It was the range number that startled me.
No, not the posted 385 km driving range, but the readout in an instrument cluster stuffed with all sorts of information: 453 km.
Apparently, the Natural Resources Canada certified range number of 385 km is just an estimate. Your actual range may vary, depending on driving style, weather, which features your use and more. The Kia Niro EV has a computer brain that takes into consideration the latest real-world returns, then projects future performance. Thus, the 385 km certified range, becomes 453 in the real world.
I certainly could live with 450 km-plus. Yes, charging is onerous, compared to a quick gasoline fill-up. You’ll need to set aside 1 hour 15 minute to juice up to 80 per cent using a Level III DC faster charger at 50kW (54 mins on a lighting-fast 100 kW Level III).
This is where we are with EVs today. The Niro EV, which has been in the marketplace for two years, is a minor star in its little world (EVs account for less than two per cent of all light vehicle sales). It has the acceleration of a sports car, the interior space of a small panel truck, and the refinement of a near-luxury hatchback. It’s bigger than its cousin, the Hyundai Kona EV, and has a base price of $44,995.
The Niro EV, for the record, is quite refined as EVs go. It’s almost affordable for a middle-class family, as well. Almost.
But let’s be clear. Forty-five large is the going rate for a good-size crossover wagon that seats up to seven, has leather upholstery, all manner of technical bits, all-wheel drive and a 10-speaker Bose sound system. However, if you live in one of the progressive provinces in Canada – rather than the Land of Luddite Politicians in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario – then the Niro EV slides into affordable commuter car territory.
What do I mean?
In British Columbia, for instance, where the law calls for the sale of only zero emissions light duty cars and trucks by 2040, taxpayers are footing the subsidy bill to kick start the end of gas-powered vehicles even now. If you qualify, there’s a $3,000 provincial rebate on the Niro EV, to go along with the federal $5,000. If your old junker qualifies for the province’s Scrap-it Program, you could get another $6,000.
That’s $14,000 in rebates.
Just like that, your $45,000 Niro EV is a $29,000 zero-emissions hatchback with power windows/door locks/mirrors, auto cruise control and air conditioning, AM/FM/MP3/Sirius satellite radio, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, an 8.0-inch infotainment screen, all manner of safety features, a roof rack, solar glass, USB ports and…
And a 0-100 km/hour time that will challenge a Porsche Boxster, but with the energy efficiency of a Porsche Taycan: 2.1 Le/100 km. If you drive like a normal person, you might spend a $300-$400 a year on charging, versus two or three times to fuel up a regular old $25,000 Niro with a four-cylinder gas engine.
The Niro EV is a proven product, with two years of sales behind it. A recent J.D. Power & Associates survey found the Niro has the highest ownership satisfaction of any mass-market EV. Yes, the Tesla Model S has the highest EV satisfaction overall, with the Model 3 ranged second, followed by the Niro. Both the S and the 3 are much, much pricier, however.
You do have other more affordable options. Volkswagen’s new ID.4 costs about the same before subsidies, boasts more room inside and nearly identical range. The updated 2022 Chevrolet Bolt has a posted range of 417 km and is less expensive than either. It’s also smaller and not as refined. You could also look at Nissan’s Leaf and the Kia Soul EV.
Dollar for dollar I’ll take the Niro EV over all of them. The VW product is new and, so far, has been dogged with niggly problems. I like the Bolt well enough, but it’s a bit rough around the edges. The Teslas are just too expensive. The Model 3 is faster and nimbler than the Niro, but the material and build quality are give the Telsa the look and feel of a prototype, though there is tremendous cachet that comes with owning an Elon Musk-mobile.
The Niro EV I tested is the ultra-fancy SX Touring model, priced at a hefty $54,695 before subsidies. Yes, the actual design is square both literally and metaphorically. But that makes for packaging efficiency – a roomy cabin that comfortably seats four adults and plenty of cargo space, accessed through a big rear hatch.
Still, all the materials look and feel rich, almost luxurious – from the leather upholstery with white piping, to the heated and ventilated front buckets, the wireless phone charger the soft touch surfaces and the 10.25-inch LCD screen armed with Kia’s excellent UVO infotainment interface.
This little rig has a 210-horsepower electric motor to drive the front wheels. In Sport mode, it absolutely flies. Yes, you need to be careful not to light up the front tires. I suspect that once a mass of drivers get their hands on a racy EV like this one, they’ll never want to pilot a pokey gas car again.
A last observation: I was thoroughly amused by the gentle sing-songy harmonics that Kia has built into the Niro EV, to warn pedestrians that an otherwise silent battery car is on the prowl. Quaint.
This is the future, folks. All the big automakers and a bunch of smaller ones are racing into the EV game. Just this past week, General Motors said it would up its EV and autonomous vehicle spend to US$35 billion from 2020-2025 – with some 30 EVs to be rolled out in this period. GM’s Cadillac will be its EV flagship brand.
Ford Motor this week said its entire Lincoln lineup will be EV or plug-in hybrid by 2030, with four pure EVs in the mix. By 2030, Ford says 40 per cent of its lineup will be electrified, the result of a previously announced US$22-billion investment in electrification. Automakers big and small are making the same promises – to go all-in on electrification.
For now, though, for today, the Niro EV is a proven battery-only car, one that’s quick, efficient, well crafted, technologically sound, completely functional and, best of all, under-promises and over-delivers on range. If I’m spending my money on an EV, this is the one.