by Frank A. Aukofer

Although it sometimes seems as if Elon Musk’s Tesla gets all the publicity, an increasing number of fine electric vehicles are rolling into the market. An intriguing new one is the 2019 Kia Niro EV.

It is an engaging small crossover sport utility vehicle that also comes as a gasoline-electric hybrid or a plug-in hybrid. The EV competes against half a dozen other electrics in the sub-$40,000 category, including the Chevrolet Bolt, Kia Soul and Nissan Leaf hatchbacks; the Hyundai Kona subcompact crossover, and the Tesla Model 3 sedan.

2019 Niro EV

Because South Korea’s Hyundai owns about 38% of Kia, the Niro EV shares its power train with the Hyundai Kona, though with slightly different tuning. Kia and Hyundai gasoline and hybrid models also share engines and transmissions but do their own designs, styling and other components.

The Niro EV uses a 356-volt electric motor that delivers 201 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque. Power makes its way directly to the front wheels because electric motors deliver maximum torque immediately so there’s no need for a conventional automatic transmission.

Though Kia lists the zero to 60 mph acceleration time at 7.8 seconds, independent tests put it in the 6-second range. Top speed is 104 mph and the government rates the electric equivalent city/highway/combined fuel consumption at 123/102/112 mpgE.

2019 Niro EV

Among the current purely electric powered vehicles, the Kona EV delivers a respectable advertised range of 239 miles on a full charge, less than the Kona’s 258 miles. However, the Niro is heavier, five inches longer than the Kona and more expensive. Also, you are likely to get fewer miles in real-world driving.

You can enhance the range two ways: Select the Eco drive mode instead of Normal or Sport, which increases motor drag to regenerate the battery pack. You also can use the steering-wheel mounted paddles to accomplish the same thing, even in Sport mode. However, the owner’s manual does not tell you how the paddles work.

If you opt for the Niro EV, with all its virtues, make sure to invest in a Level 2 240-volt charger, which will recharge your Niro in nine hours and 35 minutes, easily overnight. If you stick with your standard 110-volt household outlet, figure on a weekend. That charging time is 59 hours. If you have access to a 100-KWh DC fast charger, you can top up your Niro’s battery to 80% in an hour. All numbers come from Kia.

2019 Niro EV

The Niro’s base price is $37,995, including the destination charge. But because it is new it qualifies for the federal government’s $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicle purchases. The credit has phased out for the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3. Unfortunately, for now the Niro is available in only 12 of the 50 states: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington.

Tested for this review was the top-line Niro EV EX Premium, which had a starting price of $44,995. It includes full basic safety equipment plus forward collision avoidance, lane keeping and following assist, driver attention warning, blind spot collision warning and rear cross-traffic alert, and stop-and-go adaptive cruise control.

2019 Niro EV

In addition, the tested EX Premium came with automatic climate control, heated and ventilated leather-upholstered front seats, navigation system, motorized sunroof, Harman Kardon premium audio, SXM satellite radio, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, wireless smart phone charging, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, power driver’s seat, and LED headlights and taillights.

On the road, the Niro EV is a sprightly performer. With the electric motor’s instant torque, it gets a quick jump off the line while other automobiles and trucks are just getting revved up.

2019 Niro EV

The steering has a hefty feel, not unlike that of some European luxury cars. It validates the old adage that a small car should drive like a big car, and vice versa. Small bumps and potholes do not upset the suspension system, which easily soaks them up.

However, the Niro EV’s short wheelbase — the 8 feet 10 inches distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels — results in some fore-and-aft pitching on undulating surfaces.

Overall, the handling is competent and secure, partly due to the Niro’s low center of gravity. The battery pack is housed under the floor. Front seats are well bolstered and the outboard back seats deliver space and comfort.

2019 Niro EV

Specifications    

  • Model: 2019 Kia Niro EV EX Premium four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 356-volt permanent magnet synchronous electric motor; 201 hp, 291 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single-speed direct drive automatic; front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 97/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,854 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined mpgE: 123/102/112.
  • Advertised range: 239 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $44,995.
  • Price as tested: $47,155.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2019 Niro EV

Photos (c) Kia