It's about time Kia joined the electric vehicle crusade. In the past 12 months, we've seen the cost of entering the wonderful world of EVs drop significantly, with the cheapest now costing $44,990 drive-away.
Alongside prices steadily decreasing, diversity is also increasing. No less than 15 new electric vehicles have arrived in Australia in the past 12 months alone, with everyone from EV newcomer Porsche to established player Nissan both bolstering their line-ups.
Australia's state governments are reacting, too, showing that alternative-propulsion vehicles are now drawing attention from our country's leaders. While Victoria has gone down the path of taxing electric vehicles, NSW plans to give some a $3000 rebate and all free stamp duty, prior to a road-usage charge coming into effect in 2027.
A busy segment, then, no doubt worth entering to carve yourself some market share. Kia's first efforts are similar to that of Hyundai's.
When Hyundai initially launched the Ioniq sedan, it did so with three drivelines. Kia has done the same launching three versions of its initial electrified offering – the Niro.
It's offered as a regular hybrid, plug-in hybrid or fully electric vehicle. Regardless of the driveline you decide on, you can still pick between two trim levels: Niro S and Niro Sport.
The cost to step up from S to Sport varies depending on the type of propulsion. In the case of our fully electric 2021 Kia Niro EV Sport it costs $70,990 drive-away, some $3500 more than the Kia Niro EV S at $67,490.
Both versions feature the same hardware and running gear, including a single electric motor producing 150kW/395Nm sending power to a single-speed transmission driving only the front wheels. The battery is a large 64kWh-sized Li-ion polymer item that's located under the vehicle's passenger floor.
What you do get for jumping up from S to Sport are LED headlights, a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system with JBL stereo, better seats, blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert. It's a no-brainer, as LED headlights (something that should be standard on the S) are vital and worth the cost, as is the driver-assist tech. The rest are just bonuses.
We'll begin with range testing. Kia's official claimed driving range is 455km. Over the duration of the week-long loan, we drove the car in myriad situations: peak-hour commuting, secondary peak-hour pick-ups or the school run, and general weekend travelling in and around Sydney's north and north-western suburbs.
I'll also mention that the car wasn't hypermiled in any way; in fact, quite the opposite. As is the case whenever an electric car falls into my possession, friends and family who are not usually interested in cars generally ask for a ride. These scenarios often see foot-to-floor acceleration events occurring a handful of times, usually down a motorway on-ramp.
After everything, power usage according to the Niro's trip computer came in at 15.1kWh/100km. Using some simple math (usage/battery size*100) we're able to learn that its theoretical range would've been 423.8km, or 31.2km less and 93 per cent of the official claim. I view that as excellent, especially after comparing it to some regular internal combustion vehicles.
I recently reviewed the 2021 Kia Rio Sport, which used 7.4L/100km versus the official combined claim of 6.0L/100km. It features a 45L fuel tank, with again some simple math deducing an official range of 750km. Using our real-world figures that drops to 608km, or 142km less and 81 per cent of what's expected.
I understand it's not a direct comparison given you can completely refill a petrol car in less than three minutes, but it's still a neat, logical way to view the Niro's efficiency figure and any 'range anxiety' that may stem from the same area.
The Niro also includes a handy list of previous trips and their efficiency figures, some of which I've included in the table below.
|Trip 1||135km travelled||14.9kWh/100km|
|Trip 2||7km travelled||14.1kWh/100km|
|Trip 3||75km travelled||15.8kWh/100km|
|Trip 4||62km travelled||14.1kWh/100km|
|Trip 5||35km travelled||13.5kWh/100km|
|Trip 6||11km travelled||14.4kWh/100km|
|Trip 7||52km travelled||16.0kWh/100km|
|Trip 8||42km travelled||14.7kWh/100km|
|Trip 9||14km travelled||14.9kWh/100km|
|Trip 10||36km travelled||15.8kWh/100km|
Performance from the electric motor is excellent. Acceleration is effortless, but standing-start scenarios are curtailed to not promote wheel spin. However, it's still quite easy, especially in the wet, to create a situation where the traction-control light flickers on the dash.
As a byproduct of your choice to buy an electric car, you have something that's humorously fast when it ought not to be. I'd say in the dry, on the roll, it feels as fast as a hot hatch. The rest is great because there's no noise or smell to go with it.
Don't expect it to handle like one, though, as it does weigh 1792kg. It's still comfortable, however, with acceptable ride quality and excellent ambiance.
Charging times vary depending on the power source. The Niro's on-board charger accepts AC single-phase charging up to 7.2kW. Using the gear supplied with the car, and a regular 240-volt power outlet, charging takes 29 hours.
That means you'd be wise to invest in a 7.2kW home charging wall box, which takes charging time down to 9hr 35min. I also say that you need to invest, as I've had poor experiences with Sydney's current (public) electric vehicle infrastructure. Regardless, when DC fast charging, zero to 80 per cent will take anywhere from 1hr 15min to 54min.
It's worth mentioning here that whilst other brands have offered free or discounted subscriptions to public charging providers, or even helped by subsidising the installation of a wallbox at your home, Kia doesn't offer much of anything.
Sure, the price point does influence the goodies that come with the car, but the South Korean brand does have grand plans to introduce more expensive EVs in the near future.
Despite all the high-tech nature of the car, the vehicle's internal presentation feels old-hat. The Kia Niro is an old car having launched internationally five years earlier. If you compare its interior design and, dare I say, quality to the brand's latest products, be it the Sorento or Carnival, you'll see the difference quite easily.
It's still a very functional cabin, however. I love the ample amounts of storage, including a large centre cubby with fold-away cupholders and a huge open storage pit underneath the gear shifter. Directly in front of this area sit some USB ports and a clever tray to store your phone.
Above all sits a 10.25-inch infotainment screen with wired Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and digital radio. It sends audio through an eight-speaker JBL sound system, which includes a subwoofer in the boot. The system sounds great, but lacks separation if it were to receive criticism.
Over in the second row, space is excellent. Behind my own driving position, set for my 183cm-tall frame, I had ample knee, toe and head room. Using this second row with a child seat is easy, regardless of whether it's forward- or rearward-mounted.
Other than a pair of rear air vents and some cup and bottle holders, it remains sparse, with no power points or fan/temp controls.
The benefit of opting for a fully electric Niro over its counterparts is because it features the biggest boot. The cargo area starts at 451L with all seats up, some 41L larger than the regular Niro hybrid, and 127L larger than the plug-in. With the second row folded that benefit extends the EV's total boot space to 1405L.
Its dimensions are respectable and easily liveable as a young family of four. It does come at the cost of a space-saving spare wheel sadly. Under the boot floor you'll find a tyre repair kit.
Drive-away, the price starts with a seven, which means most will compare the 2021 Kia Niro EV with more traditional cars like the Nissan Leaf e+, and more avant-garde ones like the Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus. All have similar driving range, and in that company the Kia's interior does feel a little old-school, like the Leaf's.