Korean car maker Kia will eventually be spoiled for choice when not one but two electric cars arrive in Australian showrooms some time in 2021, about a year later than originally planned.
However, they likely won’t come cheap if European pricing is a guide. In Germany the Kia E-Soul city hatch (pictured below) starts from €33,990 (A$54,500) while the slightly bigger Kia E-Niro small SUV starts from €35,290 (A$56,600).
This pricing would position both Kia electric cars between the $45,000 Ioniq electric hatch and the $60,000 Kona electric SUV from sister brand Hyundai – and make them a touch dearer than the $50,000 Nissan Leaf.
Key to the added cost is the 64kWh battery, one of the largest in the class and capable of delivering about 450km driving range between recharges, similar to the distance reached in a conventional car out of a tank of petrol.
It’s the same size battery pack – paired to a 150kW electric motor – used by affiliate Hyundai in the Kona city SUV.
Kia Australia initially planned to have the E-Niro small SUV (pictured in dark grey) here in time for the January 2020 Australian Tennis Open, which it sponsors.
However, customer demand in Europe – buoyed by tax incentives of between $6400 and $16,000 per electric car sold – have caused delays for Kia’s electric car debut Down Under.
Now the company is considering the box-shaped E-Soul city hatch to sell alongside the E-Niro or perhaps in its place.
Both examples are made in right-hand-drive, so are available to Australia. But Kia is still conducting the business case.
In the interim, Kia Australia is rolling out charging stations across its national dealer network and training technicians so they are able to service the cars when they arrive.
The E-Niro went on sale in Europe at the start of the year and the E-Soul arrived in showrooms there last month. We sampled both examples during last week’s Frankfurt motor show, as a guest of Kia.
While German roads are much smoother and better designed than Australian tarmac, the preview drive of both vehicles gave a telling insight into what we can expect.
First up we drove the E-Soul. In Europe it has a wider digital dash display and a wider central touchscreen (10.25-inch) for the infotainment system.
The box-shaped design hasn’t been embraced by the previous two generations of Kia Soul in Australia but this one could improve its chances.
With a more modern design and a roomier interior than before, it’s more practical to live with day-to-day, providing an electric car suits your needs.
If Kia does bring the Soul to Australia it will only import the electric model – not the petrol-powered version which at $25,000 is half the price.
As with most modern electric cars, the the E-Soul is remarkable for how unremarkable it is. Performance is on par with most city hatchbacks and the car does a fair job of disguising the added weight of the battery pack.
That’s because the battery pack in effect doubles as the floor of the car, so the centre of gravity is low, making it easy to manoeuvre corners.
The electrically-assisted power steering feels a touch too light but on the plus side the sharp brake pedal typical of most electric cars is not as apparent.
Although the tape measure says the Kia E-Soul (pictured below) is about the same size as the Hyundai Kona, it feels a touch bigger once inside. Indeed, at a glance it seems as big as the Kia E-Niro.
However, the E-Niro is the next size up from the E-Soul and Kona EV twins. Although the styling of the E-Niro may be a bit anonymous, it’s exactly what Kia intended given that, it claims, eco-car buyers no longer want to stand out from the crowd.
To that end, the only way to distinguish the E-Niro from hybrid or petrol powered versions is the fancy grille, which has a cover that conceals the charging port.
Once inside the E-Niro, you notice the extra shoulder room, leg room and cargo space compared to the E-Soul – but the interior is not as upmarket in appearance. For example, the infotainment and display screens are smaller and more conventional in design and the layout of the dash is not as daring as in the Kona or Soul.
It’s apparent Kia is trying to appeal to two audiences here. The E-Soul is aimed at the young – and the young at heart – while the E-Niro is the electric car you have when you don’t specifically want an electric car, don’t have a point to prove, or don’t want to draw attention to yourself.
Criticisms? The E-Niro was nice enough to drive but doesn’t disguise its weight quite as effectively as the E-Soul. You can feel the weight shift in corners more so than in the E-Soul, although this is splitting hairs and most buyers might not notice.
Both cars also have inflator kits rather than full-size or space saver spare tyres, which aren’t ideal in Australian conditions if you’re far from home or happen to split a sidewall.
Impressive on both cars was how easy and intuitive they were to drive and well they suppressed road noise. That said, Germany has some of the smoothest highway surfaces in Europe. How the eco tyres behave on Australian coarse-chip roads remains to be seen.
If Kia Australia imports one or both of these EVs to Australia – with the long, 450km driving range that is optional in Europe but would be standard here – it will immediately catapult the brand into the top electric-car contenders in the class.
However, we are still years away from a truly affordable electric car for the masses. As it stands, the more electric cars each manufacturer sells, the more money they lose – and the “break even” point is still at least half a decade or more away.