DRIVE-THRU REVIEW: 2019 Kia Niro EV

Except for the lack of a conventional grille, Kia Niro EV looks like a conventional car.

by Paul Zangari, WPRO News

The latest version of Kia’s little Niro goes a long way towards banishing the “range anxiety” that’s been the big problem in trying to live with electric cars. It’s a concern that had dated back to the dawn of the automotive age.

About Niro itself: Kia calls it a crossover, but all-wheel-drive isn’t offered and you don’t need a stepladder to get in. So, maybe not. But it has two rows of seats with belts for five, a hatchback and a wagon-ish shape. While it may not have gobs of space in the wayback, it’s a practical small car.

Niro hit the US market about a year ago as a hybrid-electric vehicle. The hybrid’s still available but the new, fully electric model is the game-changer. It’s an electric car many should find easy to live with.

Showing more range already than the publicized, 239 miles. Notice one “empty” white block at the top of the dial, indicating batteries are almost charged, but not quite. Also note the “Level 3” regen indicator is lit.

Not long ago EVs had a problem: Many featured sub-100-mile ranges on a full charge that would drop significantly if “luxuries” like heat were needed. This meant they might be usable as commuter cars but a round trip from “Woonsocket to Watch Hill” (to quote the announcer on Rocky and Bulllwinkle) would be out of the question. Kia Niro EV can easily handle the 125-mile voyage without having to stop and plug in. On a full charge it might even make the trip twice… though we can’t guarantee it.

Granted, there are Teslas that offer great range. But Niro EV provides competition from a mainstream manufacturer in a car with features and controls most drivers will find familiar.

Some things about driving Kia Niro EV are different from what we’re used to: Paddles that resemble the up- and downshift controls for many automatic transmissions actually control the powertrain’s performance and charging profile. An indicator on the dash shows which is selected, and when you see a “3” you can ALMOST drive with one pedal: Releasing the go pedal (no gas, after all!) nearly drops anchor, as regeneration slows the car while recharging the batteries. This extends the range by reclaiming energy that ordinary braking wastes by using friction, generating heat at each wheel. Yes, the brake lights illuminate. At some point, though, you will need to brake.

… but you don’t gas it up, you plug it in!

Another unusual control: Even if you crank the HVAC up to maximum temperature, you’ll need to also press a “heat” button to get warmth on a cold day. By not automatically turning on the heat pump the system lets you use ambient air to warm the cabin when it’s warmer outside than it is in the car. After all, using the heat pump results in a slight drop in range because it’s electrically powered.

There’s an extra push-button on the HVAC control. The “Heat” button allows you to select whether or not to engage the heat pump for interior warming. Using it exacts a slight penalty in range – not enough to make a difference in most Southern New England commutes.

But that’s about it: To most drivers Kia Niro EV will feel much like what they’re used to in terms of performance, usability and controls. The big difference is that you plug it in instead of gassing it up. Granted, the basic, 110-volt time to a full charge is an incredible 59 hours with a run-down battery. Anyone who buys an electric car should have 220 volts wired to the garage, which drops a similar charge to roughly overnight – 9.5 hours. (Electricity coming from the street is 220; it gets stepped down to 110 where your circuit breakers are located. An electrician can wire the 220 to your garage from there.) There are higher-voltage systems available to get to an 80% charge in an hour.

The future is here: Kia Niro EV is a practical electric car most drivers would find easy to live with.

This vehicle was reviewed on Drive-Thru Radio on AM790 in April, 2019.

A founding member of the New England Motor Press Association (NEMPA), WPRO anchor/reporter Paul Zangari is a former Certified Automotive Technician who joined the Society of Automotive Engineers in 1985. He is also an automotive technical writer. He and his brother John, a longtime Certified Master Automotive Technician and automotive technology instructor, host Drive-Thru Radio on Saturday mornings at 8:00 on WPRV-AM790. The first “modern” talk show to have aired on WPRO, it is now in its 31st year.

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