Long-Term Update: The 2019 Kia Niro EV Faces Colorado Winter and (Almost) Wins It

2019 Kia Niro EV front
Kia’s EV crossover beat the Tesla Model Y to market, but how well does it work?[Photos: TFLcar]

After TFLcar’s pro race driver Paul Gerrard claimed the 2019 Kia Niro EV the victor in a three-car track throw down between the Kia, the Volkswagen e-Golf, and Nissan Leaf, I had to drive it. I’d enjoyed the handling and ride of the VW during my time with it, and I was shocked to hear Paul dismiss it.

But, as it turns out, Paul was right. Over the past couple weeks, I put 600 miles on the Niro EV. Not only was it more fun to drive than the e-Golf — it was magnitudes less stressful. That lack of anxiety came down to the Niro’s 64 kWh battery pack, yielding up to nearly 240 miles of range. It was that flexibility that sold me on the Kia, and sold me electric cars as a viable choice for everyday use. At least if you’re in the city or suburbs.

The electrified Kia checks off a slew of comfort boxes. Adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist (it’ll drive itself competently in heavy mid-town freeway traffic for 10 seconds before chirping at you), heated seats, a heated steering wheel, Apple and Android connectivity, supportive bucket seats, and thick, performance-oriented steering wheel, and four modes of power delivery. Plus, as a five-door crossover, it comes with loads of room inside to seat four adults comfortably and still have room in the cargo bay for all their carry-on luggage. Unlike shorter reviews, I did get the chance to really test that on an airport run with my family.

2019 Kia Niro EV track performance
TFL test pilot Paul Gerrard putting the Niro EV through a hot lap. (photo: TFL)

The CUV That Drives Like a Hot Hatch

Full disclaimer: I have not driven any Tesla vehicle. So I can’t compare the 2019 Kia Niro EV to that experience (Editor’s note: we’ll have that review soon!), but as the driver of a Mark 6 Volkswagen GTI, I can say that the Niro comes closest to matching the taut feel and stiffness that I love in my GTI. Setting the drive mode to “Sport” makes the steering wheel feel heavier and more precise. Upping the fun factor, it also helps deliver all the electric motor’s 201 horsepower and 291 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels. It’s enough grunt to lay down several yards of rubber if you desire—or so I’m told by someone else at TFL who did.

The massive 1,000-pound battery pack under the seats acts as ballast to keep the car planted, or as planted as you’d expect a CUV could be. The upgraded bucket seats add to the performance-minded appeal. Their snug fit adds to the Niro’s first impression: That it’s ready to rip.

Think of it this way — The Niro EV is a better set of shocks, sway bars, rims and tires away from being called a hot hatch.

2019 Kia Niro EV hill climb
The Kia Niro EV during TFL’s Loveland Trials test.

Those who think EVs aren’t legit haven’t driven the Niro

Right now, driving an electric car is still (mostly) about range. How much do you have? How much can you truly get in real-world driving? Past EVs I’ve tested see their range numbers collapse in heavy traffic, in sub-freezing temps, when loaded with passengers, or by simply turning on the window defroster.

Unlike TFL’s signature Loveland Trials EV test done earlier this winter, my benchmark range test is a 45-mile jaunt through rush-hour traffic, 20 miles of hair-raising freeway construction, and 2,000 feet of elevation gain, and then 45 miles back down later that night. The evening of the 2019 Kia Niro EV’s test there also happened to be a snowstorm blowing through. I started the round-trip trek with 225 miles of range, kept the heater blasting the whole time and made it back home with 140 miles of range left.

Granted, there are some caveats here. Due to the snowstorm, my average speed barely topped 50 mph, and coming home, I never went faster than 45 mph due to snow-packed roads. For a boxy CUV such as the Niro, going so much slower than the posted speed limits of 60-75 mph played a significant role in its stellar efficiency. Also, the prodigious amount of torque delivered to the 17-inch wheels and narrow tires made the front wheels spin easily when accelerating on ice and snow. To mitigate the spin, I kept the vehicle in “Eco+” mode. That’s its most efficient — and slowest—setting. I also kept the regenerative braking sensitivity to Full-On, using it to slow the vehicle on ice instead of pressing the brake pedal. Even so, in the snow the stock Niro is a challenge to drive without snow tires mounted on the wheels.

No worries, even in cold weather

But, for the first time in an EV, I traveled home without worrying about whether I could turn on the heater and still have enough juice to make it home. And not only make it home, but not have to worry about plugging the car in immediately to the 240v outlet in my garage to make sure I’d have enough range by morning to power the next day’s errands.

When I did plug in the Niro, my household 240-volt connection recharged the battery with roughly 150 miles of range in 9 hours. It was weird to go days without needing to recharge the vehicle, an experience I’d gotten used to after living with a 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid for two years.

As a result, I came to this conclusion: Any manufacturer selling an EV with less than 200-mile range isn’t offering a truly useful fully electric vehicle here in the U.S. And anyone who buys an EV with less than 200-miles of range will wish they hadn’t—if not now, then within the coming years.

2019 Kia Niro electric vehicle
No radiator means a solid front end on the 2019 Kia Niro EV.

Final Take: All Boxes Checked, But Still a Kia

The Niro EV looks like a slightly sci-fi version of the regular Niro. It has blue accents, and a solid front end instead of air grills leading to the radiator. That’s no biggie when you shell out less than $24,000 for a base model hybrid, but that’s hard to swallow when facing the $44,000 fully loaded EX Premium version of the 2019 Kia Niro EV. In my mind, there is nothing special about the Niro EV’s appearance and creature comforts that justifies a $20,000 premium for it. Granted, Kia still has thousands of $7,500 federal EV tax credits to dole out, and Colorado’s tax credit cuts the total cost under $35,000. That’s better, but still a lot for what starts to a small, economy-minded CUV.

Despite the feel of driving the Niro EV, from the inside, there is not much visually to distance it from the swaths of black plastic on the dash and surrounding the cabin that are found in much less expensive Niros. One would think that the cost of ownership of an EV (no oil changes, much cheaper power source, no maintenance really beyond brakes and tires) would pencil out over time and make the Niro EV a bargain, but with Kia’s incredible 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty across its product line, I’m not so sure. The exceptional expense of the EV over the gas, or even the hybrid version, are hard to justify, federal/state tax credits notwithstanding.

Still, I am grateful to Kia for producing the Niro EV, if just to show that they can, and for the chutzpah to get into the CUV space a year ahead of the Tesla Model Y. And for finally recalibrating my idea of an electrified automotive future.

Check out Tommy’s thorough look at the Niro below: