Kia Niro EV a Premium Small SUV with an Electric Heart

CHATHAM, Mass. – The Kia Niro EV Premium is a terrific small, spacious crossover, but not a vehicle for everyone in the market for a compact SUV.

There are two major compromises you must make to own one: like all Niro models, it is limited to front-wheel drive, so if you are looking for power to all wheels, this is not the crossover for you. And you have to want the benefits of living with a battery-powered electric vehicle (EV), not a decision to be made lightly.

A diverse week of driving the Niro EV Premium provided an insight into the EV world in the Northeast as well as the positive aspects of the Niro.

Kia produces a comprehensive family of crossovers/SUVs, from the compact Sportage to the quirky Soul to the mid-size, three-row Sorento to the new, full-size Telluride. Slotting between the Sportage and Sorento, like the Soul, comes the Niro, which thanks to its somewhat sculpted boxy shape, accommodates five passengers and lots of stuff with ease.

Unlike the other members of Kia’s crossover family, the Niro’s three power trains are all built around a form of electric propulsion. There is a Niro Hybrid and a Niro Plug-in Hybrid both of which supplement a “traditional” gasoline-fueled engine with an electric motor, as well as the Niro EV which moves (virtually) silently down the road always under electric power.

Electric power does not mean sacrificing anything from the basic driving experience. The 201-horsepower (64kW) motor’s 291 foot-pounds of torque (all, as always with an electric motor, available as soon as you touch the accelerator) provide a very peppy, responsive vehicle.

Backing up the performance of the Niro EV Premium is an extensive array of driver assists and safety features which used to be the purview of luxury vehicles two and three times this vehicle’s price.

“Kia Drive Wise” Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS)

The Niro EV Premium includes the Kia Drive Wise ADAS systems which include:

  • Forward Collision Warning (FCW)
    • Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA)
    • Lane Departure Warning (LDW)
    • Lane Keeping Assist (LKA)
    • Blind Spot Collision Warning (BSW)
    • Driver Attention Warning (DAW)16
      Smart Cruise Control with Stop & Go
    • Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Warning
    • Parking Distance Warning – Forward and Reverse

Add to these are standard safety systems:

  • Seven airbags (dual front advanced air bags, dual front seat-mounted side air bags, side curtain air bags with rollover sensor, driver’s side knee air bag)
  • Antilock braking (ABS)
    • Traction control
    • Electronic stability control (ESC)
    • Hill-start assist control, thanks to the electronic parking brake
    • Tire pressure monitoring system

Smart Regen System

The steering-wheel-mounted paddle controls (shifters) on the Niro EV have nothing to do with operating the transmission, as is the case in other vehicles. Here, you can slow the car through regenerative braking (which, captures the energy of braking as electricity and returns it to the battery), using the shifters even allowing braking to a complete stop with the levers (and, thus, providing for the possibility of “single-pedal” driving).

In addition, again using the (left) shifter, you can set the regen to one of four braking levels depending upon how aggressive you want the regen effort and energy efficiency.

The Smart Regen System also adjusts the regenerative braking level based on a vehicle being detected in front of the Niro EV (working with the FCA, FCW) and can create smoother coast-down driving, especially when descending a steep road.

Interior comfort on a luxury level

Kia matched the ADAS and safety equipment with a comprehensive array of comfort and convenience technology. The Niro EV Premier has an eight-inch color screen controlling the navigation/Harmon/Kardon eight-speaker audio/climate-control systems (which is backed up by intuitive button controls to aid in keeping your eyes on the road while driving).

New for Niro EV is a revamped UVO telematics system that allows owners to monitor and control a long list of vehicle operations, including:

  • Notifications of battery and charging status
  • Real-time charging station update
  • Scheduled charging
  • Panic notifications – the vehicle will send a notification to the server if the panic alarm is triggered and the system dials 911 emergency services, provides the car position via GPS, and opens a live microphone so that emergency workers can communicate with the vehicle occupants
  • “Send-to-Car” points of interest (POI) and waypoints — owners will be able to plan a road trip with waypoints and send it to the vehicle’s navigation system
  • Pre- condition the vehicle cabin temperature prior to use

Heated seats and steering wheel, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, LED interior lighting and power tilt/sliding sunroof are all part of the package.

Living with an EV

Deciding to purchase an EV should not be made lightly. Range anxiety is legitimate if you do a fair amount of straying from your home region, one where you know where the chargers are located (and compatible) as well as your home base (and you need to make accommodations to charge your EV at home and/or your place of work).

The Niro EV features the latest EV technology including that range of approximately 239 miles; the ability to reach 80 percent of full charge in 75 minutes or 100 miles of charge in 30 minutes (when using a Level 3 or above charger) or full charge on a Level 2 charger (240v) at 7.2 kWh) in 9.5 hours (one of the more popular versions for home installation).

We found living with this EV wonderful until we set out on a 600-mile roundtrip to New Jersey. Despite advanced planning the trip produced major range anxiety and some four hours in extra travel time. Our route was primarily along one of the most traveled in the country, I-95, with the majority being the Connecticut Turnpike. According to its Website, a number of the Turnpike’s service plazas have EV chargers; unfortunately, unless your vehicle was named Tesla, these were not available.

In addition to finding chargers, which was a challenge, I had to download an app to my iPhone for each one since they were all operated by a different company. This added significant time to the process, especially frustrating when we ran across two which were not functioning (discovered after lengthy calls to customer service)

We were much more careful in our planning for the return trip. We loaded our iPhone with a list of fast chargers within 150 miles of our starting point. Again, we wasted some 40 minutes at the first location between signing in and talking to customer service until it was determined this charger was not functioning properly. The next fast charger, a few miles off I-95 worked just fine and an hour after charging, we were on our way.

Everything outside the range anxiety – and the price (more on this) – was a plus with the Niro. This is a stylish, comfortable, peppy small SUV with a lot of interior room thanks to high roof and cozy seats – heated and ventilated.

If your lifestyle calls for an EV, the Niro EV Premium would make an excellent choice. Like all the EVs on the market, the base price rises above a comparable gas or hybrid version. Our tester’s base price was $44,000 to which was added a cold-weather package (battery heater, heat pump) and some additional pieces for a final price of $46,160 (plus a Kia-standard $995 shipping and handling). In addition, you might be eligible for a tax credit of up to $7,500 with this purchase.

The hybrid Niro starts at $23,490; equipped like the EV Premium its MSRP is $32,250, while the plug-in hybrid ranges from $28,500 to $36,946 (and a tax credit up to $2,500).

Mike Geylin
Mike Geylin

Mike Geylin is the Editor-in-Chief at Hagman Media. Geylin has been in automotive communications for five decades working in all aspects of the industry from OEM to supplier to motorsports as well as reporting for both newspapers and magazines on the industry.