If you look back five years, most of the somewhat-affordable all-electric vehicles generally had a sub-100 mile range and more anxiety than Rex from Toy Story. This year, there are no less than five BEVs that easily travel more than 200 miles on a single charge and sticker below $40,000. Now the 2019 Kia Niro EV joins a growing class that demonstrates how good zero emissions can be without the angst of getting stranded far away from an electrical outlet.
Recently, we compared the Chevy Bolt to the long-range Nissan LEAF Plus and examined how the upstart Hyundai Kona Electric stacked up against the established nameplates. Next on deck is the Niro EV and a close look at how it gets along with the other players in the field.
Kia’s electrified sub-compact crossover can’t claim to have the longest range, but with an EPA-estimated 239 miles, that’s a heap of driving between charge cycles. The 64 kWh liquid-cooled lithium-ion polymer battery powers a 201-horsepower electric motor. When it comes time to recharge at a DC fast charger (50 kW), plan for a 75-minute stopover and 80% back on the capacity meter. Otherwise, it’s nine and a half hours when attached to a 240 volt Level 2 (L2) charger.
The Niro EV’s range may be shy of its South Korean cousin, but it is on par with the Chevy Bolt and marginally better than the Nissan LEAF Plus. While I found the Niro EV was pretty close to its EPA estimates, the Kona Electric proved it is capable of easily exceeding its EPA rating of 258 miles.
|2019 Niro EV EX||112 MPGe||239 miles||$38,500|
|2019 Niro EV EX Premium||112 MPGe||239 miles||$44,000|
|2019 Kona Electric SEL||120 MPGe||258 miles||$36,950|
|2019 Kona Electric Ultimate||120 MPGe||258 miles||$44,900|
|2019 Bolt LT||119 MPGe||238 miles||$37,495|
|2019 Bolt Premier||119 MPGe||238 miles||$41,895|
|2019 LEAF S Plus||108 MPGe||226 miles||$36,550|
|2019 LEAF SV/SL Plus||104 MPGe||215 miles||$38,510 / $42,550|
The on-demand 291 pound-feet of torque does wonders from a standstill, but the real shock is the throttle response when you hit the go-pedal at speed. Passing antics at 40 to 60 mph is a hoot and more satisfying than trying the same move with the Bolt or LEAF Plus.
One pedal driving requires more practice to master, but you can also quickly adjust the amount of “regen” to one of three levels using the levers mounted behind the steering wheel. The strongest setting allows you to drive on city streets and decelerate without using the brake pedal until about 8 mph, then holding the left paddle will bring you to a full stop.
Mild-mannered EV drivers will appreciate the smooth ride. It’s only the more aggressive drivers who will notice the Niro’s balance as nose-heavy when braking or attempting to slice through a corner at coffee-spilling speeds. If you’re keeping score, it can’t match the handling of the Bolt and Kona, but it’s still a better performer than the LEAF Plus.
If I had to choose the better performer, my money would go towards the Kona EV. It is much sportier, has a nicely tuned suspension, and is equal parts comfortable and capable handler.
The Niro EV seats five and offers the same crossover practicality and cargo space as the ICE and PHEV variants. Kia presents two trim levels to choose—the EX and EX Premium. MSRP for the EX is $38,500 and full-featured EX Premium stickers at $44,000.
If size is a concern, the Niro’s longer wheelbase and nearly eight inches of extra overall length put the Kia at the head of its class. Both the front and second-row passengers get comfortable seating and welcome amenities. Plus, the rear passengers will find more room to stretch and sit upright than the Kona EV, LEAF and Bolt.
The differences in available cargo space are evident. The Niro has more useable cargo carrying capacity overall, 53.0 cubic feet versus the Kona’s 45.8 cubic feet. In real life, it means you can fit a couple more suitcases (one large plus one medium size) into the Niro.
Fit and feel of cabin materials
Cabin serenity is compromised by the intrusion of some wind and road noise. Plus, there is the artificial noise at speeds below 19 mph emitted to warn pedestrians. I forgot to measure the cabin noise with a sound meter, but I recall the Kona Electric as somewhat noisier over rough pavement and having some extra wind turbulence around the front windshield area. The degree of road noise insulation is noticeably less in the LEAF and Bolt.
From an aesthetic point of view, the zero-emission crossover won’t win any design awards for its interior quality and layout, but the conservative approach works. There are plenty of cubby spaces for the little things we don’t want in our pockets and a dedicated spot for smartphones that features Qi wireless charging. The seats are amenable to long drives, and proper size bottle holders in the door can accommodate containers bigger than half a liter. Moreover, the infotainment system and HVAC controls are within easy reach.
The cabin does have some squishy materials on various touch points but some pieces, such as the plastic flip covers, do feel particularly flimsy. The use of piano black trim pieces is questionable as they readily show fingerprints and scratches, especially around the gear selector and door handles. Overall, cabin quality is a few points down from the Kona and even more so compared to the LEAF and VW e-Golf.
Active and passive safety features
Keeping its occupants safe and connected, the Niro EV features a suite of advanced driver assistance and convenience technologies available as standard equipment, including lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, blind spot collision warning with rear cross-traffic alert when backing up, parking sensors, forward collision warning, and Advanced Smart Cruise Control with full stop and automatic resume.
Good times ahead
Your personal driving habits and preferences will ultimately determine if the current generation of battery electric vehicles fits your lifestyle. Even if you’re daily driving takes you far from home, you likely won’t need to charge every day. Thus, the Niro EV could fit your needs perfectly.
Happily, the Kia Niro EV offers more space for passengers and cargo. The range is better than the LEAF Plus and on par with the Bolt. After our testing, the Kona Electric has proven itself to go farther on a single charge than the Niro EV. Without factoring any manufacturer’s discounts, state or federal tax incentives, it does offer ample value on paper.
For the 2019 model year, the Niro EV is only sold in the following 13 states: Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Texas, Georgia, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Maryland.
|2019 Hyundai Kona Electric Ultimate||2019 Kia Niro EV EX Premium|
|Price as tested||$45,830||$47,155|
|Battery||64 kWh li-ion||64 kWh li-ion|
|Range||258 miles||239 miles|
|Energy efficiency||120 MPGe||112 MPGe|
|Power||201 hp||201 hp|
|Torque||291 lb-ft||291 lb-ft|
|0 – 60 mph||7.6 sec||7.8 sec|
|Onboard charger||7.2 kW||7.2 kW|
|Drivetrain layout||Front-wheel drive||Front-wheel drive|
|Transmission||Single-speed||Gear reduction unit|
|Drive modes||Eco, Normal, Sport||
Eco, Eco+, Normal, Sport
|Front suspension||Independent MacPherson strut w/ coil springs||MacPherson type suspension|
|Rear suspension||Independent multi-link design||Multi-link|
|17-inch aluminum alloy||17-inch aluminum alloy|
|Seating capacity||5 passengers||5 passengers|
|Wheelbase||102.4 in.||106.3 in.|
|Length x width x height||164.6 x 70.9 x 61.2 in.||172.2 x 71.1 x 61.4 in.|
|Ground clearance||6.2 in.||6.1 in.|
|Passenger volume ()||94.1 ft3||96.6 ft3|
|Cargo volume 2nd row upright||19.2 ft3||18.5 ft3|
|Maximum cargo volume||45.8 ft3||53.0 ft3|
|Weight||3,836 lbs.||3,854 lbs.|
|Charging time||1 hr > 80% @ 45 kW||1 hr > 80% @ 45 kW|
If you still have reservations going full electric, take a look at the fuel-efficient Kia Niro Hybrid.