TESTED 13.9.18, SOUTH KOREA ON SALE FEBRUARY 2019 PRICE £30,000 (EST)
Leaf-rivalling electric SUV is shaping up to be one of 2019’s under-the-radar stars
The Kia e-Niro arrives at quite the opportune time, with big-range electric cars – and the charging network to support them – gaining momentum, acceptance and awareness among the wider buying public beyond early adopters.
The Niro is a couple of years old now and launched as Kia’s dedicated eco-friendly model, promising hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric drivetrains within the same range – and the time has now come for that electric version.
You’ll spot more than one or two similarities between the e-Niro and the Kona Electric from sister brand Hyundai. The drivetrain is common between the pair, consisting of an electric motor powered by a 64kWh lithium ion polymer battery with a 301-mile range, now homologated as a real-world-representative figure.
Our test e-Niro is a Korean-spec model driven on Korean roads, but while the odd bit of trim and optional extra may differ, this is the drivetrain and chassis we’ll be getting.
Some drivetrain it is too. My, the e-Niro is brisk. It feels far quicker than its 0-62mph time of 7.8sec suggests, and even more impressive is the way it responds at higher speeds. Look for a bit of extra poke to make a pass on the motorway and it’s all there before your right foot has barely touched the pedal. We even managed to spin the wheels accelerating out of a 30mph zone into an A-road.
As such, the e-Niro is likely to appeal to any enthusiast, but anyone swapping into one from their Ceed diesel is likely to be unprepared for such real-world pace and drivability. A test drive is essential, as such power – or torque in the case of the e-Niro – could catch many unaware.
The e-Niro isn’t uncomfortable in the way it rides, yet neither does it isolate its occupants from bumps; the chassis does not display any great sophistication in how it handles the road, or indeed that level of torque – a bit like a black cab. That’s most likely down to the low-rolling-resistance tyres and the weight; much of the chassis tuning feels geared towards masking that weight as much as possible. A bit like a black cab…
Our test route wasn’t one for the e-Niro to reveal itself as a driver’s car, yet it did demonstrate competent, if not inspiring, handling. There’s a pleasing heft to the steering, though – even more so in Sport mode, where the urgency of the drivetrain is increased further.
Something else that can be tweaked is the level of regenerative braking through four different levels via some paddle-shifters on the gearlever, as with the Kona Electric. The system regularly seems to default to an auto mode even if you try to set it to the level you’d like, meaning it’s not quite as pleasing a feature as it should be.
The range figure seemed a true one. Our test route wasn’t the longest, but the indicated battery life and range dropped in line with the distance covered, and the starting range of 272 miles on an almost full charge was indicative of the claimed figure of just over 300 miles. At least 250 miles per charge should be expected, based on this test.
Elsewhere, it’s the Niro we’ve become accustomed to with the hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions, with a spacious, if a little uninspiring, cabin. If Kia can pack that interior with the other Niro traits such as generous levels of kit, and then keep the price below £30,000, this EV could end up being one of the surprise hits of 2019.
As bizarre as it sounds for such an obviously economy-focused model, the e-Niro could end up being a real-world hero for its real-world pace. MT
Price £30,000 (est)
Engine Electric motor plus 64kWh lithium ion polymer battery
Torque 291lb ft
Gearbox Single-speed automatic
Kerb weight 1755kg
Top speed 104mph
Range 301 miles (WLTP)
CO2, tax band 0g/km, 13%
Rivals Nissan Leaf, Hyundai Kona Electric