The Kia Niro is a compact wagon that made its world debut at the 2016 Chicago Auto Show. Niro seats five and sports a conventional four-door wagon bodystyle. Niro is with a gas-electric hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery-electric powertrain. For 2020, Niro gets a minor facelift with a larger 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system that includes navigation and a Harmon Kardon sound system. Hybrid competitors include the MINI Cooper Countryman, Subaru Crosstrek, and Toyota Prius. All-electric competitors include the Chevrolet Bolt EV and EUV, Mazda MX-30, and Nissan Leaf. Niro is mechanically similar to the Hyundai Ioniq.
This review will cover the Niro EV.
Niro EV is available in EX and EX Premium trims. The battery-powered electric vehicle is utilizes a 64-kWh battery pack and a 201 horsepower engine to deliver an EPA-estimated driving range of 239 miles. The motor powers the front wheels. All-wheel drive is not offered. Towing is not recommended. The Niro EV has an 11-kW onboard charger, which it uses to recharge the battery in under seven hours on a 240-volt Level 2 charger. DC fast or Level 3 charging capability is included as a standard feature and can get the battery from 10% to 80% in under 45 minutes. The maximum charge rate tops out at 85 kW.
Standard safety features include forward-collision warning with brake intervention, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping system, navigation-based adaptive cruise control, rear-seat reminder and driver-attention warning. Also standard are 17-inch wheels, heated and power-folding mirrors, automatic climate control, heated front seats, keyless entry with push-button start, Apple Car Play and Android Auto integration, digital instrument panel, and wireless cell phone charge. EX Premium models add sunroof, rear-parking sensors, ventilated front seats, LED lighting, and cargo cover. The Cold Weather package adds heated steering wheel, battery heater, and heat pump. Prices start at $41,285 and climb to $45,945.
Power is plentiful and delivered smoothly. To a point ... In ideal conditions Niro EV can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds. That's noticeably quicker than rival EVs such as the Chevy Bolt EV and Nissan Leaf. However, like most electric vehicles, passing punch is just mediocre and adding two or three passengers bogs everything down a bit.
Niro EV has an EPA range of 238 miles. In real-world testing that number is realistic. However, in the dead of winter or heat of summer, expect your range to be significantly lower. And like hybrids, EVs are most efficient in stop-and-go urban driving and tend to be less efficient on the highway.
In terms of charge capability, Niro doesn't charge as quickly as some newer EVs, but can make use of Level 3 DC fast chargers to an extent (and that's key to making any EV long-trip friendly). In most cases a Level 2 charger can add 20-25 miles of range per hour and that's more than enough for around-town chores.
Dynamically, Niro drives like a small, front-drive wagon. There are no expectations of sportiness and no drama as the front tires lose grip well before the rears. The suspension easily soaks up road imperfections to deliver a ride that's comfortable albeit composed. Body lean and slow steering response hamper enthusiastic driving and a mushy brake pedal -- especially in hard stops -- doesn't inspire much confidence from behind the wheel.
Niro EV does feature the option of one-pedal driving. In "EV speak" that means you almost never need to touch the brakes. Rather you simply lift slightly off the accelerator to slow down. This not only makes your brakes last longer, but also provides the maximum regenerative charge to the batteries -- extending range.
Interior noise levels are impressively low. There is some electric motor wine when pulling away from a stop and wind noise is more noticeable, but you would be hard pressed to find a compact wagon that's quieter around town.
Inside, it's clear Niro was built to a price point. That doesn't mean cheap, rather materials are more durable and functional than luxurious. Above the beltline, there are plenty of soft-touch surfaces. Drivers face a meaty steering wheel and a configurable digital display. The larger touch-screen in the center stack is welcome. As are conventional radio and climate controls. About the only demerit is the new infotainment system still requires a wire to connect to Android Auto and Apple Car Play. Most newer systems are now wireless.
Front seats are standard economy fare with reasonable padding but minimal bolstering. In other words, they are fine for every day and long-haul driving but don't hold you in place like a sport seat. Head and leg room are impressive for a compact and outward visibility is excellent. Step-in height is near perfect and wide opening doors afford excellent ingress/egress.
Despite Niro's diminutive dimensions, the back seats are no penalty box with good head and leg room. Sliding the front seats all the way back might impinge on taller rear-seat riders, but a flat floor is a boon for middle seat riders.
Niro lacks cargo space when compared with larger crossovers but had a leg up on small sedans and hatchbacks -- think Prius and Volt. The rear seatbacks fold flat to increase cargo space and the hatch opening is quite large. Interior storage is modest with just a few open and covered bins -- again, trailing traditional crossovers.
Bottom Line -- In all, Niro is a great EV. Even though it is a converted gas-powered vehicle, it feels like a pure electric most of the time from a driving perspective. On the flip side, since it is a bit more traditional than some of the EVs out there, it's completely turn-key in the way it drives and that will make reluctant EV converts very happy. Its matches or exceeds the competition in most areas and doesn't try and do too much. As with most EVs, prices are a bit high, but you get a lot of vehicle for your money. Urban drivers will certainly appreciate the Niro's compact dimensions and cargo versatility. One final note, if you live in the Chicago area be sure to opt for the Cold Weather package. It brings range battery conditioning and a heat pump that will extend range in cold weather.