2019 Kia Niro Expert Review: Bringing EVs into the Mainstream

Kia obviously feels that the small crossover market is fertile ground. With the recent addition of the Niro EV all-electric vehicle, the Niro line has blossomed into three separate submodels. There is a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid in addition to the EV.  And while Kia calls the Niro a crossover, casual observers might call it an SUV, station wagon or hatchback. Just don’t call it late to dinner. Its owner might call it a revelation. Why?

For one thing, it offers a very creditable EPA estimated range of 239 miles on a single charge of its 64 kWh battery. With a 201-horsepower electric motor and a massive 291 lb.-ft. of torque, the Niro EV is both silent and extremely capable. Further, it is not only fun to drive; it takes everyday driving in a completely new direction.

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The driving experience begins by a quick turn of a dial to choose whether the car goes forward, backward or is in neutral. A pushbutton in the center of the dial is the way you select park. You can essentially dial up the kind of driving experience you want, not unlike choosing the parameters of a video game.  For those who want it to, the Niro will perform much like a conventional car with an internal combustion engine and automatic transmission. But if you play with the driving modes, you can conjure up a variety of different “feels.”

The Eco, Normal, Sport and Eco+ drive modes automatically adjust a number of parameters including regenerative braking, air conditioning and heating, and acceleration. The Niro’s “Smart” regenerative braking gives drivers the ability to slow the car without using the brakes with the help of the paddle shifters. Captured energy is delivered to the battery to add range. You can determine the level of re-gen braking you want — or can tolerate — from four choices. One of which basically mimics and internal combustion engine car, while the rest are more intrusive … or is that helpful?

Niro EV’s exterior is clean, uncontroversial…except the grille

The Niro EV’s exterior shape mimics the taller profile of its hybrid brothers, but the details add a degree of obtrusiveness that some will like; others will be turned off by. For instance, the Niro EV doesn’t have a traditional grille opening, but it instead has a dimpled fascia that fills that space and houses the outlet for plug-in. No matter how you feel about that, the Niro EV offers a raised seating position that is easy to get in and out of and excellent visibility. The hatchback configuration is handy for loading cargo.

The Niro’s interior is as functional as the exterior. Seating for five is comfortable and easily adjustable, and the design is straightforward. Instead of trying to reinvent things like radio and heating controls, Kia designers simply made them easy to identify and placed them in logical positions. The infotainment screen is situated just where it should be, and its controls and functions don’t require a trip to the owner’s manual. The instruments deliver information about state-of-charge and range along with the expected data.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration and Bluetooth plus AM/FM/MP3/SiriusXM audio are all parts of the infotainment package. A seven-inch touchscreen is standard, while the Premium EX trim is equipped with an eight-inch color navigation touchscreen infotainment system and eight-speaker Harman/Kardon audio.

Intelligent battery pack placement

The underfloor placement of the liquid-cooled 64kWh lithium-ion polymer battery offers a low center of gravity. With a couple of different fast-charge protocols, road trips can proceed with relatively short interruptions. A 100kW Combined Charging System (CCS) DC fast-charge is standard equipment, so the Niro EV can get a 100-mile recharge in 30 minutes, and it can be recharged to 80 percent capacity in 75 minutes. (Okay, that’s a long coffee break.) With a 240-volt system like you would probably have at home, the 7.2 kWh charger requires approximately 9.5 hours for a full charge.

While the Niro EV is not the first choice for a whirlwind cross-country trek, it is perfectly practical and often delightful to drive in most everyday situations. It is one of several new-breed EVs that are taking the segment into the mainstream.

Read our Review of the Honda Clarity EV



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