I know we throw around the word normal a lot when we talk about driving electric cars. But being normal is important when it comes to EVs. If they’re too radical in how they drive, in how they behave or what they’re like to own, then people won’t buy them. Typically, people buy what they know.
(Full disclosure: We wanted to drive a Niro EV, so Kia loaned us one for about a week.)
Behind the wheel of the Niro EV, you’ll easily forget you’re driving an all-electric vehicle. Its exterior design doesn’t scream I AM AN ELECTRIC CAR. It shows restraint and looks basically like the regular Kia Niro, minus some vents. The power delivery doesn’t feel as urgent as the Leaf or the Model 3’s, so the immediate torque that’s so characteristic of an EV isn’t as blatantly obvious. I personally like the torque, but I can understand how it might be jarring for some.
Steering is a little on the lighter side until you get it up to speed. Letting off the accelerator doesn’t result in the lurching feeling you get when you’ve turned on the setting for one-pedal driving (though it’s very much an option). The car rolls to a stop, just as any other car would.
I imagine this Kia would work well in a situation where someone who isn’t sold on EVs is told to test out a Niro EV. After 15 minutes with it, they’ll adapt to it so easily they’ll wonder what all the fuss was about. This car is the gateway drug to electrified driving, if you will.
With a 64 kWh battery pack, the Niro EV gets an EPA-tested 239 miles, which is comparable to the Chevy Bolt and the standard Model 3. It sends 201 horsepower and 291 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels. With a starting price of $38,500, the Niro is comparable to the longer-range Leaf Plus, but its interior is where it falls short.
There’s a lot of hard plastic everywhere which sounds rather cheap if you knock on it. Run your hands over it and you’re transported back to the Hertz rental you took to Modesto that one time for a conference. If you were to get into a Kia Stinger, you’d see it aiming upmarket, doing a good job of surprising snobs who dismiss a Kia because “it’s just a Kia.” The Niro EV, however, doesn’t do that. And it costs damn near $40,000, which is what I take issue with.
Regardless, the Niro EV does a great job at its primary task, driving. It’s quiet, smooth and has adequate power for merging and passing. It’s an especially good city car because it can leap into last-minute openings with ease. In fact, it’s kind of a shame it shines so well in an urban environment because it’s still pretty difficult to find an EV charger in New York City. This isn’t really the car’s fault, but I will say that there needs to be some kind of standardization when it comes to charging.
The one charging station I found that wasn’t completely out of the way was at the Whole Foods in Brooklyn. The only available charger there may or may not have been broken, I couldn’t be sure and I didn’t exactly have time to wait around outside for others to finish with theirs.
So, I plugged in the Niro. Nothing happened. I unplugged it and replugged it back in and the charging screen flashed a green icon. That was a good sign! So, I went inside and killed 45 minutes on a snack and a soda. When I came back out, I found to my dismay and rage the car had only charged three percent. Maybe this just happened to be a slow charger?
Now, this could be due to user error, but I’m not so sure. Actually, I find this confusion rather unacceptable. I know how to use an EV because someone from Tesla showed me how to do it. I should only need to be shown how to charge a car once, just like I’ve been shown how to pump gas only once and I haven’t messed it up since. Can you imagine how confusing things would be if there were, like, five different types of gas pumps?
If, after reading this review, you’re honestly considering the Niro EV as your next car, I applaud you. You’re showing a willingness to make the EV leap, and in a car that doesn’t tell everyone you’ve made said leap. But you also have to live in either California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas or Washington. The car will only be sold in these 12 states.