- Great style
- Comfortable ride
- Affordable pricing
- Slow charging
- Less fun colors on EVs
As the industry moves increasingly towards electrification, more and more dedicated EV platforms are coming to market. Designing a car from the ground up to be battery powered has some significant advantages in terms of cabin layout, battery placement and ultimately range. However, it also has some disadvantages – namely, the cost. Designing such a platform doesn’t come cheap, and limiting a new car to being powered solely by a battery means it rules out the majority of buyers who aren’t ready for a wholesale switch to the EV lifestyle.
Kia has one such platform at its disposal, the E-GMP that underpins the EV6 as well as its Hyundai Ionic 5 and Genesis GV60 corporate cousins. However, Kia’s other EV, the Niro, has taken a more graduated approach. Here, Kia has managed to offer a car in three flavors: hybrid range, plug-in hybrid and full-on electric, made possible by a more flexible platform that can accommodate motors, engines or both.
But can a mid-range EV with a traditional cabin layout compete with modern, stand-alone EVs? It can when it looks this good, drives this well and is priced competitively.
The outgoing Niro was an elegant car, fresh enough without being too radical, part of Kia’s previous wave of design statements to define itself not as a value brand, but as someone who really does something different. With the new Niro, Kia really seals the deal with something amazing.
Although the car has new styling, its sheet metal is wrapped around the same familiar, practical shape. The Niro EV is classified as an SUV, but it’s on the ultra-small side of the crossover spectrum, really more of a tall wagon. Regardless, it’s a practical shape that’s great for small families or anyone with an active lifestyle.
Active lifestyle and love for progressive styling elements. The most important one is in pillar C, of all places. Kia calls it the Aeroblade, and it’s far and away the car’s most striking design element — but only if you pay a little extra to get it in a contrasting color, like you see here. This form is physically separated from the rest of the body, a kind of bridge with functional ventilation leading to the rear of the car.
It’s the kind of styling cue usually seen on high-end sports cars, and while its functional need is debatable in a low-powered EV, its aesthetics are unquestionable. It looks fantastic.
The rest of the car looks good too. The headlights sit low and wide, either side of a fake plastic grille that’s just a repeating texture of black plastic that forms a modern face for the car. This Aeroblade dominates the side view, along with the color-contrasted kick plates low on the doors.
The taillights are almost completely integrated into those C-pillars, leaving the rest of the rear looking a bit plain in comparison. But a generous hatch spoiler adds some spice, while a rear window wiper is much appreciated.
Inside, things are a little less radical but no less welcoming. Maybe even more. The light gray interior on the Kia Niro EV Wave trim seen here creates a light effect that’s far less murky than the seas of black vinyl we’re increasingly seeing on modern cars. That its wallpaper is made from recycled bottles definitely helps you feel better about things. Your mood will also be lifted by the sunroof, which is not panoramic, but still leaves much of its namesake.
Up front, there’s a 10.25-inch screen with Kia’s ultra-familiar UVO infotainment system, which is simple and snappy and works quite well, including both wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The front seats are comfortable, if a little flat.
There’s plenty of room in back, too, with a wide bench seat and plenty of room for those with either long legs or a long torso — or both. There are even heated rear seats, as well as a pair of USB-C ports cleverly integrated into the sides of the front seats for charging.
The most important charging port, however, is located up front between the headlights. The Niro EV supports DC fast charging of up to 85 kW, which will give the 64.8 kWh battery an 80 percent charge in about 45 minutes. That’s a bit slow by modern standards. A full charge will take nearly two hours, or if you’re charging at home on a Level 2 unit, it’ll take just eight.
The Niro EV’s maximum range is 253 miles according to the EPA. I wasn’t able to test it as my testing period was filled with awful weather, including well below freezing temperatures and strong headwinds. So my rating of 2.6 miles per kWh, or a theoretical maximum range of 169 miles, doesn’t apply unless you happen to be driving in the Arctic.
Electric vehicles, even affordable ones, should be fun to drive, and the Niro EV is no exception. Although its 201 horsepower and 188 pound-feet of torque are on the low end for a 3,800-pound vehicle, it accelerates well and will certainly pull ahead when sprinting from one intersection to another.
It’s only at higher speeds, on the freeway, when things start to look a bit flat. Here the Niro seems to lose the battle against the increased air resistance and higher revs required at these speeds. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still more than capable of moving well through traffic and passing, but it doesn’t leap forward with the same aggression as it does at lower speeds.
The Niro EV’s steering is light, but the car responds quickly to your commands. Push it hard in the corners, however, and the result is just more body roll. No, despite the C-pillar venting, this is not a sports car.
It is OK. The Niro EV excels at the most important things for this class of car, such as a quiet and calm ride quality. The Niro EV’s comfortable suspension and generous sidewalls ensure it stays poised even over broken tarmac, quiet on the inside thanks to both this isolation and the silent powertrain.
It’s a perfect place to listen to your favorite murder mystery podcast on the way to work, although the seven-speaker Harman Kardon sound system punches above its weight with powerful bass for when you’d rather blast music.
The Kia is also good at swallowing your stuff. The 22.8 cubic feet of trunk space in the back is a bit low, but that jumps to 63.7 with the seats folded down. And, while there isn’t a proper fruit per se, there is a small compartment up there with enough room for a loaf of bread and a few assorted condiments. Perfect for small picnics with close friends.
All of this is backed by a comprehensive security suite. The Niro EV Wave features Kia’s latest Highway Drive Assist 2 system, which improves on the first version of the HDA with some added functionality. As always, it does a great job of keeping the car centered in its lane on the freeway, adjusting gear as needed based on traffic, and does so without any sudden jerks on the brake.
HDA2 adds the ability for the car to automatically change lanes to overtake slower traffic — with your blessing, of course. This is still a very practical driver assistance system. It’s not quite on par with GM’s Super Cruise or Ford’s Blue Cruise, both of which will allow the driver to take their hands off the wheel. However, the HDA2 still does most of the busy work of highway driving, making the experience much more relaxing.
It is enhanced by blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alerts and automatic emergency braking, and collision avoidance with pedestrian and cyclist detection. You really couldn’t want or expect much more from a car in this class.
Options and Pricing
The car you see here is a Kia Niro Wave, which starts at $44,450 and differs from the base Wind trim by adding things like LED lighting, Highway Drive Assist 2, a larger infotainment screen and the ability to use your smartphone as a key. . This car also has a few options, including $155 for floor mats, $395 for Snow White Pearl paint, and another $195 for the (much needed) gray contrast C-pillar.
The most expensive add-on, however, is $1,300 for the Wave Preserve package. This includes heated rear seats, but significantly increases the heat pump. A heat pump allows an EV to heat the cabin much more efficiently than basic resistance heating. In sub-freezing temperatures, the car will use less electricity to keep you warm, leaving more power in the battery to go far.
If you live somewhere cold, you’ll definitely want to check this box, even if you don’t care about keeping the back seats warm.
Add in the $1,295 destination charge and you’re looking at a final price of $47,790, but you could get a Niro EV for just $39,550. That compares to 38,690 for the base Niro plug-in hybrid and 26,590 for the base hybrid.
Which one is it for you? Well, that depends a lot on your driving patterns and whether you have regular access to a charger. If you frequently drive long distances, the base hybrid may be your best bet. Do you take shorter trips and can only charge occasionally? Check out the PHEV.
But, if you have access to the charger, the full EV Kia Niro would be my choice. It’s calm and quiet to drive and the almost complete lack of maintenance will make long distance living much easier. And, with a car that looks this good, you won’t be in a rush to get rid of it.