The Kia Niro EV is a $47,000 electric crossover for those who prefer not to stick out from the crowd
The Kia Niro EV is the Korean carmaker's attempt at delivering on two major car segments: crossovers and electric vehicles. Crossovers are topping popularity charts, while EVs are future technology. The Niro EV's electric motor makes a rated 201 horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque, and it has an EPA-estimated driving range of 239 miles. It has two trims: the $38,500 EX and the $44,000 EX Premium. Overall, the Niro EV is a blast. It's cute, it's completely silent, and it's enjoyably fast from a standstill thanks to its electric motor. But elements of it feel dated, especially for a car that costs nearly $50,000. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
The 2019 Kia Niro EV is cute. It's spunky, it's so quiet that you have to check the dashboard to confirm that its electric motor is running, and the bright-blue accent pieces incorporated into all of its paint options show that at least someone wanted to have a little fun with the styling. But cute doesn't mean cheap, because like most EVs on the market today, taking the Niro home will cost you about $40,000 or more, before the federal electric-vehicle tax credit. Whether it's worth it depends on your priorities.The 2019 Kia Niro EV: An electric vehicle that blends in with a gas-powered world
After debuting in concept form in early 2018, the Niro EV entered the North American market for the 2019 model year. The new EV debuted with 201 horsepower and an EPA-estimated 239 miles of range, and added to the fuel-efficient Niro lineup that launched in 2016 with the Niro hybrid. The Niro EV arrived in early 2019, and for that year, made up only a sliver of both Niro sales and total EV sales in the US. Kia reported selling 24,467 Niros in 2019 across the entire lineup — hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and EV.
Sales data from the US Department of Energy breaks those categories up, listing "Kia Niro plug-in" sales at 4,051 and "Kia Niro EV" sales at 1,562 in the US last year. That's on par with the 1,721 in sales for the Hyundai Kona EV, which starts at $37,190 before tax credits. But like most other electric vehicles, those numbers are minuscule in comparison to the Tesla Model 3, which logged 154,840 in 2019 sales by the government's count.
The Niro EV is, at its core, an EV based on a non-EV. That's the case with plenty of models right now, including the Kia Soul EV, and it's obvious in the car's styling — where a grille would be to allow airflow to a traditional internal-combustion engine, Kia has plopped in an extra panel with diamond-shaped cutouts, because EVs don't need grilles. That's compared to dedicated EVs like a Tesla Model X, where the front of the car is completely smoothed out where a grille would have been. Creating a dedicated EV from scratch allows that kind of design experimentation — and the resulting flashiness of driving around in something that sticks out, as is common with Teslas — whereas supplanting a gas-powered drivetrain with EV technology often doesn't. Thus, the Niro blends in with the rest of the world in its looks — even if, in a market where less than 2% of automobile sales are EVs, the rest of the car doesn't. Details and safety ratings: High on tech and high on price, scattered headlight quality
The Niro EV comes in two trims, the $38,500 EX and $44,000 EX Premium, and this particular loaner was from the higher level. It came out to $47,155 with delivery fees, and included add-ons like a heated steering wheel and LED headlights. Seventeen-inch wheels and various safety systems like blind-spot detection, smart cruise control, forward-collision avoidance assist, lane-keep assist, and lane-follow assist all come standard.
The Niro is still eligible for the full $7,500 federal EV tax credit, which begins to phase out once a manufacturer has sold 200,000 plug-in hybrids and EVs in the US as counted from the start of 2010. Among some of the Niro's competitors, the Hyundai Kona and Nissan Leaf remain eligible for the full $7,500, while the Chevrolet Bolt dropped to $0 recently. You can find more information on tax credits for all EVs on the Environmental Protection Agency website.
Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which evaluate vehicles' crashworthiness and other safety features, have rated the Kia Niro EV for the US market. The Niro hybrid and plug-in hybrid models from the 2019 model year did well in both agencies' crash tests, but a spokesperson for IIHS told Business Insider via email that those results can't often be translated to an EV due to added weight and battery placement.
