150kW 4 64kWh 5dr Auto
Kia's Niro EV usefully develops the brand's compact hatch full-electric proposition. Jonathan Crouch reports.
When the history books are written on the early years of electrified automation, Kia won't be one of the brands credited with originating the EV concept. But it will very much be seen as one of the makers that popularised it. When its first high-volume global electric model, the e-Niro, was launched back in 2018, there were quite a few battery-powered compact models around, but none of them had gained much sales traction. That all changed with the e-Niro, which shared nearly all its engineering with its close cousin, the Hyundai Kona Electric. And went on to account for over 55% of all Kia Niro sales in the UK. It was the first EV to out-sell a directly comparable combustion alternative. And it was a sign of things to come. A sign of irresistible momentum continued by the car we look at here, the e-Niro's successor, now called the Niro EV. This model, Kia says, has been redesigned 'to provide people with a clearer path to clean mobility'. And it's the most important component in the brand's target of boosting its global sales of eco-friendly vehicles to 2 million units by 2030.
Just what is an eco-friendly vehicle? Any of the current Niro powerplants could theoretically qualify for that title, all of them being electrified in some way. The mechanicals on offer haven't changed much in the 1.6-litre GDI petrol-powered Hybrid and PHEV versions, save for a slightly larger 11.1kWh battery in the Plug-in variant that boosts its driving range to 40 miles. The Niro EV we look at here can go 285 miles between charges of its 64.8kWh battery, which these days is the only one on offer in a fully electric Niro. Kia hasn't fundamentally changed much about way this Niro EV drives: there's a front-mounted electric motor with a 201bhp total output that gets you to 62mph in under 8 seconds. As for dynamic updates, well really it's just detail stuff; extra insulation improves refinement. And a bit more chassis rigidity improves the ride and reduces body roll. Like some other EVs, this one provides you with paddle shifters behind the steering wheel that allow you to either intensify or reduce the regenerative braking feel. Alternatively, there's an 'auto' setting that constantly calculates the optimum level of braking regeneration, based on the positioning of the vehicles ahead. As usual with a modern electric vehicle, there's also a virtual engine sound system for creating artificial noise to warn those on the pavement of your approach in urban areas.
If you've been wanting an electric car of this sort but weren't attracted by this car's e-Niro predecessor, it was probably because that car looked, well, rather dull. This one makes much more of a visual statement and is distinguished from its Hybrid and PHEV stablemates by a two-tone closed grille and unique steel grey side cladding. The Niro EV also has a dedicated lower grille and bumper treatment, in addition to model-specific 17-inch alloy wheels. At 4,420mm long, 1,825mm wide, and up to 1,570 high, this second generation Niro design is formulated on Kia's third-generation 'K3' platform. The front end takes up the styling theme already established by the current Sportage. And in profile, the effect of that larger chassis becomes obvious, extending the length by 65mm. Inside, the dash gets twin 10.25-inch displays and a multi-function panel on the fascia allowing you to flick between infotainment and heating controls. Premium-effect recycled materials adorn the cabin, to augment the interior space and underline Niro's sustainable credentials. Thanks to 20mm more wheelbase length, there's now space in the rear for a couple of six footers. And you get more 495-litres of boot space, 147-litres more than the PHEV version. This full-EV variant also gains a 20-litre front 'frunk' compartment, which would be useful for the storage of wet charging leads.
Niro EV prices open at around £35,000. That compares with around £26,000 for the Hybrid model and around £30,000 for the Niro PHEV. For Niro EV customers, there are three trim levels - '2', '3' and '4'. Even base '2' spec gets you quite a lot - 17-inch wheels, an 11kW on-board charger and a battery heating system. Plus inside, there's an 8-inch centre touchscreen display with a 10.25-inch instrument cluster. There's 'Android Auto' and 'Apple CarPlay' smartphone-mirroring of course. And plenty of camera safety kit, including 'Forward Collision Avoidance' with car, pedestrian and cyclist recognition and junction crossing, plus Smart Cruise Control. Moving up to '3' grade gets you the clever 'V2D' 'Vehicle to Device' functionality which allows you to power external electrical devices from the vehicle's plug socket - say an electric scooter, a drone or camping equipment. From this grade upwards, you can also specify a heat pump that will preserve driving range in colder weather. The top '4' grade gets you a Head-up display, a larger 10.25-inch centre touchscreen, heated rear seats, ventilated front seats, a Harmon Kardon premium sound system, a power operated tailgate, an electric sunroof and extra safety kit.
We gave you the driving range figure for the Niro EV in our 'Driving Experience' section - 285 miles. Recharging from 10 to 80% takes as little as 45 minutes - up to 9 minutes quicker than the previous generation e-Niro model. In the winter months, when temperatures are typically low, the system in the Niro EV uses navigation-based conditioning to pre-heat the battery when a charge point is selected as a destination, which helps shorten charge times and optimise battery performance. Avoid entry-level trim and a heat pump is optional to extend driving range in colder weather. You can also remotely interact with your Niro EV of course, via Kia Connect and its downloadable app. Using this, owners can view and control vehicle charge status, in addition to planning a route using online navigation, syncing calendars and accessing on-board features such as charge station proximity, live weather and real-time traffic alerts. Echoing the eco-friendly powertrain, there's plenty of Enviro-conscious design in the cabin. The headlining is made from recycled wallpaper, the door panels are finished with VOC-free paint and the PU vegan leather seat coverings contain Tencel from eucalyptus trees, plus the cargo screen's knitted material is made of 75% recycled fibres.
Is the Niro EV the most significant global product that Kia makes? That's about the size of it because the size of this car is the one that'll really drive electric vehicle sales forward over the next decade. We'd like to have seen bigger steps forward in battery technology and driving range from this second generation model. In truth though, all its predecessor was really lacking was a more interesting look and a high quality cabin. With the Niro EV, Kia has provided both of those things, then embellished this product further with better handling, extra refinement and added neat touches like the V2D system allowing owners to charge external devices from the vehicle's plug socket. And overall? Well we'd have liked the end result to be a little more affordable, but if you're not put off by that, there's lots to admire about the way this car has finally found spark.
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