2021 Kia Niro EV

By December 30, 2020

The Kia Niro EV is a fully electric hatchback with an EPA-rated 239 miles of range, and a stance that gives it the appearance of a utility vehicle, although it only comes as front-wheel drive. Its strong point is performance. Its cabin is roomy and versatile, but the seats lack support and the ride isn’t as smooth as it might be.

The Niro was introduced for 2019 and got some updates in 2020, but is expected to enter 2021 with minimal changes. 

The single electric motor makes 201 horsepower and a whopping 291 pound-feet of torque, which helps propel the Niro EV to 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds, and keep it flying at freeway speeds. The handling and roadholding are good, but it’s not as nimble as the similar Niro hybrid because it’s 700 pounds heavier due to the batteries. 

The 7.2-kw onboard AC charger, standard on the base EX model, can fully charge the Niro EV in about 9.5 hours on a 240-volt circuit. Optional on the EX, and standard on the Premium model, is DC fast-charging, which gains up to 100 miles of range in 30 minutes, or go from zero to 80% charge in 54 minutes.

In addition to rating the range at 239 miles, the EPA says that the Niro EV achieves 112 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent).

The Niro EV hasn’t been crash tested yet. The Niro hybrid and plug-in hybrid have scored well, but they weigh less. Standard safety equipment includes automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control

Kia only sells the EV in California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Texas, and Washington.

Model Lineup

Pricing for 2021 hasn’t yet been released. For the 2020 model year, the Niro EV EX started at $40,210, while the EX Premium was $45,710. 

The EX comes with an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, satellite radio, and rear climate-control vents. One important option is the Cold Weather Package, for $1,000, which brings a heat pump, battery heater, and heated steering wheel. Most cars on dealers’ lots in cold-weather states will have this option. 

The Premium adds a 10.3-inch touchscreen, navigation, power sunroof, interior mood lighting, heated and cooled front seats, leather upholstery, and a Harman Kardon premium sound system. 

A $7,500 federal EV tax credit applies to qualifying buyers of the Niro EV, as well as various local and state incentives. 

Exterior

The Niro EV isn’t daring, rugged, or sporty, but it is reasonably well-proportioned, with some token hints of all-weather capability in the rubberized wheel-well trim. There is no grille in the nose, just a plastic panel with a pattern of diamond-shaped dimples, plus some tidy blue accent lines down low.

Interior

The instrument panel features large touchscreens, a twist-dial shifter, a center console that uses space efficiently, and matching blue accents. One especially nice thing is that the  infotainment interface is intuitive. However, even on the Premium model with its price in the high $40,000s, the interior feels frugal. The materials appear durable, but there’s nothing about the cabin ambiance that approaches luxury. 

The front seats don’t have enough support for some drivers. They sit high without the adjustability to lower them. The good news is that seat height is just right for getting in and out. 

That said, the interior is versatile and well packaged. There are no humps in the rear from the battery pack, not even when the rear bench seat is folded to make more cargo space. But because the Niro is narrow, only two will fit comfortably in that seat.  

Driving Impressions 

The Niro EV might not be able to beat a Tesla in a drag race, but its acceleration is strong. A permanent-magnet electric motor produces 201 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque, and it can take off with an urgency that blows away the Niro hybrids. It can squeal the front tires from a stop sign and hit 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds. And, unlike many other electric vehicles, the rush doesn’t fade past 60 mph.

Because it carries about 1,000 pounds of batteries under the floorboards, its handling isn’t exactly nimble. It feels out of place on winding roads, where the steering is slow to respond. What’s more, surprisingly given the extra weight, it bounces and bounds over the bumps. But back out on the smooth highway, it feels more settled than its Niro hybrid half-brothers.

Energy is recovered and fed back into the battery pack by regenerative braking, which, when you lift your foot off the accelerator, feels like downshifting in a car with a manual transmission. For some drivers, it’s an unwanted feeling, because it makes it impossible to glide to a stop, or even to drive smoothly in city traffic. 

However the Niro EV has three modes to deal with these dynamics, via steering-wheel paddles; in fact, the Auto mode uses adaptive cruise-control sensors. Or you can select a mode to adjust how much the car responds to the accelerator, as well as the brake pedal that can feel spongy at times.

Our driving experience in the 2020 Niro EV has indicated that the 239-mile EPA range is realistic and entirely achievable. Even in winter, which is what the heat pump in the optional Cold Weather Package is designed to overcome.

Final Word

The 2021 Kia Niro EV is one of the few electric vehicles to exceed 200 miles in range and to sell for less than $50,000. It’s pricey and shows its economy-car roots, but it performs admirably well. It’s only available in certain states, but it’s an interesting choice for those who live in those places, and want to make the switch to all-electric driving.

 

—by Sam Moses with driving impressions by The Car Connection  

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