While there isn't a verdict on crashworthiness, the IIHS did tell Business Insider that the Niro EV and plug-in hybrid share the same headlights — an element that some automakers struggle with. Headlights on the cheaper EX trim got the IIHS' highest of four ratings, "Good," while the ones on the EX Premium got the lowest: "Poor." The headlights on the Premium were great at night from the driver's seat, and that's because the main reason behind their poor rating was due to glare. So, while you as the driver are able to see just fine, the person coming at you probably can't say the same thing. What stands out: Whisper-silent drive, attention to detail on certain styling elements
The Niro EV, like any other car powered solely by electricity, is completely silent. Pressing its start button is like turning on your smartphone, and the only way you can tell the car is running is by messaging on the dashboard screens that tells you so. Likewise, the vehicle will remind you that it's still running if the key gets taken out while the motor is on, because there are no audible cues to go by.
It's a jarring feeling, both if you've never stepped into an EV before and if you're judging the Niro based off of its looks, which don't jump out as anything particularly futuristic or revolutionary. The Niro looks like its hybrid and plug-in-hybrid siblings, not like a dedicated EV with dedicated EV styling — thus, it looks like most other regular cars out on the road.
There are some elements of styling where the Niro EV stands out, though. The EV can be picked out from the rest of the Niro lineup by its bright-blue accents both inside and out, including trim pieces on the front and back of the car, blue air-vent trim, and an optional seat pattern with blue accents over black leather. Neither hybrid Niros have the option for those features. The accents give the sense that the EV is different, perhaps even more upscale, than its other Niro counterparts. They're also just plain cute — no matter the car, it's hard to deny a blue-on-brighter-blue color scheme.
The Niro EV also doesn't have a bad stance for a crossover SUV. It's a little hefty and a little squatty, but it gives the appearance of being decently low to the ground — a nice touch on almost any car. Inside, the higher EX Premium trim gets a power sunroof, mood lighting, and heated front seats, all of which the $38,500 EX lacks.
Driving the Niro EV is almost as perplexing as starting it up, for those who aren't used to EVs — especially ones in the guise of an everyday crossover. Electric vehicles have a thing often called "instant torque," which differentiates them from internal-combustion vehicles in that peak torque is available right away instead of building up over time. That makes them wicked fast from a standstill, even if their horsepower figure isn't all that impressive.
The Niro EV falls into that category. While its 201 horsepower wouldn't be anything to brag about on a gas car, the instant torque from the electric motor makes it so enjoyable to accelerate that it's hard not to just randomly press the pedal for fun. Thus, if you head to the lot to take your first EV for a spin, the instant speed and unbreakable silence of the Niro will leave you feeling like you just stepped into the year 2045.
You might also notice during that spin that the Niro has paddle shifters, which are used on cars with traditional transmissions to shift gears semi-manually. The Niro doesn't need that kind of shifting, though, so the paddles here are used for regenerative braking — sending power back to the battery through the act of slowing the car down. The paddles offer different levels of regen: zero, one, two, and three. The lowest level, zero, is the most like driving most other cars, in that you're using both the accelerator and the brake pedal to control the car yourself. Each level offers a step toward one-pedal driving, with the car braking itself to different degrees as soon as you let off the accelerator.
One-pedal driving is a big deal in the EV world, since it lessens the amount of footwork a driver has to do while also sending power back to the battery. The Niro has a regen icon on the dash that shows when the car is using power and when it's regenerating it back, and on the paddles' highest level, three, the brake lights illuminate on the car about a second after the driver takes their foot off of the gas — meaning the car really is doing all of the work for you. What falls short: Dated interior, front-wheel-drive handling, hefty price tag
As fun as it is, the instant torque isn't perfect on the Niro EV. It's a front-wheel-drive car, and when the pedal gets pushed to the floor, the front wheels do an odd mixture of hiccuping, squealing and screeching all at the same time. It's too entertaining not to laugh at, but it does distract from how suave and cool the electric motor feels.
