Kia e-Niro first drive
Kia's new e-Niro is coming to the UK in spring 2019, but Next Green Car was invited along to South Korea to get an early drive of the important new crossover EV. Despite being tested on South Korean roads, the cars themselves were UK spec, so it's as good an opportunity as we can get to see how the latest all-electric Kia gets on.
Review by Chris Lilly
The Kia e-Niro should be sprightly enough of most, thanks to a 150 kW (201 bhp) electric motor powering the front wheels. This allows for a 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds, which is not hot-hatch quick, but it's not too far off. The numbers only tell part of the story though, as real-world performance can leave quite a different impression on drivers. In the case of the e-Niro, the Kia feels faster than the statistics suggest. Like most EVs, the torque available from the electric motor makes for a responsive throttle, and the e-Niro feels quick. It's sharpest in Sport mode, but even in Normal mode it's very responsive. Off the line, the e-Niro will pull hard, as you would expect from an EV, making for easy - and nippy - town driving. Thanks to a powerful electric motor though, the e-Niro picks up well at just about any speed, with the Kia keeping up with motorway traffic easily, before jumping forward to overtake when required. There's no sense of the e-Niro running out of puff at speed, which some rivals can be accused of - at least not within the confines of the South Korean highway regulations. Along A-roads, the e-Niro can easily put a smile on your face, thanks to that instant pick-up, plus the added benefit of variable brake energy recuperation giving an element of 'left-foot braking' to the experience.
If the performance is comparable with milder sports cars, the handling isn't. It's to be expected from a family crossover, but the suspension and steering aren't as sharp as the throttle response. There's significant potential for a performance model, but until that unlikely scenario materialises, the e-Niro only has one set-up - prudent. It's not exciting, but it is well set-up for use as a practical family car. The suspension is pretty stiff to keep body roll under control, but that means there aren't the supple springs that may have been preferred by some buyers. The e-Niro isn't uncomfortable though, and it does a good job of remaining composed even over rougher surfaces. The stiffer springs are therefore to help minimise body roll, combating the added weight of the batteries. These have been placed in the Kia's floor, so the centre of gravity is low, minimising the effect of the extra mass. This actually helps with the Kia's handling, and when combined with well weighted and precise steering, means the e-Niro can be piloted easily through a series of bends when the situation presents itself. In more common circumstances, it means the Kia can be threaded in and out of tight traffic confidently, a situation tested in Seoul's exceptionally busy rush hour. If it can cope there, it can deal with city traffic anywhere in the UK.
The e-Niro’s an inoffensively styled crossover, with a design that isn't going to single-handedly win over buyers. Equally, it's not going to put anyone off either. Despite a relatively compact footprint, the e-Niro is a practical model, boasting considerably more boot space than its rivals. The Kia has 451 litres with the seats up, which compares well with its closest rival in terms off affordable range - the Hyundai Kona Electric - at 332 litres, and the 370 litres available in the Nissan Leaf. It's easy to access with a low loading lip and wide aperture. Further forward, occupant space is good too, with those in the rear seats well off for head and leg room, even for taller adults. Up front, there are the same excellent levels of occupant space, making for a car that makes a good case for itself as a pretty practical car.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
The Kia e-Niro shares much of the cabin with the other models in the all-electrified Niro line-up - the Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid. This means that the interior is made up of good quality materials, if not the most premium in feeling. They're soft-touch in the key places and on upper surfaces, with harder-wearing materials used lower down. It's a practical set-up, and one that will be familiar to existing Kia customers. Likewise, the touchscreen system is similar to that found in other Kia models, but it's a good one so there's no issue with that. There are additional EV-related features though, allowing drivers to focus on the electric specific elements of the e-Niro. The most obvious difference in the cabin is the e-Niro's rotary dial which sits on a flicked up section from the leading edge of the centre console. This is the drive-selector for the e-Niro, and both looks good and works well. Refinement is good too, as you would expect from an EV.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
There wasn't a chance to really test the e-Niro's range, but it's quoted at 282 miles (WLTP), down from an initially quoted 301 miles. This was down to an anomaly in the testing process, but to be fair to the e-Niro, after an initial drive, we were on for a range of 299 miles on a single charge. That's based on an indicated efficiency figure of 13.3 kWh/100km, which was brought about from a drive out of Seoul, north towards the border with North Korea on motorway routes, and then looping back to the South Korean capital via A- and B-roads. It's a reasonable mixture of roads on the route, and though not a comprehensive test of the e-Niro, it's a good indication as to what can be expected in the UK. A strong showing from the e-Niro's 64 kWh battery and the model's efficiency then.
The whole car has been set-up to be green, with an efficient motor, and large battery for long-range EV potential at a mass-market price-tag. The 64 kWh model is the only one coming to the UK, with a 39 kWh version available in other markets. That battery is charged via a CCS inlet found behind the front grille, which will accept charging speeds at up to 100 kW DC where the chargers allow. On-board AC charging is capped at 6.6 kW. One of the most useful green features is the selectable brake energy regen system, which uses the paddles behind the steering wheel to allow the driver to flick up and down the levels from 0 to 3. Used with forethought, it means there is little need for the brake pedal. In fact, effectively there is no need for the brake pedal other than to start and stop the car, thanks to a system that allows the driver to hold the left hand - 'up' - paddle, which cleverly brings the car to a complete stop. An eco driving system gives coaching as to how to drive more efficiently, including when to coast or brake for maximum effect. Drive mode select allows the driver to select Eco or Eco+ if efficiency is the main priority, though rarely will you need these settings, such is the overall efficiency available from the e-Niro. The usual pre-conditioning systems found on many EVs are also available.
There's only one trim level available to UK customers, the Kia e-Niro 64 kWh First Edition - which keeps things simple. Fitted as standard are 17-inch alloys, keyless entry and start, rear parking sensors and camera, a suite of safety systems, 8-inch infotainment system with DAB, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay & Android Auto, and USB connectivity, wireless phone charging, JBL stereo, black leather upholstery, electric heated front seats and heated steering wheel, and automatic wipers and lights. It's a pretty comprehensive list, and makes the e-Niro feel good value, particularly when combined with the long-range potential.
Like the Hyundai Kona Electric, the Kia e-Niro is a great EV that more than holds its own in the competitive crossover market. That's ignoring all powertrain considerations and pitching it against petrol, diesel, and hybrid models too. A long range will persuade many buyers, while the practical interior will help sway others. The popular crossover is made even better now that it's available as an EV, and Kia will have a tough time making enough to keep up with demand.
Model tested: Kia e-Niro 64 kWh First Edition
Body-style: Compact crossover
Engine / CO2: 150 kW electric motor / 0 g/km
Trim grades: First Edition
On-road price: £32,995 (inc. PiCG)
Warranty: Seven years / 100,000 miles
In the showroom: 1st April 2019
Review rating: 5.0 Stars