Familiarity comes standard
Switching to an electric vehicle for the first time can be intimidating, and not just because of range anxiety. From the techy gauges to changing the way you operate a car, it can take time to learn how to drive an EV efficiently. Fortunately, Kia has made electric motoring more accessible with the 2019 Niro EV; with its conventional design and emphasis on user-friendliness, the latest electro-wagonoid from Korea minimizes the learning curve of going electric.
The 2019 Niro EV is like an old friend; step inside, and you’re greeted by a roomy cabin that seamlessly blends simplicity with modern technology. Kia’s UVO3 interface, even with its EV-specific menus, has no learning curve; the 8.0-inch touchscreen is responsive (a 7.0-inch unit is standard on the base EX grade), and there are shortcut buttons for every app. The optional eight-speaker Harman Kardon audio system is clear but has limited customizability. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto worked smoothly during our drive, easily operating alongside the native UI without a hitch.
Essentially a wagon masquerading as a subcompact crossover, the 2019 Kia Niro EV offers generous passenger and cargo space. With the 64-kW-hr lithium-ion battery placed under the passenger compartment, the rear seat floor is slightly raised, but overall interior space is similar to other Niro models, with plenty of head- and legroom even for tall passengers sitting in the back and a flexible cargo area that handily accommodates bulky items. The rotary shifter also adds more storage for your smartphones and small items.
With an EPA-rated 239-mile (385-km) range on a full charge, the 2019 Kia Niro EV matches the Chevrolet Bolt EV and beats the Nissan Leaf. Only the Hyundai Kona EV has more range at 258 miles (415 km), but you lose out on interior space. An equivalent Tesla Model 3 midrange will run you closer to $50,000 USD similarly equipped. Tesla’s federal tax credits are also running out, whereas Kia has around five years until the $7,500 USD reimbursement gets halved.
With a Level 2 (7.2 kW) charger, it takes 9 hours and 35 minutes to fully charge the Niro EV’s battery. A Level 3 fast charger gets you to 80 percent in an hour on a 100-kW unit or an hour and 15 minutes on the 50-kW ones. An optional heat pump HVAC system is packaged together with a battery heating system to minimize range loses when you use the climate control.
Driving around scenic Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, we found the 2019 Kia Niro EV was surprisingly spunky. Transitions between regenerative and mechanical brakes are smooth and free of any grabbiness. The electric motor’s 201 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque gives you effortless power especially in Sport mode. However, in Eco, Eco+, and Normal modes, torque is limited from a standstill to minimize torque steer and wheel spin.
The 2019 Niro EV’s low center of gravity and independent suspension gives it a delightful ride and handling balance. When combined with its responsive steering and minimal body roll, the crossover inspired confidence when the pavement got twisty. Road and tire noise get excessive on uneven pavement due to the eco-minded Michelin Primacy MXM4 tires. One-pedal driving is a breeze with the four-level (0 to 3) regenerative braking. Hold the left paddle for additional regeneration, enough to bring the vehicle to nearly a full stop in the highest setting.
When it goes on sale in late February, the 2019 Kia Niro EV will be available in EX and EX Premium trims, both of which feature a long list of standard equipment. Kia’s Drive Wise suite of driver assistance tech is included on all models, bundling together adaptive cruise control, pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, driver attention alert, lane following and keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. All of the assists work discreetly, but the standout is the lane following and keeping assists, which do a terrific job at centering the vehicle even through turns with adaptive cruise control active.
The 2019 Kia Niro EV completes the brand’s eco crossover range and is the best of the three variants. With satisfying road manners, generous range, and an easy user interface, the Niro EV is approachable. Combined with its conventional exterior, the Niro EV is far from a menacing space ship like some of its competitors, even with the funky sounds it makes. Unless you’re a one-car family with an affinity for road trips, the Niro EV is a great daily driver; the level of simplicity it brings helps the average consumer ease into all-electric motoring without getting overwhelmed in the process.