Kia’s Leaf and Model 3 competitor is a 2020 Car of the Year contender
- Not a funny-looking EV
- Compliant ride
- Roomy interior
- Expensive at higher trims
- Joyless to drive
- Conservative styling
With a 239-mile (385-km) range on a single charge, the 2019 Kia Niro EV eases range anxiety and gives you a genuine all-electric daily driver that you probably won’t need to plug in every night. Like its hybrid and plug-in hybrid siblings, simplicity and familiarity are the key themes with the Niro EV. No wacky layouts or futuristic styling flourishes—just traditional gauges, buttons, and a touchscreen wrapped in a practical package. Transparency helps sell EVs to a public that doesn’t want to have to learn some goofy new interface.
The spacious interior fits average adults without issue, and the cargo area is respectably sized, especially with the rear seats folded. Like most Kia models, the Niro EV’s user interface remains one of the easiest to use. The straightforward layout keeps complication to a minimum. The infotainment system even has some cool tricks to help save battery energy and maximize range, like a “driver-only” mode for the climate controls.
Some judges commented on the Niro EV’s feeling of solidity. Technical director Frank Markus appreciated the lack of buzzes, rattles, and wind noise even at 80 mph (129 km/h). Road test editor Chris Walton liked its high-speed stability and was surprised that a basic EV could hit triple digits. On broken surfaces, the Niro EV easily dispatched imperfections.
There were mixed opinions regarding how the 2019 Kia Niro EV drove. Markus observed “grinding understeer” and found the brakes and steering unsatisfying. Detroit editor Alisa Priddle didn’t appreciate the car’s jerkiness when accelerating and was disappointed that she couldn’t perform one-pedal driving because the regenerative brakes won’t bring the car to a complete stop.
Walton, however, liked the unobtrusiveness of the electronic nannies and found the Niro EV to have better than expected handling for an efficiency-minded hatchback. News editor Alex Nishimoto found the Niro EV livelier than the Nissan Leaf and liked the linear handoff from regenerative to mechanical braking.
Our example, an EX Premium with the Launch Edition package, also came equipped with nearly every option imaginable. A full active driver assistance suite? Check. Heated and ventilated front seats? Got those, too. However, among the four EVs we had this year, the Niro EV was on the expensive end of the spectrum. “$47,405 USD seems rich for this car,” Markus said.
Even with the black perforated leather upholstery and blue trim, Priddle said the Niro EV’s interior “does not look overly high end.” At least the active driver assistance features work well; the Niro EV’s lane keeping assist and lane centering didn’t ping-pong between the lane lines and even activates by itself once it detects dividing lines.
The Niro EV’s biggest problem? It came a few years too late. With the Tesla Model 3 now coming standard with similar range at around the same price as a base Niro EV and the Chevrolet Bolt EV adding 20 miles (32 km) of range with its latest update, the Kia’s only advantage is that it still qualifies for the $7,500 USD federal tax credit.
In its least expensive form, the 2019 Niro EV gets a long list of standard features, which helps bolster its value proposition, especially with national and state incentives. The higher you go up the trim levels, however, the less compelling the Niro EV becomes.
“It’s designed to be a quiet and clean urban family wagon and commuter, and for that the performance and range are spot on,” international bureau chief Angus MacKenzie said. “The one downside? Price. The base Tesla Model 3 isn’t as roomy, but it goes farther, goes faster, and costs less. And it’s way more fun to drive.”
|2019 Kia Niro Electric (EX)|
|Base Price/As Tested||$39,545/$47,405|
|Power (SAE net)||201 hp @ 3,800 rpm|
|Torque (SAE net)||291 lb-ft @ 0 rpm|
|Accel, 0-60 mph||6.2 sec|
|Quarter Mile||14.8 sec @ 95.7 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 mph||123 ft|
|Lateral Acceleration||0.80 g (avg)|
|MT Figure Eight||27.1 sec @ 0.66 g (avg)|
|EPA City/Hwy/Comb||123/102/112 mpg-e|