without a 240V home charger… Niro appearance
First of all, I will say that the Niro outsteps its step cousin the Hyundai Kona in both form and function. Sure they have a very similar drivetrain and battery, but the Kia Niro looks a lot more like a crossover or SUV with its higher stance. That makes significantly more room inside and a better drive height while only penalizing the range by a few miles (239 miles/charge). Fred noted that the front grill on the Niro has the charge port which he disliked. While I’m ambivalent about it –– it sure beats that faux grill on the Kona.
The Niro isn’t going to win any design contests, but along with its hybrid and plug-in hybrid siblings, they don’t exude “weirdmobile” at all either. In fact it was hard to discern that this was even an electric vehicle from the back and sides. A lot of people, present company included, like that.
I got the premium black model. I like it. Kia Niro EV Competition The Electrek Review: Kia Niro EV – The new normal…electric family car Besides the aforementioned 2021 Tesla Model Y and Kona EV, I would also put the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf e-Plus in the same grouping of long-range crossover-ish hatchback EVs. As you can see in the chart below, they are all pretty similar. I have owned a Chevy Bolt for over two years and have driven the other cars on occasion, so I feel like I know this class inside and out. Specs Niro EV Bolt EV Kona EV Leaf e-Plus Range (miles) 239 238 258 226 Motor Torque (ft-lbs) 291 266 291 250 Length 172.2 164 164.6 176.4 Width 71.1 69.5 70.9 70.5 Height 61.8 62.8 61.8 61.6 Wheelbase 106.3 102.4 102.4 106.3 The Electrek Review: Kia Niro EV – The new normal…electric family car Kia Niro EV Drive Experience:
You get in the car, you push the power button and you DIAL into drive. Yes DIAL. The Niro has a dial rather than a normal gear shifter. I don’t know why, but it took a little getting used to and I’m not sure why EV manufactures think they need to reinvent the wheel on gear shifters. BMW’s i3 comes to mind here. The Chevy Bolt’s fake shifter isn’t perfect but at least you intuitively know how to use it even before stepping into the car. I eventually got used to the dial, but again, why? Regen Paddles
Behind the steering wheel are 2 paddles that control the amount of Regen. Clicking right means more and left means less. Every time you start the car you are in level 2. This is somehow worse than the Chevy Bolt which forces you to double-click down to “L” if you want strong regen.
Advice to EV makers: After the first week or so, almost everyone wants max regen all the time. Make this the standard and require extra clicks to make it regen less.
As for the regen, at max, it didn’t feel as strong as the Chevy Bolt, but was more powerful than Tesla’s current regenning and I was able to do most of my driving with one pedal. Good, not great acceleration Probably the biggest disappointment I had with the Niro was the off the line acceleration. Sure it beats most ICE cars, but with a bigger battery and motor than the Chevy Bolt, I expected another level of G forces out of the gate. Nope, the Bolt crushes the Niro.
Instead, even in sport mode, I found the lack of acceleration to be off-putting. It really zaps the fun out of driving an EV when it accelerates like a budget ICE crossover. Of course my paranoid mind wonders if Kia is throttling the acceleration to keep its other offerings relevant. I think the Nissan Leaf might be quicker off the line (ouch).
Especially in sport mode I found highway 45-65 type acceleration to be much better and more similar to the Chevy Bolt or Nissan Leaf. The Niro really shines on the freeway, zooming around quietly and effortlessly.
Braking seems very solid for a car in this class. I had the family in the car most of the week so no intense brake tests this time. Handling
The Kia Niro EV is about the only budget BEV I’d feel comfortable taking onto soft gravel and doing some light off-roading. During my time in the Bay Area, I found some bumpy mountain dirt roads to test on. While I wasn’t blown away by the way it handled itself, I was almost completely confident in not getting stuck or breaking something. I would not recommend taking the Niro into mud or ‘very’ off road. It just doesn’t have the suspension, AWD, clearance or tires to properly navigate in real dirt. However gravel and the odd pothole are no match for the Niro.
On the road, the Niro handles admirably for a small budget crossover. I found less wheel slip than I would expect in my Chevy Bolt, particularly on gravel or wet surfaces, and it also wasn’t as tight on turns on dry surfaces. There was no winter climate to be found or tested on this trip. Interior
The interior of the Niro really shines when compared to the Bolt, but it is even good compared to Nissan’s Leaf and others in this class. I, of course was given the EX premium package and it felt as nice as you could expect for a $35,000 Kia. There are tons of buttons, some being redundant (like the “EV” button, in an EV! What happens when it isn’t in EV mode? Is it off?). Point is, if you like buttons for everything and even a few things that you don’t even know what they do, this is your car. The Electrek Review: Kia Niro EV – The new normal…electric family car Kia’s drive software isn’t great, but I imagine most people will be almost exclusively using CarPlay or Android Auto for Maps and music. For that it does work well, though I did have some freezes and black screens which were easily remedied by unplugging/plugging in again.
I tried using the built-in ‘find the nearest charging spot’ software but gave up because the Plugshare app on my phone was so much easier and more helpful.
I would suggest some rear seat USB ports to Kia. We had to buy some extra long USB cords for the kids in the back. There is one hidden under the arm rest as well. There’s also a lighter port which you can use to charge an extra device in addition to the 3 USB ports included. Only one of them is for the console so you need to physically swap if you want to change phones on CarPlay.
The seats are more comfortable than the Bolt and probably as comfortable as the Nissan Leaf. One thing I love about the Bolt is getting into the higher seats and the Niro felt almost as easy to get into and out of. Looking at the vehicles next to each other, the Bolt still does ride higher, but you won’t notice a difference. The stereo rocks
The premium Harman Kardon stereo is fantastic. I’d even say slightly better than the Premium Tesla sound system and the Bolt premium Bose system in my experience. They really nailed this one – great separation and bass playing off of CarPlay or even the FM tuner. Charging with the Kia Niro EV
The Electrek Review: Kia Niro EV – The new normal…electric family car The car I got came with an orange Level 1 110V charger and frankly for most people this is all you will ‘need’ on a day to day basis. Because of the Kona’s solid efficiency, this equates to 5 miles/hour of charge out of a normal outlet. A 12 hour overnight charge will give you at least 60 miles of range, more than enough for the average commuter.
The Niro, as most EVs do now can accept up to 7.2kW of power (or over 11 in 3 phase Europe) on 240V outlets which will take the car from empty to full in under 10 […]
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