Inside, the Niro EV has just as many elements that work both for, and against it. One of the first things that pops out is the crossover's dash setup, which looks like something straight out of 2010 — and not even the good part of 2010. It's hulking, heavy looking, and entirely too basic, dating the car in a way that's hard to ignore. Its shifter dial also feels clunky, like using a desktop computer from 2003 would. It's too big and its styling is too rudimentary, leaving the driver with the feeling that a few tweaks could have made a big difference.
There's not much storage in the back hatch, and the Niro's manually adjusted passenger seat is perplexing in a nearly $50,000 car. Sure, EVs trend on the more expensive side, but we're halfway to six figures here. The passenger shouldn't have to fumble around to move the seat themselves.
If you're planning to charge the Niro on a standard wall outlet at home, you'll need to give it a few days to get back to full capacity. And don't even think about cutting the car off and sitting there to listen to a few songs on the radio, either. Not long after the motor powers down, the Niro EV will prod you to get on out. "Battery discharge warning!" its screens will light up to say. "Please use the system with the car running." How the Niro compares to its competitors: Full tax credit, falls short on range
The Niro EV and all of its direct competitors are about in line in terms of pricing and horsepower, and all of them send power to the front wheels. The Niro and Kona are crossover options, while the Leaf and Bolt are more compact-looking hatchbacks. The Niro falls short to some in terms of range, and much like itself, most of the Niro's competitors haven't been crash tested.
The only one that has is the 2020 Chevrolet Bolt, which received the IIHS' top rating of "good" in every crash category except the small-overlap frontal crash on the passenger side. In that category, it got the IIHS' second highest of four ratings, "average." With the NHTSA, the Bolt got five stars in every category except frontal crash, where it got four. Our impressions: Modern technology that could use a styling update
The Kia Niro EV, like other cars in its category, is about the most fun you can have in a moderately powered, everyday crossover. The electric motor and instant torque make it a hoot, and the silence of the drive is a constant reminder that, hey, you're getting with the times here while many other car buyers aren't. But that feeling is less prominent when you look around the interior. Some areas, like the dash and shifter dial, feel dated, while others feel like they really got the attention to detail they deserved. It's an odd mix that produces so-so satisfaction for the driver.
There's also the ever-prevalent thought that, for $47,000, there's a lot of choice out there. That includes less expensive EVs like the $35,000-but-not-really-$35,000 Tesla Model 3. Sure, it's a sedan instead of a crossover, meaning they're not direct competitors, but the Model 3's entire interior feels like it came from this decade — not just parts of it — and it shows just how much $47,000 can get you in terms of new cars. The Niro EV is a fun car, and a nice twist on the current crossover craze that's swept across the US car market. Whether it's $50,000 worth of fun depends on where your priorities lie and how much extra cash you have sitting around. ♦♦♦
The gist: Fun to drive, but high on price and low on glitz Pros: The Niro EV is cute, fast, and benefits from the road silence of an EV with all of the instant torque your accelerator foot could want. Its regenerative-braking paddle shifters also let the driver switch from two-pedal driving to different levels of one-pedal driving whenever they may feel like it. Cons: It's obvious when flooring the accelerator on the Niro EV that its instant torque is a bit too much for the front-wheel-drive crossover to handle. There are also elements of the interior that look dated and leave the car feeling like it could have benefited from a bit more time in the styling studio. What to know before you head to the dealership: While the Niro EV hasn't been crash rated, its headlights are worth some attention. Upgrading to the EX Premium might get you a lot more perks inside, but the trim's headlight quality — given the IIHS' lowest rating mainly due to glare — will make other drivers on the road hate you. The EX, on the other hand, got the IIHS' highest headlight rating.