2019 Kia Niro EV First Review
- New electric Kia Niro has a 239-mile range
- 64-kWh lithium-ion battery, 201-horsepower electric motor
- Full recharge in under 10 hours with 220-volt AC charger
- DC Fast Charger gives 80 percent in 75 minutes
- On sale by late February
- Sold in 12 states
- Pricing expected around $37,500
The Kia Niro, when it arrived in 2016, was designed to accommodate a variety of electrified powertrains. The Niro hybrid came first, followed by a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version in 2017 and now the fully electric model. KBB recently drove this 2019 Kia Niro EV, which goes on sale soon in 12 U.S. states and has an EPA-estimated range of 239 miles. Competitors include the Chevrolet Bolt, Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model 3 and the Hyundai Kona EV.
While some people may think of the new Niro EV as Kia’s version of the Hyundai Kona EV, it’s not. Rather, the Niro EV shares its chassis with the Hyundai Ioniq. As such, it has a much roomier back seat than the Kona EV, but as a slightly heavier vehicle it can’t quite match the impressive 258-mile range of the Hyundai, even though it does have the same 201-horsepower electric motor and 64-kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack.
That Niro EV’s liquid-cooled battery pack — mounted low and flat in the chassis, between the front and rear axles — is huge, so large that one Kia engineer likened it to a queen-size mattress. By itself, it tips the scales at 1,008 pounds, which means it represents more than 26 percent of the Niro EV’s 3,854-pound curb weight. The battery in the Niro PHEV, for the record, weighs only 85 pounds. Ponder that for a few.
How does the new Kia Niro EV drive?
With that big chunk of weight so low to the ground and between the axles (where chassis engineers like it), the Niro EV drives remarkably well. This new electric Kia feels substantial, not the least bit tinny, and it takes corners with minimal body roll and excellent composure thanks to its low center gravity. It’s a quiet car, and there’s plenty of space for a 6-foot-tall passenger to ride behind a driver of the same size.
A rotary-dial controller on the center console is used to engage Drive, and while the front seating position is about an inch higher than that of the standard Niro hybrid, it’s because the whole vehicle is raised, not because the seat has been raised within the 5-seat cabin. The same, though, can’t be said in back, where the battery has pushed up the Niro EV’s floorboard and rear seat a small but noticeable amount.
Power from the permanent-magnet electric motor is good, with enough juice on tap to screech the front tires away from a stoplight and propel the Niro EV to a top speed of 103 mph. Moreover, there are noticeable differences among the four driving modes (Eco, Normal, Sport, Eco+), which tailor the motor response, regen braking, air conditioning, heating and the other systems to satisfy driver tastes.
Four levels of regen braking
One of the best traits of the new Niro EV is its smart regenerative braking system, which recharges the battery during vehicle deceleration and allows one pedal driving. Via paddles on the back of the steering wheel, drivers can choose four levels of regenerative braking (0-3). In level 3, the highest, deceleration upon pedal liftoff is so pronounced that the Niro EV’s brake lights illuminate. In this mode, single-pedal driving is possible, aided by a left paddle that can be used at single-digit speeds to help bring the Niro EV to a stop without using the brake pedal.
So, why is it called a “smart” regen system? Whenever a vehicle is sensed in front of the Niro EV, regen adjusts automatically for smoother coast-down driving. Similarly, regen is adjusted for added smoothness on steep downhills. Also, a handy Eco Guide in the instrument cluster helps monitor the Niro EV’s real-time power distribution.
Niro EV: the inside story
Besides niceties such as a 7-inch touchscreen and standard Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, the 2019 Kia Niro EV is remarkably well equipped. The quality of the interior materials is high, and the latest UVO telematics help the driver monitor the battery while it’s charging, or even pre-condition the cabin prior to use. Nor is safety tech forgotten; it’s highlighted by seven standard airbags, forward collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist, a blind-spot collision warning and smart cruise control with stop and go.
Regarding charging, Kia tells us that the Niro EV -- using the new Combined Charging System (CCS) plug and a 220-volt Level II charger -- can be fully recharged in 9 hours and 35 minutes. And get this: If you have access to a DC fast charger, the battery can be brought up to a 100-mile recharge in only 30 minutes. Viewed another way, an 80 percent (of total battery capacity) recharge is available in 1 hour and 15 minutes.
How do we really feel about the Niro EV?
In several important ways, the 2019 Kia Niro EV shines. It’s a practical 5-door hatchback with excellent materials and build quality. It has 239 miles of range, which is good but might even be a bit conservative because the car we tested had an indicated 255 miles of range when we first got behind its steering wheel.
We were also impressed with this electric Kia’s driving manners, its quiet and composed nature, and, of course, its immediate electric torque. Kia says the Niro EV hits 60 mph in 7.8 seconds.
Indeed, the new Kia Niro EV is impressive, a car we could live with on a daily basis, a vehicle with distinct advantages over the Hyundai Kona EV in everything but range and perhaps style. Still, the Niro EV’s biggest competitor may be its boxy brother, the new 2020 Kia Soul EV, which is based on the same platform as the Kona EV and comes out one month after the Niro EV. Although the Soul EV has the same powertrain as the Niro EV, it’s expected to have greater range and an MSRP that’s lower by a few thousand dollars.
While the main advantage of the new 2019 Kia Niro EV is its larger back seat, many folks will be drawn to its more traditional styling and attitude. Although pricing has not been announced, we expect the Niro EV to sell for about $37,500, which is made all the more attractive by a $7,500 federal tax credit.
Not quite ready to go full EV? The 2019 Kia Niro is offered as a hybrid and plug-in hybrid, too!