GRR

Review: 2019 Kia e-Niro

13th December 2018
Richard Bremner

The Kia e-Niro is one of the first affordable electric car in which it’s possible to travel real distance without endlessly fretting about whether you’ll get there or not. This is an EV that will easily cover the best part of 300 miles (officially 282 miles), and an EV whose battery charge indicator does not descend as fast as the needle of a Lamborghini’s fuel gauge.  

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Until recently, electric vehicles have not been for the worrying type. Most of us know why. There’s the infamous range anxiety, or the possibility of running out of juice before a charging station can be reached, this a real risk in the earlier, less expensive electric cars with barely enough range to make 100 miles. And then there’s the possibility that when you reach a charging station another car is plugged into it, or the charger doesn’t work. That second concern can be very effective at amplifying the first, incidentally.

Call it worry, call it prudence, but plenty have been deterred from buying electric vehicles because of these issues, despite their many advantages. The good news is that these deterrents are disappearing, and at gathering speed. Tesla has been selling EVs that go further for a few years and though their cars are expensive, the more affordable Model 3 is on the way. Jaguar now sells the I-Pace crossover, which travels well over 200 miles on a charge even when driven hard, while the pioneering and more affordable electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe and BMW i3 have improved to the point that they provide a more viable range. And many more EVs are on the way.

One of those is Kia’s e-Niro, a pure electric version of a crossover that since 2016 has been available as a hybrid or a plug-in hybrid. The Niro was engineered from the start to offer these three electrified powerpacks, with the result that this medium-size, five-door crossover is little compromised by the need to accommodate a sizeable battery pack to power its 204PS (201bhp) electric motor. It will seat five in comfort, has an adequate boot (and rear seats that fold) sits you higher than in the average car and comes with a generous equipment count, in part because Kia will initially only sell the e-Niro in one form.

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So you sit behind a well-stocked dashboard with a generous 8in infotainment screen, the airvents attractively edged with a slender electric blue décor that signifies the e-Niro’s motive force, this same hue edging the seats. In contrast to the hybrid Niros there’s a large storage space between the front seat occupants, this space made possible by the absence of a conventional gearlever mechanism. Instead, there’s a large, Jaguar-style rotary gear selector, your choices simply reverse, neutral, drive and park.

But you can add mild complexity and considerable enjoyment to the process by using the paddleshifts behind the wheel. These don’t change gear – the e-Niro only has one – but alter the rate at which it decelerates, from a strongly slowing, high-regeneration rate through two less strong selections and straight coasting with no charging effect. The paddles make it easy to switch between these rate of slowing, and though it sounds complicated you soon get used to adjusting the Kia’s ebb and flow with paddles and accelerator, the brake pedal rarely needed at all.

If energy conservation is your mission, you can get help from in-dash eco-driving guidance and a predictive energy control system that advises you on when best to coast or brake. Or you can ignore all of that, and play around with the driving mode control in the centre console, which toggles through Eco+, Eco, Normal and Sport settings.

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You might briefly wonder what a planet-protecting EV is doing with a Sport button, but the reality is that electric vehicles need to be exciting, and with 210PS (207bhp) and a fat 395Nm (291lb ft) of torque to unleash the e-Niro is pretty brisk, despite lugging a hefty battery pack about. It may well startle some family car drivers before they’re used to its rush of acceleration, which can be potent enough to have the front wheels scrabbling and the steering wheel stiffening with torque-steer.

You can get about pretty quickly then, especially as the Kia has plenty of roadholding. In spite of a 7.5sec 0-62mph time this is not a sportscar, eventual understeer and the sensation that you’re piloting a car of some mass (it weighs 1,737kg) ultimately a little discouraging. But you’re certainly not going to feel that eco-dom is leaving you behind in the cut and thrust. At the other end of the driving modes is Eco+, which dulls the accelerator’s response, turns off non-essential power drains, limits the electric motor’s output and applies the strongest form of regenerative braking. Husband your momentum well, and this mode quite quickly stalls the decline in available range, and can even add to it.

In both these modes, and the two in-between, the Kia’s suspension is unaltered which means that a little disappointingly, its ride is less supple than you’d expect of a family car, its weight and height doubtless demanding quite stiff suspension to counter bodyroll. This, however, is the most serious criticism of an electric family crossover that really does have the range to be your primary means of transport. That’s a big step forward for EVs (and one also taken by the e-Niro’s similar Hyundai cousin the Kona), which we can expect to become more commonplace, more quickly, than they have been to date.

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There will be two impediments to their still wider take-up, one being price, this full electric Niro almost £10,000 more than the basic hybrid version, the second being the patchy availability of the fast-chargers needed to swiftly restore its battery pack. But in time a better network will come, as will shoals of near silent-running EVs of all shapes and sizes.

Stat Attack

Engine: single electric motor

Transmission 1-speed automatic, FWD

PS/NM:  2204 (201bhp)/395 (291lb ft)

0-62mph: 7.5sec

Top speed: 104mph

Price as tested: £32,995 (after government grant)

  • Kia

  • e-Niro

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