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Kia Niro EV Long-Term Review, Part 9: Beating the Cold

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Auto123 puts the Kia Niro EV to the long-term test. Today, part 9.

In my last chapter, I promised my young friend Emiliano that I would test and carefully note the effects of winter on our Kia Niro EV.

We already know that highway driving is not kind to the range of any EV. It eats up kilometres far faster than when you’re cruising around town in your EV. Wind, terrain, lack of braking and many other factors make range melt away like the memory of the Habs playing in a Stanley Cup final.

But there’s another mortal enemy of vehicle range. And we’re smack in the middle of it right now. No, not a pandemic surge. I mean cold temperatures.

You've all heard the warning: "Just you watch out - when you drive in the winter, you'll lose 30 percent of your range!"

If the person issuing the warning is excited, it could be 40 percent. Maybe even 50 percent.

But is this one of those urban legends, a myth just waiting to be busted?

And why exactly would cold weather be so deleterious?

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Winter, whoopee
Photo: D.Boshouwers
Winter, whoopee

It's no myth...
No suspense here, sorry folks. I was quickly able to confirme the perniciousness of old man winter, during two specific instances in fact. First, when recharging the Niro. Since winter has settled in, the EV can spend all night outside plugged into a 120V household outlet, but the next morning, the gain in km of range is much less than recorded in the middle of summer.

Without going into the fine details of the chemical composition and functioning of the lithium-ion batteries that equip most modern EVs - including the Niro -, I will say this: a quick search on the Web taught me that the ions that participate in the production of electricity move more lazily when confronted with cold. The immediate consequence is that the battery sitting out in your driveway, while you’re sleeping in your warm bed in your heated home, charges more slowly.

Fortunately for me, I had a solution at hand: finally clean up my little garage, at least enough to allow the Niro to spend the night there.

The benefit was immediate. Charging speed was much improved, not to mention the fact that I now get into a vehicle the interior of which is already at a decent temperature. Also I’ve been glad to say goodbye to the tedious morning ritual of removing snow and ice from the car.

So, if you want to know what will finally motivate you to get rid of the junk that’s been cluttering up the garage since long before Covid times (ie. since time immemorial), there’s your answer!

Of course, if you don't have a garage that needs cleaning up, you’re out of luck. But I won't leave you in the lurch. There are other solutions, you'll see.

The Kia Niro EV, lower console
Photo: D.Boshouwers
The Kia Niro EV, lower console

The cost of a warm butt
The second way in which winter sucks the life out of an EV’s range is heating.

And that’s because us humans are such flimsy, fragile creatures, who long ago lost our protective furs. Even once I cleaned the garage and put the car in overnight and benefited from a warm toasty interior, well, that benefit is temporary. Once I've been driving for even 15 minutes, if the outside temperature is -20 Celsius, pretty soon I’m reaching for the climate control button to crank that sucker up high.

Fatal mistake. The EV will make you pay, in kilometers of range.

And it does it instantly too. Within a nanosecond, I saw the gauge take away about 30 kilometers of range. Ouch!

In a fit of rare lucidity, I immediately turned the heating back off. And immediately got the kilometers back as if by magic.

Yet another search on trusty Web confirmed that the heating required to comfort my butt and other body parts during my outings and spare me a trip to the dentist from too much chattering of teeth can reduce an EV’s range by as much as 25 percent.

The dilemma is clear: either I’m cosy and I don't go as far on a charge, or I shiver and I go further.

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

Then I discovered that this choice between two evils wasn’t the only one open to me. There are indeed tricks that offer a satisfactory in-between solution. Plus, they’re even practical for those who don’t have a garage. Here’s what you can do:

- Heat the cabin before you leave, while the car is plugged in, even if it’s sitting outside. Not only will you enjoy a comfortable cabin, but you won't affect the range;

- If your EV is equipped with heated front seats and even a heated steering wheel (which is the case for my 2020 Niro SX Touring and is also the case for the 2022 model from the EX+ version on up), don't hesitate to use them. Their heat is all the more enjoyable because it costs much less energy than the ambient cabin heating;

- Don't overuse other on-board technologies and gadgets, at least not all at the same time, since they also drain energy;

- Adopt a driving style that doesn’t involve smashing down on the gas pedal at every opportunity; it’s a suggestion that's worth its weight in gold both in winter and summer. To help enforce this zen approach, choose the Eco mode instead of Normal or Sport. The car then optimizes the use of the heater and the gas pedal. In other words, it forces you to save range. Like an RRSP for your EV;

- In a pinch, you can even take secondary roads instead of a gas-guzzling highway to prolong range. But unless you're retired, or at least have a lot of free time, over and beyond your extended pitstops at charging stations, this is a solution that creates its own aggravations.

I won’t leave you without more good news. Despite all the aforementioned challenges to driving an EV in winter, remember that the internal combustion engine requires various fluids to operate (oil, lubricants, fuel, etc.). When it’s freezing outside, the combustion engine, if it doesn't have a heated garage to sit in, takes time to warm up. And while its fluids are thawing, it pollutes.

The electric motor, on the other hand, has zero fluids, so it starts instantly, even when parked on an ice floe populated by king penguins…

The Kia Niro EV, front end
Photo: D.Boshouwers
The Kia Niro EV, front end

See also: Kia Niro EV Long-Term Review, Part 1: The carmaker, the reviewer and the (young) enthusiast

See also: Kia Niro EV Long-Term Review, Part 2: Electric cars, a new idea with a long history

See also: Kia Niro EV Long-Term Review, Part 3: Let’s look a little more closely at this here Niro EV, shall we?

See also: Kia Niro EV Long-Term Review, Part 4: Getting a charge out of charging

See also: Kia Niro EV Long-Term Review, Part 5: Many kilometres, many questions

See also: Kia Niro EV Long-Term Review, Part 6: When the computer decides things, without consulting us

See also: Kia Niro EV Long-Term Review, Part 7: Off to Join the Electric Circuit

See also: Kia Niro EV Long-Term Review, Part 8: The Benediction