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2020 Kia Niro EV Review: Closer and Closer

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Auto123 reviews the 2020 Kia Niro EV.

Indulging in a bit of gratuitous range anxiety, I turned off the heating in my 2020 Kia Niro EV tester (in early December, at -5 degrees Celsius) just so the remaining-charge readout in front of me could display the highest possible number. 393 km. A nice number, one that would stop me stressing for oh, 20 km.

Rationally I knew perfectly well that my trip for the day, a 220-km return ride to the Eastern Townships from Montreal, was well within the capacities of the Niro EV’s battery pack. But most of that distance would be highway driving, I said to myself, and I proceeded to do the math four times. And zip up my jacket.

There in a nutshell is a principal hurdle that makers of EVs have to overcome as they hope to convince motorists to go electric. We’re so used to having a gas station at virtually every corner or every exit off the highway that anything less feels inadequate, as well as an invitation to getting stranded.

In the case of the Niro EV and other current models of its type – the Hyundai Kona, Kia’s Soul, etc. – what’s lost in this angst is the fact that it’s now totally routine to have a 400-km range at our disposal. We're a long way from the 200 km of the e-Golf, for example, and yet it's as if we still stress as if we're not.

2020 Kia Niro EV, profile
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2020 Kia Niro EV, profile

Pricing
Now, granted, the pricing for an EV like this remains on the high side, though of course the federal discount of $5,000 and the provincial subsidies available to residents of British Columbia and Quebec help make that pricing more competitive. But it’s still necessary to take the long view in calculating when the investment in an EV becomes a winning one. As in, how many months of use will it take before my savings on gas make up for the bigger initial outlay?

In the case of the Niro EV, 2020 edition, the starting price is set at $46,905, with transport and preparation fees included. From that amount plus the applicable sales taxes, you can deduct the federal discount; those in EV-friendly Quebec get another $8,000 off of that, bringing the total there to a more-reasonable total hovering around the $41,000 mark. Outside of that province you’re still left with a substantial initial outlay, but in the months to come you’ll gradually reel that back by paying exactly zero for gas. And that's without calculating the reduction in maintenance costs you can expect.

2020 Kia Niro EV, front
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2020 Kia Niro EV, front

The 2020 edition
So what does that give you? Well nothing much different than what the model delivered last year. This year Kia did change the headlights and taillights, the interior is a bit roomier, and there’s a new multimedia display on the screen, which is bigger.

The product offering is a blessedly simple one: buyers can choose from the base EX version or the SX Touring model (costing $56,405). Both offer the same official range of 385 km, and ride on the same 17-inch alloy wheels.

The EX comes with a smart key with push-button start, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and the UVO Intelligence system. The SX Touring, the version we tested, adds in a power sunroof, heated steering wheel and heated front and rear seats, a harmon/kardon audio system and the lane keeping assist and blind spot detection systems. The EX comes in just the one colour, Aurora Black, while the SX Touring can be also be had in Snow White Pearl, Gravity Blue and Graphite. No groveling for the youth crowd here with flamboyant orange, green and yellow hues, apparently. Best leave that to the Soul.

2020 Kia Niro EV, interior
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2020 Kia Niro EV, interior

Inside is a roomy space overall, thanks in good part to the relatively boxy shape of the model. Head room is thus plentiful – no low-ceiling claustrophobia here, or difficulty descending into the vehicle – and legroom up front is more then enough. In back it’s a little more cramped, but still pretty decent, so this is a perfectly acceptable choice for city-dwelling small families.

As mentioned, the multimedia interface is new for 2020, and it’s all pretty intuitive and straightforward to use, so my search to find things that irritated me was in vain. Of course, being in the high-end SX Touring version, I had the larger 10.25-inch screen to play with, and I might have found the base model’s 8-inch screen a trifle small (both are larger than the outgoing model’s).

This version of the Niro also includes LED interior lighting and ambient mood lighting, a feature that is frankly so essential to the driving experience that I only became aware of it on reading the specs sheet after I’d driven the model. Oh well, some might get a kick out of it, and maybe I just didn’t drive the thing enough after dark…

One thing I did very much notice, happily, was that the seat heating system does not actually pull juice from the battery pack (or at least, that’s what the onboard data display told me). Which was of course quite comforting – literally - during my irrational shutdown of the heating system to maximize range.

2020 Kia Niro EV, seats
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2020 Kia Niro EV, seats

The drive
Range anxiety aside, the most notable thing about driving a pocket-sized electric vehicle like this is all that instantly available torque. I never drive these things for more than a week at a stretch, but I for one never tire of speeding silently off of a traffic light (and glancing with a superior smirk in the rear-view mirror at all the vehicles I’ve left behind). This does almost as much as the gas-saving aspect to make the Niro EV such an ideal city driver.

Aside from that, handling is decent if not particularly sporty. This little SUV is a tight little package that takes corners well, but steering is on the soft side. The Niro is also not the best for absorbing the beating inflicted by our bad roads, though the seats themselves are comfortable enough.

Note there are paddle shifters mounted on the back of the steering wheel, though here they’re obviously not for shifting gears (or even simulating shifting them); rather they’re there to set the level of braking power applied when you release the accelerator pedal and thus the amount of energy that gets returned to the battery pack. The top level does require a bit of adjusting to, and you may actually feel a little sea-sickness initially as the car slows down with less input from your foot (and, crucially, your brain), creating a herky-jerky feel. Rest assured, you’ll quickly get your sea legs.

2020 Kia Niro EV, three-quarters rear
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2020 Kia Niro EV, three-quarters rear

In fact, the maximum level of the regenerative braking is not set quite high enough to enable you to drive with one pedal, like you can in most situations in the Nissan LEAF, for example. It’s something I personally would like to see, because once you habituate yourself to it, single-pedal driving is a pleasure.

Lastly, while the car’s natural element is the city, it’s not as if you feel handicapped on the highway. Acceleration is as mentioned plenty perky, even when going from 80 to 100 km/h and beyond, so passing is no more of a worry than in the regular Niro. Which leaves only the stress you self-inflict from staring at the remaining-charge indicator every five minutes!

Note that in the weeks and months to come, we will have for you several chapters of a long-term review of the Kia Niro EV, as we drive the model over several months so we can test this electric vehicle in all possible conditions. Stay tuned!

2020 Kia Niro EV, front
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2020 Kia Niro EV, front
2020 Kia Niro EV, charging port
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2020 Kia Niro EV, charging port

We like

Interior roominess, particularly up front
Instant torque
Regenerative braking allows for (almost) single-pedal driving
Intuitive multimedia system
Say goodbye to the gas pump

We like less

Say hello to range anxiety (until you can tame it)
Could be sportier in its handling
Materials and finishing a little on the cheap side
Slightly rough ride on bumpier roads

The competition

Chevrolet Bolt
Hyundai Kona Electric
Kia Soul EV
Nissan LEAF
Volkswagen e-Golf

2020 Kia Niro EV, rear
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2020 Kia Niro EV, rear

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Photos:D.Boshouwers
2020 Kia Niro EV pictures