The Kia e-Niro brings an exciting proposition to the electric car segment – stylish, well-equipped, practical and with a range of more than 280 miles. This is an electric car you can own without having to make any compromises.
Aside from Tesla’s cult-like following (ever come across a Tesla fan boy?!) EV owners lack brand loyalty. I’m not just making this up… When digital automotive marketplace Cars.com conducted a study in April, 2019, the results suggested that EV owners lack brand allegiance. It found that automakers will struggle with loyalty issues, with most consumers saying they were not tied to a single make or model.
The automotive industry is changing rapidly and age-old assumptions about brands often no longer hold up. I come from a family where only a Volvo will do and I can almost guarantee my dad will stick with the Swedish car maker until the day he dies. Me? I’m different, although truth be told I have always had an aversion to Asian car brands, preferring instead to stick with German metal.
I was born in 1982, when BMW were busy creating the M3 and M5. M division aside, I always thought German cars were the best – the benchmark for technological advancement and build quality. I would have never cast my eyes in another direction. Things have changed a little since the eighties however and as we hurtle towards a future of electric cars, we are at a time of pioneering innovation and we don’t seem to give a damn who does it better.
The Kia e-Niro is a fantastic car in point – I would never have even looked at a Kia a few years ago never mind sit in one, but after a week with one I didn’t want to give it back. When it comes to electric cars, the South Korean brand has nailed it.
When we had the Niro HEV on test we said that the suspension is very well damped and coped with various driving conditions and road surfaces but that it lacked power. So what does the extra weight of the battery, but also the instantaneous delivery of electric power do for the electric version? Well for starters, it’s got 62 more horses, thanks to the 201bhp electric motor, which is capable of powering the car from 0-60mph in 7.5 seconds, making it 3.6 seconds quicker. To compensate for the additional 322kg, Kia has fitted uprated springs and dampers, aluminium front and rear hub carriers and a slightly more direct steering ratio. In addition, the battery pack is located low down in the body between the two axles, meaning the centre of gravity is low to improve stability.
It also corners well for a 1812kg FWD crossover and while it doesn’t quite match the smooth ride of the DS 3 CROSSBACK E-TENSE it’s unfazed by the uneven patchwork of asphalt that seems to now be the norm for British roads nowadays. The steering feels light and precise both when pootling when town or on faster country roads, although it could be more communicative.
There are three drive modes – Eco, Normal and Sport, the first two reduce the force of the motor, while the latter makes use of the entire power and torque (all 291lb ft of it), making it easy to break the front tyres’ traction from rest or out of a slow corner even in the dry, although it’s less pronounced than in the Nissan LEAF. While a hair-trigger accelerator can be annoying the additional oomph is useful for overtaking, plus it weights up the steering making it more responsive to driver inputs.
In official tests, the e-Niro managed 282 miles between charges. Our real range tests showed around 250 miles, which is hugely impressive given a lot of our driving was cruising on motorways or crawling through traffic and in sub-zero conditions. Over the course of the week our fuel economny average ranged from 2.8 to 3.7 miles/kWh. It’s more than a match for far pricier Jaguar I-PACE.
The charge point is accessed via a flap in the Kia e-Niro’s grille, which if we’re honest was sometimes a bit awkward to open and shut (snapping a few nails in the process), while the charging cable is handily stored under the boot floor. We found it best to keep topping up the e-Niro, especially as we only have a 3-pin plug charging up to 2.3kW. If were completely out of charge it would have taken 29 hours! If you have access to a 100kW charger, you can get back up to 80 per cent in 54 minutes but you’ll still struggle to find these rapid chargers in the UK. A 50kW charger will take one hour 15 minutes which could be fitted around lunch or a shopping trip. While research shows that most people don’t need more than 100 miles range, the great thing about having over 250 miles to play with is that it builds in more freedom – if a charger had a queue of EVs waiting to top up we could move on until we found one that was free.
Just like the Audi e-tron there are a couple of paddles either side of the steering wheel, which allow you to toggle between three levels of energy recuperation – the higher the level, the more energy the brakes try to harvest. It may some counterintuitive at first, but once you get used to it it’s actually a great way to help eke out more miles and slowing down into a bend or junction without ever touching the brake pedal. There was also a gauge that counts how many miles you’ve gained – so for example using regen downhill I clawed back half a mile!
At £32,995 after the £3500 government grant, it costs more than other electric car alternatives such as the Nissan LEAF and the Hyundai Kona Electric (with which the e-Niro shares its electric technology), but the e-Niro is more practical and comes with an impressive list of standard kit. If you can charge at home on an off-peak energy tariff it will help to lower running costs.
