Kia’s new Niro battery electric vehicle brings so many strengths to the affordable segment it is hard to ignore.
What is it?
Good question. We’re torn between four-door hatchback and crossover. Whatever this Niro is, we love it. It offers ample interior space, generous cargo space, it is easy to use in the real world, fun to drive, and it has a range that makes it a viable vehicle for many. The battery electric vehicle (BEV) Niro should do very well in this suddenly very competitive market, particularly against Tesla’s Standard Range base offering.
Pricing and trims
Kia has not yet announced its pricing for the Niro BEV, but we strongly suspect that it will mimic its sibling’s, the Hyundai Kona BEV. Expect a base model to be priced at about $35K, and a top-trim to be priced at about $40K. After incentives, shoppers should budget between $27K and $ 32K. Discounts by Kia dealers could push this price point lower. Chevy dealers are offering up to $9,500 off of Bolts in our area and we were offered a $2,330 discount on a new, never driven Tesla Model 3 by the Dedham, Mass dealership this past week.
We drove the top-trim Niro BEV with a long list of luxury and premium features. Our impression is that this vehicle would sell very well at a $30K price point after incentives and discounts.
The Kia Niro hybrid earns the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s top honor, the Top Safety Pick Plus designation. We would expect the Niro BEV to by just as safe. Our trim had every modern active safety system and none of the safety nannies were the least bit annoying. To the contrary, Kia seems to have one of the best safety packages in the industry right now. Many of the settings can be adjusted in the easy to use menus for sensitivity.
The Kia Niro BEV has multiple drive modes. In its “Normal” setting, which is the default whenever you turn the vehicle on, the Niro is a joy to drive. Torque is plentiful and when you toe the power pedal the car squirts forward. In Sport Mode, the torque is more pronounced, The power pedal has a stronger input for the given push and the Niro is downright quick. So quick, that we can’t really imagine a 2WD car of this type needing any more torque. The car leaps ahead with gusto if you floor it. You run out of road way before you run out of performance. Testing by third-party groups say the Niro takes about 7.5 seconds to get to sixty. We can tell you that 0-30 feels fast in this car and that is a better measure of a vehicle of this type. Buy more performance from another brand if you want to, but it will be window dressing.
Pop the hood and the Niro looks like any other car. Kia and others are discovering that one way to keep EVs affordable is to have most of the components in the same place as other vehicle types to keep the production line simple.
Look under the Niro and you can see the massive battery pack. Down super low under the chassis and near the car’s centerline. That is important for handling.
We found the drive selector knob very simple to use and it saves space. Note the Drive Mode selector in the bottom right.
With 239 miles of EV range, we feel the Niro will satisfy almost any EV owner’s needs. That is provided you can charge at home. The Niro has a standard DC fast charger built in, so if that is available to you in your area public charging will be quick. We tested the Niro in a range of temperatures and we did see a bit of cold-weather impact on the batteries. However, with 239 miles available, a 20% to 40% drop due to cold weather is not really a big deal. As long as you are prepared. We charged at home using the portable charger the car comes with (and our 115 volt plug). We added back about 4 miles per hour on the charger. Kia says that a level 2 charger will charge the Niro fully in under 10 hours. We loved the location of the charge port and the portable charger was simple to use. (Not all EVs are this easy). It didn’t make our outlet hot or trip the breaker like some EVs we have tested.
If this Niro BEV doesn’t work for you, but you still want one, consider the Niro Plug-in hybrid (PHEV). It has an on-board gasoline hybrid engine and you can fuel up anywhere in under 5 minutes. Here is our full review of that version. There is also a hybrid you can read about here.
Ride and handling
The Niro BEV is really fun to drive. How fun? It left us making notes about buying one as a second car to use for road trips and weekends. Like a Golf GTI. Seriously? Yes, we fell in love with the ample torque, point and shoot handling, and the way the Niro swallows up broken up spring roads full of potholes. Brakes are good, maybe a bit grabby in certain situations, but we will take that over spongy any day. No, it’s not a Miata by any stretch, but it would be a great second car for those who already have an AWD crossover like a Forester or Pilot in the family. What the Niro BEV really challenges is a car like the Veloster Turbo or Elantra GT Sport.
Inside, the Kia Niro feels open and airy. Our legs were not confined, and we had plenty of knee space up front. The Niro EV has 96.6 cubic feet of passenger volume and it feels big. The Tesla Model 3 is a foot longer but has a nearly-identical 97 cu ft of passenger volume. The Nissan Leaf offers a slightly lower 92.4 cu ft as does the Chevy Bolt with 94.4 cu ft. We feel the Niro may have the best packaging overall.
The power-adjustable leather-trimmed front seats in our top-trim Niro BEV were both heated and cooled, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel also has heat. Try finding those options in a Tesla Model 3.
We sat adults in the back seats and they had no problem being comfortable. The slightly higher ride height of the Niro compared to a conventional sedan or hatchback also means that helping a youngster into a car seat is much easier on your back.
The Kia Niro EV has an 18.5 cubic foot cargo capacity with the rear seats up and 53 cubic feet with them folded. By comparison, a Tesla Model 3 has just 15 cubic feet. The Leaf has a 26 cubic foot cargo capacity with the seats up, but only 30 in total when they fold. The Chevy Bolt has 16.9 / 56.6 cu ft. We found the Niro’s load height to be ideal and its shape is all usable space. Under the floor of the Niro EV is a small storage compartment perfect for the portable charger, but there is no spare tire.
Infotainment and controls
Do you like a simple to operate infotainment system? This Niro fits the bill. Android Auto and Apple Carplay are both standard. Neither are available in a Tesla Model 3. The menus are super simple and the main buttons are also located under the touch-screen so you touch it very rarely after you make all your initial settings. Doing things like creating station presets are intuitive and our phone synched immediately. We liked the flush mounted look of the screen. We are not fond of the tacked-on look of those that stand proud of the dash like an old Tom Tom. There is both a wireless charger and a perfectly-placed USB port right where you want them. This infotainment system is perfect.
Affordable battery-electric vehicles are finally coming in shapes and sizes we can put to practical use. Tesla’s Model 3 grabs all the headlines, but Tesla has never sold or delivered a single car in the price range that this Niro BEV will sell at. We adored the Niro’s shape and size. Sedans are your grandparents’ cars. Crossovers and vehicles like them are today’s hot setups and the Niro nails that. The Niro is great fun to drive, real-world usable, and has simple to use infotainment with everything you want. Couple that with luxury features you don’t expect like ventilated seats and a heated steering wheel and this Niro BEV is a great deal at around $30k after incentives. If you are on the fence, take a test drive. Tap Sport Mode and floor it. You will end up a buyer.
Look for the Kia Niro BEV early summer.
Kia plans to introduce the Niro in the nine Zero-Emissions-Vehicle-target states and four additional ones. Here is the list:
Vermont (one dealer)