Another electric car arrived on Australian roads this week.
The 2021 Kia Niro is available in three formats: hybrid, plug-in hybrid and a pure-electric vehicle.
For now, it is the only SUV to offer the choice of all three types of electrification, although Kia’s sister brand Hyundai offers the same choice of power in its Ioniq hatchback.
All three power options are available with two levels of equipment: in S or Sport guises.
The Kia Niro Hybrid S starts from $41,990 drive-away, while the Kia Niro Hybrid Sport starts from $45,990 drive-away.
The Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid S starts from $49,990 drive-away, while the Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid Sport starts from $53,990 drive-away.
The Kia Niro Electric S starts from $67,490 drive-away, while the Kia Niro Electric Sport – the model tested here – starts from $70,990 drive-away.
That price is about $27,000 dearer than Australia’s cheapest electric car, and positions the Kia Niro EV alongside the Tesla Model 3 sedan.
Much of the Kia Niro’s price, however, has gone into its long-range battery pack. As with its twin under the skin, the Hyundai Kona Electric, the Kia Niro EV has a massive 64kWh battery pack under the floor. This is enough to deliver a claimed driving range of 455km in ideal conditions.
The only downside to such a large battery pack is the recharging time. The Kia Niro takes more than 29 hours to recharge from empty when using a standard household power socket.
Using an upgraded power source installed in many homes and workplaces where electric cars are parked, the Kia Niro takes 9.5 hours to recharge.On a 100kW fast charger, it can reach 80 per cent of its capacity in 54 minutes.
The Kia Niro Sport has a 10.25-inch infotainment display, a widescreen digital instrument cluster, eight-speaker premium JBL audio, power adjustment for the driver’s seat, dual-zone air-conditioning, a gear selector dial rather than a lever, and a sensor key with push-button start.
Unlike other recent Kia cars we've tested – which had problematic Apple CarPlay connectivity – the wired Apple CarPlay in the Kia Niro EV Sport worked perfectly. We are yet to test the wireless Apple CarPlay in the Niro S, with its smaller 8.0-inch display.
Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid versions of the Kia Niro have a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating from 2016. However, the electric version is listed as “unrated” because it was yet to be introduced when the tests were conducted.
Standard safety equipment on all models includes seven airbags, autonomous emergency braking, radar cruise control, lane-keeping assistance, individual tyre pressure monitors, lead-vehicle departure alert (except EV models), and a rear camera and sensors. Oddly, for a city car likely to be used to squeeze into tight spaces, front parking sensors are not fitted to any Kia Niro model.
Meanwhile, Kia has reserved blind-spot monitors, rear cross-traffic alert, and LED headlights with high beam assist for the most expensive variants, even though this technology is increasingly standard across most model ranges.
Service intervals are 12 months/15,000km, whichever comes first. Kia says three pre-paid service plans are available for the Niro EV: $1164 for three years, $1728 for five years, and $2800 for seven years.
The warranty for the car is seven years/unlimited kilometres, but the warranty for the vehicle’s high-voltage electronics is capped at seven years/150,000km.
Given that battery packs degrade over time, Kia says it guarantees 75 per cent battery capacity up to seven years/150,000km. If the battery pack's efficiency dips below 75 per cent within this time frame, it could trigger a warranty claim.
|Kia Niro EV Sport||Hyundai Kona EV|
|Power and torque||150kW and 395Nm||150kW and 395Nm|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive||Front-wheel drive|
|Driving range (claimed)||455km||484km|
|Driving range (on test)||400km||NA|
|Recharging time||From 54 minutes (fast charger) to 29 hours (wall socket)||From 54 minutes (fast charger) to 29 hours (wall socket)|
|Boot volume (back seat up/down)||451L/1405L||332L/1114L|
|Spare tyre||None, tyre inflator||None, inflator kit|
|ANCAP safety rating||Unrated||5 stars|
|Warranty (vehicle)||7 years/unlimited kilometres||5 years/unlimited kilometres|
|Additional warranty||7 years/150,000km (high-voltage electrics)||8 years/160,000km (battery pack)|
|Service intervals||12 months/15,000km||12 months/15,000km|
|Main competitors||Hyundai Kona EV, Tesla Model 3||Kia Niro EV Sport, Tesla Model 3|
ON THE ROAD
Despite its SUV appearance, the Kia Niro’s electric motor drives the front wheels – as with most hatchbacks.
Because it lacks all-wheel drive and has a low ground clearance, the Kia Niro has limited off-road potential.That said, most buyers use these types of cars to handle the urban jungle.
With a claimed output of 150kW and 395Nm from its electric motor, the Kia Niro is relatively brisk despite weighing almost 1800kg – about as much as a Holden Commodore V8 sedan.
All versions of the Kia Niro ride on a range of 16-, 17- and 18-inch Michelin tyres, but pure-electric versions run exclusively on a 17-inch wheel and tyre package.
The steering is light and easy, there’s plenty of grip, and it feels confident in corners – or roundabouts.
The electric motor’s eerie hum becomes addictive after a while, as does the braking force from the electric motor, which can be adjusted via the paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
It’s not supposed to be a performance car, but we were curious to check the Kia Niro EV’s 0–100km/h time, if at the very least to dispel the myth that electric cars are sluggish. It stopped the clocks in a perky 7.4 seconds, which is not far off hot-hatch pace. (A Volkswagen Golf GTI stops the clocks in the 6.1- to 6.5-second bracket depending on the variant.)
During our media preview drive – which included mostly inter-urban driving from 60 to 80km/h and some freeway work, which does not favour electric cars – we achieved decent real-world driving range.
While not driving for efficiency, the energy consumption generally hovered between 13.5 and 15kWh per 100km, which is at the better end of the scale by current standards. Kia's official claim is 15.9kWh/100km.
According to the car’s estimates at the time we recorded our test drive video, the Kia Niro EV was on track to run out of battery power at about the 400km mark, just shy of its claimed 455km range.
However, in total, we covered 315km by the end of our test. With an estimated driving range of 137km remaining at that point (according to the vehicle's calculations), the forecast 452km distance almost matched the claimed range of 455km.
It's worth noting we weren't driving for efficiency, ran air-conditioning the whole time, and the headlights as needed.
The suspension – tuned in Europe rather than Australia – delivered respectable comfort over bumps.
And braking performance was excellent, stopping from 100km/h in an emergency in 37.8m, which was better than average for a city SUV – and especially so for one that weighs close to 1800kg.
But, of course, as with every car, the Kia Niro isn’t perfect.
Kia and its sister brand Hyundai are yet to introduce speed sign recognition technology (instead, relying solely on navigation data), there’s no spare tyre in the boot, and the indicator stalk is on the left, as is the case with European cars.
The recharging rate is slower than more modern electric vehicles, and the Kia Niro is old.
This generation came out in 2016, which makes the Kia Niro about as old as an iPhone 6 or an iPhone 7. Plus, a brand-new Kia electric car is just around the corner.
The biggest issue is price. At $70,990 drive-away, the Kia Niro EV Sport is Tesla Model 3 money, and that could be a hard sell.
Fortunately, Kia Australia has modest sales expectations, with the pure-electric model forecast to account for just 20 per cent of Kia Niro sales. The majority are expected to be the Hybrid (70 per cent), while the balance will be Plug-In Hybrid (10 per cent).
Overall, though, our first impressions of the Kia Niro electric car are positive. It has decent real-world driving range that almost eliminates range anxiety, and it’s comfortable and easy to drive.
But the price is high and this car is old. It arrives in Australia as it nears the end of its model life, and will likely only be around for a year or so before it is discontinued and replaced by a newer model.