The Kia e-Niro differentiates itself from the Niro hybrid and plug-in hybrid models with various exclusive features, including redesigned air intakes with striking new LED daytime running lights, new 17 inch aluminium alloy wheels, reshaped rear bumper and light blue trim highlights. Like the Tesla there is five paint colours available.
Inside the design of the centre console is the biggest change for the e-Niro. With the need for a gear lever and its associated linkage it’s been simplified now housing Kia’s first shift-by-wire drive rotary selector, alongside buttons for the electronic parking brake, heated seats and steering wheel, parking sensors, ‘Auto Hold’ function for the car’s braking and driving modes. The redesigned centre console has also created storage space at the base of the dashboard for smaller items and includes a wireless smartphone charger.
Space-saving front seats reduce 2.6kgs (every little kilo counts), a new blue trim echoes that of the exterior, while the 8 inch touchscreen in the centre of the dash offers a series of useful features specific to the car, such as nearby charging points, remaining charge and range. It also lets owners gauge their trip and lifetime CO2 reduction from driving the e-Niro over a conventionally powered car of similar size – giving you big smug points. In addition the 7 inch driver instrument cluster gauges the driving style of whoever is sitting at the wheel attributing to the percentage to the amount of ‘economical’ driving that they manage on each journey, or at the other end of the scale what percentage of the journey has been compete with ‘dynamic’ driving.
We undertook a lot of long journeys and the car proved very comfortable whether I was a passenger or driving. In the back there is good head, shoulder and leg room for two adults but the middle seat is narrow and hard. The rear doors have wide openings so getting a car seat in and out was nice and easy – and unlike the hybrid version of the Niro where boot space is compromised as the batteries are stored under the boot, that’s not the case here. With 451 litres, plus spacious door bins and cupholders front and back and netted seatbacks it’s also very practical.
Okay so it’s a little plastic fantastic but what do you expect for £33,000. The seats are leather, the windows electric, there’s also climate control, automatic lights and wipers, and keyless entry and start – so one can’t complain too much. The aforementioned 8 inch touchscreen offers Apple CarPlayTM and Android AutoTM smartphone connectivity, Bluetooth, DAB radio, plus Kia’s own sat-nav system with traffic and speed-camera data from TomTom, and while it isn’t as slick BMW i3’s iDrive, the menus and graphics make it clear and easy to use.
As you might have gathered the ‘First Edition’ model is very well equipped (including a full suite of safety equipment such as adaptive Smart Cruise Control, Lane Follow Assist, Lane Keep Assist System, Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist and Hill-start Assist Control) and as such there aren’t many optional extras available. Annoyingly there is no option of a 39kWh e-Niro that is available in Europe – Kia cites that the choice of two power outputs and different driving ranges could potentially confuse customers – strange as Tesla seem to convey the message okay!
Put simply the Kia e-Niro is a brilliant car. It’s no wonder it has been queuing up to accept so many awards, including ‘Car of the Year’ by What Car?, ‘Game Changer’ by Autocar, ‘Best Electric Car’ by Business Car, as well as taking the crown for the ‘Eco Award’ by CarWow and ‘Best Electric Car’ by Carbuyer. It is certainly Discover EV’s best EV of 2019. Not only that, but back in December it announced a new refreshed high-specification version called the e-Niro ‘4’. It includes a new updated 10.25-inch touchscreen satellite navigation system with telematics system featuring UVO Connect Services, LED headlights with bi-function projection, ambient lighting and a battery heating system – quite a few of the features that were accused of lacking before.
The Kia e-Niro ‘4’ is available to order now from UK showrooms with a list price of £37,995 reducing to £34,495 after the PiCG, a grand and a half more than the ‘First Edition’. And with news that Kia is to ramp up the supply of its electric crossover in the UK, which should clear the 3000-strong waiting list within the first six months of 2020 you shouldn’t have to wait for a year to get one with deliveries for the improved variant due to commence in July. We wait with baited breath and in the meantime watch this space… the Kia e-Niro could be a strong contender come April when the company car tax for EVs drops to zero.
Price (RRP OTR): From £32,995 (including plug-in grant)
Top speed: 104mph
0-62mph: 7.5 seconds
Torque: 291 lb-ft
Driving range combined: 282 miles
Charging time: 9 hours 50 minutes (7.2kW wall box, 0 to 100%); 54 minutes (100kW rapid charger, 0-80%)
Insurance group: 28
Warranty (including battery pack and electric motor): 7 year / 100,000 mile warranty