All-electric Niro is a hoot to drive
THE GOOD
  • Fun to drive
  • Excellent headlights
  • Adult-friendly rear seats
THE BAD
  • Lower than expected back-up camera resolution
  • Occasionally too-stiff ride
  • Brake feel may take some getting used to
2019 Kia Niro EV Review

The 2019 Kia Niro EV is one of three variants that form the Niro model line, giving Kia customers after the brand’s most efficient machines a one-stop shopping experience. The Niro EV tops the range, with the Plug-in Hybrid and Hybrid models slotting in below it. The Niro EV is fully electric, and rated at a slightly conservative 385 kilometres of driving range per charge. It’s also the fastest, quietest, smoothest, and priciest Niro of them all.

Styling: 8/10

If the look of the Niro EV doesn’t get your heart pumping, then you’re a normal human being. Most will find Niro’s shape flaunts its utility more than a spritely stance; and at a quick glance, it passes discreetly through traffic as a sort of fresh-looking small crossover-wagon.

Closer inspection is rewarded, however. The nearly flush-mounted taillights and slim hatch spoiler give the rear a tidy and athletic look. The back-up camera is cleverly hidden within the rear-window wiper assembly, furthering the effect. Sculpted-in vents and built-in reflectors are deployed beneath, presumably to distract from the lack of a tailpipe further below.

Wheels are attractive by EV standards, and Niro keeps all of its chrome bits on its sides – letting its sporty tail, and the unique, EV-exclusive front fascia take the spotlight when viewed head- or tail-on. That face instantly gives Niro EV’s flagship position within the lineup away. Blue piping on the lower grille, flanked by signature LED-fired running lights, add some flair.

Interior styling matches the modern exterior in most areas – especially thanks to the “floating” centre console and dial shifter that take centre stage. Nearby, a sporty, stitched-leather steering wheel, fully digital instrumentation with giant LCD readouts, and an assortment of other controls that are generally big, and easy to find and read. Prominent metal accenting is applied to the pedals and parts of the dash and doors for a higher-end feel, too.

Safety: 9/10

In top-dog trim, my SX Touring tester included most safety features commonly found in its price range: adaptive cruise, lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist, collision warning system, blind-spot monitoring, and more.

Looking rearward, Niro EV’s back-up camera is below-average for the price where resolution and image quality are concerned, but works just fine. There’s also rear cross-path detection, which reliably advised me of incoming cars as I reversed, sometimes with a surprisingly long detection range.

Other Niro variants have achieved the highest crash impact ratings in the segment, though the EV hasn’t been rated.

Notable on my test drive throughout Northern Ontario were the LED headlights found on higher Niro trims, including my tester. Performance is excellent: clean and vivid white light is spread consistently and precisely up the way, with great reach from low- and high-beams, and solid illumination into nearby treelines and culverts after dark.

Practicality: 8/10

Niro is built for flexibility, and works well at hauling four adults, a good helping of cargo, or some combination of the two.

Entry and exit are stress-free, thanks to a slightly elevated seating height, wide-opening doors, big door openings, and low-profile rocker-panels that mostly stay out of your way.

Once seated, two average-sized adults will find room in each direction to be more than adequate up front. Nearby are numerous storage spaces big and small, an abundance of charging ports, and a wireless recharging tray built into the forward dash.

Rear-seat occupants can expect similar roominess. Rear seats impress with legroom, and the flat rear floor reduces crowding of occupant feet. However, those much taller than average in height may run out of headroom.

The cargo area won’t cause you any stress, but a few attributes are notable: The cargo floor is near-flush with the cargo opening. This makes for easier canine jump-in access, but some shoppers may wish for a deeper cargo hold. Rear seatbacks fold down nearly flat in a 60/40 split – though you’ll have to leave the cargo cover at home to maximize the space.

There is some additional storage for small items beneath the cargo floor. This includes a space to keep the travel EV charger cable, though some cargo unloading may be required to access it.

User Friendliness: 9/10

Expect minimal stress when learning how to interface with the Niro EV, or any of its features or systems. Near the driver, most controls are big, easy to read, logically placed, and easy to manipulate – including a full array of steering-wheel-mounted controls and toggles for the radar cruise, on-screen driver computer display, stereo, and more.

Instrumentation is likewise big, clear, and vivid, keeping drivers up to speed on vital running data with ease, and a visualization of the EV system’s operation is easily read with a quick glance. As an added bonus, an on-screen graphical pop-up visualizes your selection as you manipulate the wipers and headlight with their corresponding stalks. It’s a handy and delightful little touch.

A full set of parking aids adds confidence when manoeuvring in tight quarters. Further, thanks to a relatively small turning circle, the grippy dial-shifter, and a featherlight steering effort at low speeds, Niro EV’s a breeze to park, too.

Try the three-level regenerative braking system, for one-footed driving. Select the level of regenerative braking you’d like from the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. In the most aggressive setting, Niro EV slows quickly whenever you release the throttle, generating electricity for the battery in the process. Get good at it, and you almost never have to use the mechanical brakes – or the brake pedal.

Those who prefer to charge their EV at specific times will find handy charge control buttons just ahead of the driver’s left knee – making them easy to engage or disengage to taste as you exit the car.

The central command system is logical, responsive, colourful without being confusing, and easy to learn. The finger-tap patterns required to flit between menus stick within memory before long, and my mother (who is just the worst with touchscreen electronics) could have this system licked in 20 minutes.

