2019 Kia Niro EV

PHOENIX — The Kia Niro is an attractive, compact five-door hatchback that seats five-passengers. It’s surprisingly roomy, comfortable and easy to drive. For the record, Kia calls the Niro a compact crossover utility vehicle. Having been on sale nationally for a few years as a traditional gasoline and plug-in hybrid, what is new for the Niro lineup is the pure, 100 percent, all-electric model that, right now, is offered for sale in only 12 states.

The Niro EV is powered by the same 201-horsepower motor and 356-volt 64.0-kWh battery pack that powers the Kona EV from Kia’s parent company, Hyundai. While the driving interface of the Niro EV feels much like the Kona EV, they aren’t the same vehicles with different styling. The Niro lineup shares its platform with the Hyundai Ioniq hybrid and rides on a longer wheelbase vs. the Kona EV.

The Niro EV delivers a driving range of 239 miles compared to 258 miles from the Kona EV. Other competitors in the same class have comparable range. Chevy Bolt has a range of 238 miles; Nissan Leaf Plus, 226 miles; and soon-to-be-introduced sibling Kia Soul EV, 243 miles.

That driving range certainly makes it easier for a large portion of Americans — who previously mentioned range anxiety as one of the main obstacles to considering an EV — to put one on the test-drive list. Two other obstacles most frequently mentioned are recharging availability, lengthy charging times, and high price.

Our EX Premium test Niro had a window sticker of $47,000. Compare that to a Niro Hybrid that starts at $23,490, Niro Plug-in Hybrid that starts at $28,500 and the base Niro EV with a starting price of $38,500. A $7,500 federal tax credit brings the EV price down to $31,000. The Hyundai Kona EV starts at $36,950, $29,450 after the tax credit.

The Niro EV is offered in two trim levels: EX and EX Premium. Standard equipment includes passive entry with push-button start, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, automatic climate control, and a long list of driver aids such as automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-centering steering assist, and blind-spot warning.

Our test Niro EV was the Premium trim that adds LED head- and taillights, a sunroof, heated and ventilated leather front seats, a larger 8.0-inch center touch screen rather than a 7.0-inch unit, Harman/Kardon stereo, a heated steering wheel and a large sunroom. Space behind the second-row seat is small but with enough room for a week’s worth of groceries or suitcases for a trip to the airport.

There are plenty of cubbies for storing smaller items. Cupholders are part of the center console and can conveniently disappear into the console making room for additional storage for larger items.

The Niro EV is identical in styling to the non-EV Niro models, except for a different front grille that includes a pop open door for the charging cable. The overall styling of the Niro is plain vanilla and certainly won’t turn any heads in admiration.

The Niro EV also has standard 100-kW DC fast-charging capability, which is more than either the Nissan Leaf or the Bolt EV. Chevy charges extra for the feature.

A 7.2-kW onboard charger enables recharge times of 9.5 hours on a 240-volt Level 2 power supply. A Level 2 charger is typically what you would install in your home garage. Expect to spend between $1,000 to $1,500 for an electrician to do the work.

Away from home, if you can find a 100-kW fast charger to connect with, you’ll get about 80 percent recharged in about an hour. Those aren’t always easy to find and oftentimes they’re already in use by another vehicle. Still, the recharging network is rapidly expanding led by companies like Electrify America, a subsidiary of Volkswagen, and a company called ChargePoint. You’ll need to purchase a charging card to use the services.

Google Maps has also recently added a feature that lets you search for EV charging stations nearby, and it'll also tell you how many charging spots are currently open.

Behind the wheel we found the Niro EV to overall be a pleasant experience but there were a few things we found to be somewhat bothersome, like noticeable torque steer. Torque steer is what happens when the steering wheel pulls to one side or the other under heavy or full acceleration. We thought the steering was vague and off-center and the brakes felt overly grabby, especially when the vehicle was still warming up.

Like most all-electric vehicles we’ve tested acceleration is immediate and strong, however, the Niro it felt more sluggish by comparison.

Overall there’s much to like about the Niro EV, including the driving range of 239 miles, a generally roomy cabin for driver and passenger, and it is well equipped with a long list of features. Still, we didn’t think the Niro EV was as much fun and enjoyable to drive as others and admit we had sticker shock. $47,000 seemed quite expensive for what you get.

Finally, while electric vehicles may not be the right choice for you or other car buyers in America, they are becoming more mainstream, with new models seemingly being introduced monthly. They’re finally starting to make sense with longer driving ranges, quicker and more convenient recharging. For now, EVs are still an expensive pocketbook issue.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $38,500 - $44,000
Price as Tested: $47,000
Engine: 201-hp electric motor, one-speed direct drive and 356 – volt 64.0-kWh battery pack, front-wheel drive
Fuel Economy: 123-MPGe City – 102-MPGe Highway – 112-MPGe Combined
Driving Range: 239 miles
Seating: 5

Where Built: South Korea

Crash Test Ratings: The Kia Niro EV has not yet been crash tested by either the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the U.S. Government as of this writing.

Competes With:
Chevrolet Bolt
Hyundai Ioniq EV
Hyundai Kona EV
Kia Soul EV
MINI Cooper EV (coming soon)
Nissan Leaf

Fab Features
239-mile driving range
Long list of standard features

— Jim Prueter