Review: 2021 Kia Niro EV is a budget-friendly electric champion and faces new competition
For electric vehicle buyers on a budget, the Kia Niro EV was a small miracle. When the Niro first arrived in 2019, it offered an unbeatable combination of long range, reasonable price and usable space at the time. When the federal government launched its EV incentive program that same year and took $ 5,000 off the price, it only sweetened the deal.
Although the Niro EV is far from old, it is no longer the miracle it once was. With most mainstream automakers finally getting serious about building electric vehicles that people actually want, competition intensifies and each model year brings significant advances. This is good news for the drivers, but tough for the little Kia.
The Niro itself is a pretty ordinary compact crossover; Kia also sells a gasoline-powered version for $ 25,000 and a plug-in hybrid for $ 36,000. Open the hood of the all-electric Niro EV, which starts at $ 44,995 before government incentives, and you’ll find a cavernous space where the internal combustion engine would normally sit. The compact electric motor of the electric vehicle hardly takes up any space. There’s no front trunk, just lots of empty space and neat orange cables. In contrast to newer competitors, the Niro was not designed from the ground up as an electric vehicle.
What made the Niro EV so special in 2019 was that it offered the second largest driving range per dollar of any electric vehicle sold in Canada. The Kia was only defeated by its corporate colleague, the smaller Hyundai Kona Electric. With an EPA-rated range of 385 kilometers in a car that costs just under $ 40,000 (after federal discounts), the 2021 Niro EV is still a champion in the field of electrical value. However, it is surpassed by the new Volkswagen ID.4, which is more spacious, has a little more range, and has the same cost as the Kia. Chevrolet’s updated 2022 Bolt has even more range (417 km) and is much cheaper but smaller.
However, the VW has got off to a rocky start in life, with many noticing numerous small problems early on. The Niro EV, on the other hand, has the highest owner satisfaction of all mass market EVs. According to a recent JD Power survey. It feels rock hard.
The electric motor sends 200 horsepower and 291 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels. It might not sound particularly impressive, but because these horses are electric, the car feels like a rocket compared to traditional compact SUVs. Set the pedal to metal in sport mode – because apparently every car must now have a sport mode – and the Niro EV will turn its front tires. Even on the autobahn, overtaking is more fun than it should be. That’s just the nature of instant electrical energy.
However, the electrical energy of the Niro is not quiet. The car plays dreamy harmonic tones to alert pedestrians to its presence. Out of all the noises in the world, Kia made his electric car sound like the underwater aliens from the science fiction film by James Cameron The abyss. It’s a mood.
In terms of range, the already impressive 385-kilometer rating of the Kia actually seems conservative. According to my calculations, the Niro EV would have traveled a little over 400 km on a single load of mixed highway and city trips before it came to a dead stop. (This is consistent with a recent UK test that drove the Kia for 410 km before it finally stopped.) The car underestimated its own range. This is the automotive equivalent of setting your clock 10 minutes earlier. Knowing you have extra buffer is a comfort to anxious drivers.
Like other brands, Kia has big plans for electric vehicles: seven new electric vehicles will be deployed by 2026. By 2030, electric vehicles will account for 40 percent of global sales. The brand’s upcoming electric vehicle, based on a new EV platform, will feature all-wheel drive, faster charging, and greater range, although the company won’t say when the car might arrive in Canada. Even without this new model, Kia’s EV sales have increased last year, and sales have increased again this year.
However, other new rivals of the Niro EV are on the horizon. Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 will arrive this fall, and Chevrolet will soon have a Bolt SUV too. It is probably worth waiting to see how these vehicles stack up before making your choice. However, if you’re in need of a new, budget-friendly electric vehicle right now, the Niro EV – although it wasn’t the obvious choice a few years ago – still offers impressive range, reliability, and a practical cab that makes it a strong all-round competitor.
2021 Kia Niro EV
Base price: $ 44,995 before government incentives ($ 54,695 as tested)
Engine: Single-motor electric
Gearbox / drive: Single-speed gearbox / front-wheel drive
Range: 385 km (EPA rated)
Alternatives: Volkswagen ID.4, Tesla Model 3, Hyundai Kona Electric, Kia Soul EV, Chevrolet Bolt, Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model 3
You would never guess it was electric. It looks good but is instantly unforgettable.
The dashboard layout is nice and clear and there is a lot of storage space but a lot of black plastic. The rear seats are more cramped than on the VW ID.4.
Charging the battery from 0 to 80 percent takes 54 minutes with a 100 kW DC quick charger or more than nine hours with a standard 240 volt socket. The EX cladding of the basic model is not equipped with a heat pump, while the higher equipment variants do. The Kia’s tiny EV engine puts the power of typical turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engines to shame.
The screens are very large, but the graphical interface looks strange. For example, the radio shows frequencies in vacuum tubes. Quirky sure, but a random splash of skeuomorphic design all over the surface doesn’t look good.
There’s 1,804 liters of cargo space with the rear seats folded down, a little less than the VW ID.4 SUV and a lot more than a Tesla Model 3 sedan. A deep well under the trunk floor houses the charging cable.
Not quite the miracle it once was, but still an extremely practical and reliable entry into the EV world for price-conscious customers.