The Kia e-Niro offers another spin on full-electric technology to buyers in the mid-sized Crossover segment. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Kia's full-electric e-Niro is on offer with a choice of 39kWh or 64kWh battery packs and both can now be had with the benefit of a government grant towards purchase. The larger-capacity variant offers nearly 300 miles of WLTP-rated battery-powered driving range and a progressive package that buyers prepared to consider paying up to £35,000 for this kind of car will probably like. The full-electric part of the mid-sized compact hatch/Crossover segment is presently quite a small one, but you can bet it will quickly grow, and cars like this are the reason why.
Kia hasn't set out to re-define the electric vehicle market with this e-Niro model, but it does want to try and further perfect what a car of this kind is capable of offering. We've already seen both hybrid and Plug-in hybrid versions of this Niro. Here Kia has completed its set of electrified powerplants with this full-electric version. It shares its engineering with Hyundai's Kona Electric, but is a little less overtly SUV than that car. Ready for a battery-powered vehicle yet? The tipping point is getting closer...
Let's talk WLTP-rated range. The base 39kWh version goes up to 180 miles between charges. For the 64kWh models, that figure rises to as much as 282 miles (or up to 382 miles on the WLTP City Cycle). Of course you won't get anything like that on the open road if you use the performance on offer. The 64kWh e-Niro is equipped with a long-distance battery pack paired with a 201bhp (150kW) motor, producing 395Nm of torque, enabling the car to accelerate from 0-to-60mph in just 7.5 seconds. Like the Niro Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid variants, this electric model is front-wheel drive.
The battery pack is located low down in the body, between the two axles, giving this crossover a centre of gravity more akin to that of a saloon or a hatchback. With a relatively wide stance, the e-Niro should offer drivers a reasonable feeling of stability on winding roads. The car is equipped with fully independent rear suspension, tuned to deliver high speed and immediate handling responses and filter out small vibrations at higher speeds when travelling over poor surfaces. The e-Niro's regenerative brakes - 305 mm in diameter at the front, 300 mm at the rear - exhibit a consistent, linear deceleration and braking feel, and harvest kinetic energy to recharge the battery pack on the move.
Design and Build
The exterior design of the e-Niro is punctuated by halogen headlights with Bi-Function projection, front fog lights, LED daytime running lights and LED rear combination clusters. Privacy glass for the rear windows and tailgate deliver a more upmarket appearance. The unique 17-inch alloy wheels have been especially designed and optimised for the pure-electric e-Niro, and the roof rails give a rugged and lifestyle-orientated appearance, accentuating its crossover stance.
The design of the centre console represents the biggest change for the e-Niro, with the all-electric powertrain not requiring a traditional gear lever and gear linkage. The physical transmission has therefore been replaced with a new 'shift-by-wire' rotator dial drive selector. The drive selector dial sits on its own highly-ergonomic panel which extends out from the base of the central armrest. In addition to the rotator dial, this new panel also houses buttons for the electronic parking brake, heated seats, heated steering wheel, drive mode selector, parking sensors, and the Niro's braking 'Auto Hold' function. The new panel requires no bulky transmission tunnel, enabling Kia's designers to create a larger storage area at the base of the centre console.
The dashboard features bright blue trim around the air vents, echoing the trim highlights found on the outside of the car. Plus there's the company's latest 10.25-inch centre-dash infotainment screen with its UVO Connect Services media features. As for practicality, the rear seats handily fold down in a 60/40 fashion, with a luggage area load cover designed to hide items from prying eyes. There's a 451-litre boot that's bigger than most electric cars can offer.
Market and Model
Kia is now offering this car in three trim levels -'2', '3' and '4+'. Prices following subtraction of the £2,500 grant (available to EVs under £35,000) start from just over £30,000 for the 39kWh base '2'-spec model - or from around £32,500 if you want the 'long range' '2'-spec 64kWh version. The 64kWh variant is also offered in plusher '3' and '4+'-spec levels, but these don't qualify for the government grant, so price much higher at, respectively, from around £37,000 and around £39,500.
It all means that you're probably going to select a '2'-spec model - and even at this level in the range, you get most of what you'll need in terms of standard kit. Highlights include its 8.0-inch touchscreen display, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, 17-inch aluminium alloy wheels, a reversing camera system and rear parking sensors, Smart Cruise Control with Stop & Go and Smart Key & Button Start. A battery heating system is also fitted, designed to insulate and warm up the battery while the vehicle is plugged in, minimising the adverse effects of cold temperatures.
If you can stretch further up the line-up, you'll find that the top '4+' version certainly comes fully kitted out. Convenience features include the brand's latest 10.25-inch centre-dash screen which allows access to an 8-speaker, 320-watt JBL premium sound system with subwoofer, external amplifier and front centre speaker is provided for music aficionados, and a wireless mobile phone charger is provided for Qi-equipped smartphones.
Across the e-Niro range, Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA) system is standard equipment, designed to prevent accidents due to inattention from the driver. If the system senses that the driver hasn't reacted to an event ahead, the car can automatically bring the car to a stop or lessen the impact of a crash. Lane Keep Assist System (LKAS) uses a windscreen-mounted camera to monitor the vehicle's position in the lane, with the system able to guide the e-Niro back into the centre of the lane. Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) maintains brake pressure on a hill as you switch from the brakes to the accelerator pedal, helping to avoid the car rolling back unintentionally.
Cost of Ownership
As previously mentioned, the e-Niro is equipped with a choice of lithium-ion polymer battery packs offering either 39kWh or 64kWh capacities. On the WLTP combined cycle, the 64kWh variant provides a driving range of 282 miles on a single charge, producing zero on-road CO2 emissions. Regenerative braking technology allows this Niro to harvest kinetic energy and recharge the battery pack while coasting or braking, while the Eco Driving Assistant System provides drivers with intelligent guidance on how to drive more efficiently. This set-up includes Coasting Guide Control (CGC) and Predictive Energy Control (PEC), enabling drivers to maximise vehicle range by suggesting when to coast or brake.
CGC alerts drivers as to the best time to lift off the accelerator and coast towards a junction, allowing the battery to regenerate under engine deceleration. Operating at certain speeds when a navigation destination is set, the system alerts drivers when to coast via a small icon in the instrument cluster as well as an unobtrusive audible warning. As with all Kias, this Niro is covered by a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty that's longer than any other car in the same class. This includes the battery and all of the parts that make up the electric power system.
The e-Niro shows just how far along the Kia/Hyundai Korean conglomerate is with its electric technology. Here, all the battery engineering has been incorporated in a way that doesn't extract too many compromises in cabin space. And most commentators are agreed that the driving dynamics are better than you'd normally expect from an electric car too.
Would you have it over the mechanically identical Hyundai Kona Electric? The bigger boot could well sway undecided buyers in the Niro's direction. And if you were thinking of a plusher-specced Nissan LEAF, you'd also do well to factor in this contender to your battery motoring deliberations. In short, it ticks a lot of boxes.