Dotted around the shifter dial are clearly presented controls for seating temperature, the Auto-Hold function (which keeps Niro stationary when you stop, even if you release the brakes), the parking radar, heated steering wheel, and drive mode selector.

Features: 8/10

The drive mode selector is a clever feature that allows drivers to quickly fine-tune the Niro’s operation and feel for sportier driving, more economical driving, or general-purpose driving, to taste.

Wireless charging, high-powered USB charge ports, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and full Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming are also on board, forming a collection of modern connectivity must-haves. The up-level Harman Kardon stereo system is a great travel partner, with plenty of punch and solid clarity even at high volumes.

The driver’s seat is motorized, and both front seats are climate-controlled for heating and chilling of their leather surfaces. Above is a roughly standard-size glass sunroof. Automatic lights, brights, and climate control help to keep the driver focussed on the road ahead, with set-it-and-forget-it operation.

So – a comprehensive equipment list, though not mind-blowing, given my tester’s pre-rebate ask of $53,995.

Power: 9/10

The Niro EV is fast. Power comes from a 356-volt synchronous magnet motor, fed from a floor-mounted battery pack. Output is rated at 201 hp, and 291 lb-ft of torque. As it goes with electric vehicles, said power is creamy smooth, vibration free, and eerily quiet.

With no gears, fluids, belts or reciprocating parts, you get unbelievable torque and throttle response, on demand. Acceleration figures roughly tie sporty turbo compacts, like the Civic Si and Veloster Turbo. Throttle response is superior to virtually any gasoline-powered driveline. Full power arrives the instant the driver’s boot hits the firewall, without kickdown, lag, or any power-curve-related constraints.

Passing and merging are stress-free (and noiseless), especially in Sport mode. It’s at lower speeds where the Niro shines, however. The effect of noiselessly speeding away from traffic lights, and subsequent inspection by the motorists you left behind, never gets old. Ditto the point-and-shoot process of whisking your way through city traffic, if you’re so inclined.

If you like your cars quick and quiet, you are going to love how this feels.

Comfort: 8/10

During our time together, I noted just one main comfort-related concern that may or may not be a factor for all drivers. In exchange for some sporty driving manners that we’ll get to, some drivers may be left wishing for a slightly softer suspension calibration. Specifically, the suspension can feel harsher and busier than some will like when it’s worked hard by rougher road surfaces. It’s smooth sailing over better pavement, and drivers accepting of a sportier ride quality will find little of concern – though the driver after a soft and forgiving ride to complement the quiet drivetrain may be disappointed.

Driving Feel: 9/10

Someone at Kia was put in charge of making sure the Niro’s steering and handling feel were nicely calibrated against its sporty power output, and that person did a very nice job. With immediate access to full torque output laying the foundation for fun, Niro’s steering is light and quick, and helps direct eager and tidy handling, even when driven spiritedly. The body prefers to stay flat and composed over the wheels – thank the sporty suspension and big, flat battery embedded within the floor to the benefit of the centre of gravity.

It’s not a GTI, but the Niro EV feels eager to please with sporty moves and instant response from the steering and throttle, more so in Sport mode. Even when you’re driving leisurely, that hair-trigger throttle leaves things in a perpetual state of moderate mischievousness.

Elsewhere, Niro drives as expected. It feels substantial and locked-in on the highway, and light and maneuverable during parking.

Sportier drivers will wish for more feel and feedback in two areas, however. First, the steering is fast and sporty when desired, though it fails to communicate any meaningful feel of the goings on between the tires and the road.

Further, first-time EV drivers may find the brakes to feel softer and number than they’re used to, which is fairly normal with the braking system in electric cars. Performance is decent during panic stops, though your foot may need a few days to re-learn the unique action of the electric car brake pedal.

Fuel Economy: 9/10

With the ability to confidently achieve nearly 400 kilometres per charge in most conditions, most drivers will find the Niro EV more than suitable as a secondary family car, or even a daily driver, depending on locale and other factors. Kissing the gas station goodbye, and arriving to a fully charged battery every morning (with a Level 2 charger at home), will be a welcome benefit to most.

Energy consumption is rated at 16.8 / 20.5 / 18.6 kWh/100 km city / highway / combined by NRCan, which also provides gasoline-equivalent values of 1.9 Le/100 km city and 2.3 Le/100 km highway.

Value: 8/10

EV-curious shoppers should find my top-dog tester’s roughly $54,000 asking price to be reasonable for an EV with nearly 400 km of range. Other shoppers may gravitate instead towards a comparably equipped gasoline compact for about half the price.

For the roughly $4,000 premium over a Nissan Leaf Plus SL, the Niro EV SX Touring offers 20 km additional range, and a notably more modern and upscale look to the cabin.

The Verdict

Most shoppers seriously considering EV ownership in the near future will find the 2019Niro EV to offer a persuasive package, especially when versatility, range, convenience, and some unexpectedly spirited driving characteristics are welcomed.

All-electric Niro is a hoot to drive 9/23/2019 6:28:00 AM

Specifications

EngineDisplacement 150 kW, 356 V electric motor
EngineCylinders N/A
PeakHorsepower 201 hp
PeakTorque 291 lb-ft
FuelEconomy 16.8/20.5/18.6 kWh/100 km cty/hwy/cmb; 1.9/2.3/2.1 Le/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
CargoSpace 629 / 1,804 L seats down