First drive review: Kia e-Niro

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Author: | Updated: 07 Jan 2019 09:24

It's clear from the Kia e-Niro that the game has been moved on significantly. It has unmatched performance, range and comfort. Which manufacturer is going to step up to the challenge?

Electric vehicles currently have a problem with trading off range for affordability. Tesla and Jaguar have released models both offering around 300 miles but no one has been able to match that range demand with something affordable and practical, at least until the Hyundai Kona came out recently.

This small SUV costs around the same as a 40kW Nissan Leaf, yet offers a 64kWh battery that will extend the range to close to 300 miles, and is wrapped up in a practical and attractive body. Liking what they saw, Kia has taken the best bits and bolted them to a Niro, resulting in this, the e-Niro.

Kia e-Niro

Kia has rejected using the Kona’s option of a lower capacity 39kWh battery, adamant that the increased range of the 64kWh unit is essential to customers.

You’ve seen the Niro before. It’s a sensible crossover that has been available with either a petrol-hybrid or plug-in hybrid powertrain for a few years. It’s an appealing family or business car, especially if you’re making the move away from diesel, but now Kia has cut out the engine entirely.

While it’s still very much a Niro, you can tell the e-Niro apart at a glance, not least thanks to a sleek panel where the grille would usually be. There’s also some unique lights and wheels, the latter optimised aerodynamically, along with some blue highlighting around the car that you won’t find on the standard model. The end result is something a little bit different, but still conventional. It’s unlikely to scare off prospective drivers.

Kia e-Niro interior

Removing the gear-lever from the interior - it’s an electric car, so there’s no gearbox - has allowed the designers at Kia to have a little more freedom. Where it once stuck out of the centre console, there’s now extra storage capacity, hidden behind a sliding door. There’s also a handy slot to hold a mobile phone, more convenient placement of the power sockets, and a dial to select forwards or backwards.

Plug into a rapid charger on the motorway and you’ll get more than 100 miles of [range] back in 45 minutes, and even more when faster chargers appear soon.

An LCD screen has been placed where traditional dials should be, lending the interior a deserved high-tech ambience. It also allows the screen to display all sorts of extra energy use information, should you need that.

There’s a near endless list of equipment too, with heated leather seats and steering wheel (these use less energy than heating the cabin) and climate control, adaptive cruise control, an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity, navigation and both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay mirroring, all pumping out sounds through an eight-speaker JBL Audio system. To keep the tech topped up, there’s also a wireless charging pad and fast-charge USB socket.

Kia e-Niro motor

The talking point, however, is the motor. It’s the same system that you’ll find in the aforementioned Hyundai Kona, lifted wholesale and slotted into the Niro. Kia has rejected using the Kona’s option of a lower capacity 39kWh battery, adamant that the increased range of the 64kWh unit is essential to customers. The Kia ekes out a little more range from the 64 kWh battery, officially recording 282 miles to the Kona’s 279.

Having spent plenty of time in both, 240 miles of real-world driving is easily achievable. Plug into a rapid charger on the motorway and you’ll get more than 100 miles of that back in 45 minutes, and even more when faster chargers appear soon. At home, it’s an easy overnight charge, leaving you fully fuelled each morning.

Kia e-Niro rear

Energy costs are likely to hover around 3p a mile, while any city-centre tariffs such as the London Congestion Charge will be neatly avoided.

There’s 201bhp from the motor, all going to the front wheels, which translates to a surprisingly sprightly 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds. It actually feels quicker, thanks to the instant torque available at all speeds - extra oomph is only a flex of the foot away, but get too frisky and it’ll spin a wheel or two, wasting valuable energy.

It runs out of go at 105mph, which is fine for the UK but suggests the e-Niro isn’t aiming for the enthusiast market. To that end, the handling is best described as safe and secure rather than involving and exciting. Push hard and you’ll find a pleasingly high amount of grip, but it’s not a car to go racing in. It rides quite well though, even if it doesn’t soak up every imperfection.

Kia e-Niro boot

It does the ‘family car’ thing quite well, too. All five seats offer plenty of space, although squeezing an adult into the rear central seat is a struggle. The boot is an impressive 451 litres - that’s more space than you’ll find in the back of a Nissan Qashqai - and extends to a massive 1,405 litres. It’s certainly big enough to take a couple of bikes, and they can be kept secure thanks to four tie-down points.

Kia has moved the game on significantly

As you might expect, running costs will be exceptionally low. Zero emissions means a car tax bill of zero, and a pleasingly low company car tax bill for professional users due to its 13% BIK burden. Energy costs are likely to hover around 3p a mile, while any city-centre tariffs such as the London Congestion Charge will be neatly avoided. Add in reduced servicing costs and a seven-year warranty, and the e-Niro could be amongst the cheapest cars to run.

Kia e-Niro parked

It offers so much that you wonder why you’d look at a Tesla costing three times as much although, as with all electric cars, the maths might not stack up too well when compared to something more conventional like a Ford Focus. However, Kia (and Hyundai) has moved the game on significantly, and, while it’s not quite changed it, the point at where EVs and internal combustion engines cross over is getting ever closer.

Quick stats: Kia e-Niro 64kWh First Edition

Price: £32,995 after ULEV grant (lease prices TBD)

Top speed: 105 mph

0-62 mph: 7.5 seconds

Official range: 282 miles

CO2 emissions: 0 g/km

Car tax: £0

BIK: 13%

Power: 201 bhp

Torque: 395 Nm

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