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First drive: Kia e-Niro. Image by Kia.

First drive: Kia e-Niro
Kia's e-Niro electric car can now offer you Tesla-like range at a, well, at a Kia-like price.

   



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Kia e-Niro

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Kia's e-Niro proves that the electric car is coming of age. It's affordable and easy to use, has a very long, genuinely useable range, and could be one of the cars that opens the floodgates of electric car motoring.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Kia e-Niro 64kWh 'Long-Range'
Pricing: 32,995 as tested
Engine: permanent magnet synchronous motor
Transmission: single-speed reduction gear, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door, five-seat crossover
CO2 emissions: 0g/km (VED Band 0 - 0 per annum)
Driving range: 282 miles (WLTP)
Top speed: 103mph
0-62mph: 7.8 seconds
Power: 204hp
Torque: 395Nm
Boot space: 451-1,405 litres

What's this?

This is, just possibly, Kia's game-changer. After all, it's not every day that a car maker comes along and offers you Tesla-like levels of electric motoring range, with a price tag that's rather more palatable to average family motorists. It's probably not over-selling it to say that the Kia e-Niro (and yes; it already has Robert DeNiro on board for the advertising campaign) could be one of the cornerstone cars of the electric driving revolution.

That's because it has seriously long range. Well, it does if you buy the top-spec 64kWh version, with the biggest battery. There is a more basic, more affordable, 39kWh battery model, but that has a mere 180 miles of full-charge range, compared to the 282 miles of this big-battery version. The battery stack, all 400kg of it, is packaged under the floor in an aluminium crash structure, and it's so well packaged that there's actually more space in the boot - 451 litres - than there is in the standard Kia Niro hybrid. It does mean that the weight has gone up, of course, to a not insubstantial 1,791kg, which is pretty hefty. To cope with that, Kia has added more aluminium components to the suspension, added an extra rear vibration damper and raised the overall height of the car by 25mm.

In terms of styling changes, there's nothing major - it still looks like a familiar Niro, half-way between an SUV and an estate. The visual changes are limited to a new, blanked-off grille, new bumpers, new arrow-head shaped daytime running lights and some bright blue pinstriping around some of the edges.

Inside, the cabin gets a new all-digital seven-inch instrument cluster, plus the choice of seven- or eight-inch infotainment screens (depending on the spec). The gear selector is now a big (and slightly awkward) rotary switch, and the safety kit has also been given a boost. The automated emergency braking can now detect both pedestrians and cyclists and there's the option of active cruise control, plus a blind-spot monitor.

The rest of the interior is unchanged, which is fine - the Niro's cabin has always been at the plain and functional end of the spectrum, but it's conspicuously well-made, and is generally very comfortable.

How does it drive?

Obviously, at first, the driving experience is dominated by the battery and electric motor. With 204hp, that electric motor is no sluggard, and if you engage Sport mode, then the e-Niro surges ahead with no little venom. Step-off acceleration, thanks to 395Nm of instant torque, is hugely impressive, and even on the motorway, the e-Niro pulls hard above 60mph.

Of course, being electric, it's also impressively silent and relaxing at low speeds around town, aside from the artificial humming noise, projected ahead of the car to warn inattentive pedestrians of your approach, which can become wearing after a while.

The most impressive part really is the range, though. We have become tiresomely used to electric cars proclaiming long range travel that just isn't realistically useable in day-to-day conditions, but the e-Niro really does seem to hit its claimed marks. Climbing aboard a fully-charged version on our first test drive, we saw an indicated range to recharge of 420km (that's 260 miles). We then drove it on a mixed route of urban stop-start, and some very steep, twisty, mountain roads, and returned back to base some 60km (37 miles) later with 370km (229 miles) remaining in the batteries.

Most of our driving had been in the power-saving Eco mode (there's an Eco Plus mode too, which switches off the climate control and restricts the top speed to 90km/h and which is best thought of as a 'get-me-home' mode for emergencies), although we did occasionally dip into Sport mode for maximum acceleration. It was an impressive performance.

Better was to come. Motorway mileage is normally an electric car's worst nightmare, but the e-Niro coped admirably with around 40km (25 miles) of fast motorway work, its range to recharge number dropping steadily, rather than plummeting precipitously. The end of range anxiety, at last? Just maybe.

The downside is that the e-Niro is not what you'd call inspiring to drive. Kia made much play of the fact that it wanted to develop an electric car that would allay buyers' concerns that such vehicles are not exciting to drive, but it hasn't managed it. The e-Niro has rubbery, over-assisted steering that makes cornering an exercise in turning, waiting for a response, correcting, turning again... It's just not good, and that's not helped by a ride quality that's definitely too firm for comfort.

Verdict

OK, so the e-Niro isn't any fun to drive, and it's going to be jiggly on all but the smoothest tarmac. It's still a very impressive car, with a truly useful one-charge range that holds up in the real world. Long haul electric motoring has just been brought to the masses.

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Exterior Design

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

3 3 3 3 3 Comfort

2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Neil Briscoe - 11 Dec 2018



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