I drove the 2019 Kia Niro EV earlier this year in Santa Cruz, California, at the press introduction. It was a fun, informative event, with most of the time spent driving this new Kia EV on the scenic roads that dot that part of California’s coast.

Still, that experience is much different than driving an unfamiliar test car on the familiar roads of your regular commute or hometown. Which is exactly what I had the chance to do recently, twice taking the Niro EV home and using it like my everyday vehicle. Some updated findings:

Range: Underpromise and overdeliver

When I got into the Niro EV to go home that first night, it was not quite fully charged but had an indicated range of 268 miles. What gives? Doesn’t this electric Kia have an official range of 239 miles? It does, but it sure makes us think that Kia may be underestimating the range of its new Niro EV. Whatever the case, when I got home some 15 miles later, the Niro EV had an indicated range of 256 miles, a figure still 17 miles above the car’s official max range. Yes, the temperature was an ideal 70 degrees that evening, and, yes, there was a fair amount of energy recuperation with all the city stops, but that lofty indicated range deserves to be noted.

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Apart from range, there are several other aspects of the 2019 Kia Niro EV to like. With its 201-horsepower electric motor, the Niro EV has acceleration that’s immediate, brisk, smooth and quiet, even when the vehicle is in energy-saving Eco mode. Moreover, the ride quality and handling abilities of the Niro EV are excellent, aided in a big way by its large and liquid-cooled battery pack mounted low in the chassis between the front and rear wheels. This 64-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, which weighs more than half a ton (1,008 pounds), contributes to a low center of gravity that makes the Niro EV feel more at home on twisty roads and more planted than either the Niro Hybrid or Niro Plug-in Hybrid.

The art of one-pedal driving  

I also thoroughly enjoyed spending more time mastering the art of one-pedal driving, which is made easier by the paddles of the vehicle’s energy-regeneration system. The Niro EV, you may recall, has four levels of regen/deceleration force that can be selected, with level 0 being no regen and no retardation of speed, while levels 1, 2 and 3 offer progressively more of each. In fact, at levels 2 and 3, the electrical regeneration and speed retardation are strong enough to cause the Niro EV’s brake lights to illuminate for safety reasons when you lift your foot off the accelerator.

In short, the system works great. While I praised level 2 as being the most useful in my initial drive of the Niro EV, I found that I used a mix of level 1 and level 2 most often on my most recent drives, which included some long but gentle downhills. On these sections, I’d use level 2 to recoup some energy while trying not to slow the car so much as to impede traffic. When that would happen, I’d quickly switch to level 1 with the right paddle and lose a bit of regen but gain some speed.

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Occasionally, on those times when I’d approach a stoplight with too much pace to stop in the available space, I’d drop into level 3 with the left paddle for max deceleration. And if that proved not quite enough, I’d pull back on the left paddle (and keep it there) to bring the Niro EV to a complete stop. It’s fun driving the new Niro EV this way with only one pedal and the paddles, and the more you do it, the better you get at it. And don’t forget: There’s always a conventional brake pedal to be used when necessary.

Final thoughts

Inside, the 2019 Kia Niro EV represents a step up in quality compared to the standard Niro hybrid that KBB had just driven the week before. That fact, together with my recent drive of the new electric on familiar turf, underscores my belief that it’s the most refined version of the Niro trio. Because it doesn’t have a gearbox, the Niro EV accelerates far more smoothly than either of the its hybrid siblings, and it climbs hills with appreciable ease. The delivery of power feels almost hydraulic in nature, and the lack of any engine sounds is a little bit eerie. 

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The other morning (after 30 miles of driving and the battery at 85 percent of capacity), when I plugged the Niro EV into our 220-volt charger at the KBB office, a message appeared on the instrument panel stating that it would take 2 hours and 15 minutes for the battery to reach a full charge. Granted, that’s a lot longer than a typical visit to a gas station, but we’re still very much impressed with the quality, drivability and overall range of the new Kia Niro EV. Whatever that actual figure may be. 

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