Auto123 puts the Kia Niro EV to the long-term test. Today, part 20, as we wrap ‘er up.
In our previous chapter, what my colleague elegantly called the penultimate verdict was made as we wound down our long-term test drive of a 2020 Kia Niro EV. That meant, thoughtfully, leaving the ULTIMATE verdict to me. But, they did such a thorough job summarizing the vehicle's technical specs while drawing attention to its strengths and weaknesses, that I feared for a moment I'd have nothing left to say in this final chapter!
Fortunately, I found stuff to go on about. Let’s start with the brickbats, before we get to the bouquets.
Oh boy, those brakes!
Braking is possibly the most disconcerting aspect of an EV when you first drive one. Along with the silence. Luckily, the art and science of recovering energy by modulating the pressure you apply to the accelerator pedal is easily learned. Another lesson you learn quickly is that, in most EVs, you can choose the degree of regeneration you want to get when you take your foot off the “gas”.
The Niro EV is one of those EVs. It has two paddles on the steering wheel that allow you to adjust this regeneration effect - one for more, one for less. We also know that some newer EVs now encourage single-pedal driving, with the vehicle coming to a complete stop just by releasing the throttle.
In short, regardless of the EV, the brakes are used differently, which means less often. And it’s only natural then that they become a little… rusty. Often, at the beginning of a trip with the Niro, the first few times I braked, even if only slightly, I heard a squeaking sound between the discs and calipers. Like a knee that goes from immobile to running, the brakes needed to work out the kinks, you might say; eventually they warm up and stopped complaining, but until then you have to endure some annoying friction.
The experts I consulted about this confirmed that brakes are a priority to watch during inspections of EVs. Good to know.
Still on the subject of brakes: there were times when, when I really needed them, they failed me. No brakes! Though I will reassure you right away: this might last for a very, very short time, as in less than a second. But that's enough to make you nervous...
The phenomenon only happened two or three times during the year. The boss told me he’d also experienced it. When we compared notes, we understood what had triggered this momentary lack of response when applying the brake pedal. It occurred whenever we drove over an unexpected obstacle while braking firmly. It could be a pothole or a railroad track (I come in too fast and, to lessen the impact with the bump and rails, apply the brakes).
I don't know what exactly was going on when the stars aligned to create this brake disengagement (anyone out there know more?). It made me more curious than scared, mostly, since, again, the weirdness lasted for the blink of an eye. But I still think that engineers should address the issue.
Other than that...
I hate blind spots. We all do. Fortunately, for the past several years, vehicles have increasingly been equipped with a system that warns you when another vehicle is coming up on your left at Mach-something speed. A warning light in the left mirror lights up and you avoid another potential accident, and bless the technology.
Newer cars have taken upon themselves to monitor your vehicle’s right side as well, in some cases relaying a video to the dashboard. The 2020 Niro EV did not have this right-side sensor. Which is a shame, because due to the way my seat was adjusted, to the thickness of the passenger headrest and to the location of the B-pillar, I had to turn my neck quite hard, but my field of vision was still obstructed, so that more than once, I was startled to realize at the last second that there was a vehicle right where I was headed. Where did they come from!? Another mystery. Anyways, a swing of the steering wheel and few swear words later, I’d shake my head and repeat to myself to be more careful. And then it would happen again.
It probably won't happen to you if you adjust your seat differently than mine.
How often does it happen that something over-delivers on its promises? Not very often, right? Well, the Niro EV did, in regard to its range.
Kia advertises a range of 385 km but in reality you get more. My record was 437 km. The boss made mention of 500 km. I refrained from asking them what they’ve been smoking, instead congratulating them on their superior electrons. In any case, this is a very satisfying range, and one that’s gone toe-to-toe with just about all the newer EVs launched on the market since 2018, the year the Niro EV was born.
In other words, Kia’s skill at curing, or at least treating, range anxiety is longstanding and one of the best in the business.
I also like the Niro’s sober, unassuming design. Makers of the first EVs often thought they had to give them Star Trek-inspired shapes and contours. The Niro doesn't play the “cutting edge” card. The only signs that betray its all-electric status are some turquoise accents on the body; those represent a very minor, discreet concession to modernity, even as they often helped me spot the otherwise everyman-looking car in the Costco parking lot.
The interior is just like the exterior: practical, ergonomic and spacious, including a cargo hold and a folding rear seat that helped me out many times. I must admit, however, that the central screen area and display needs a bit of work, its wrinkles kind of starting to show. As it happens, that’s one of the points to be addressed by the upcoming second-generation 2023 Niro. We can expect a futuristic dashboard similar to that of the new Kia EV6.
I will now and forever associate the pleasure of driving a robust, fast and quiet Niro EV with my true introduction to the electric world. At the beginning of this year-long date with the car, I was feeling insecure, but now I don't go anywhere without my Electric Circuit charging card. Just like a real pro.
The number of charging stations in La Belle Province is relatively big and continues to grow, and using them is a breeze (once the initiation period is behind you). I now understand better what one of my experts told me at the very beginning of my time with the Niro EV: “You really have to do it on purpose to run out of juice in Quebec with your EV!” I’m fortunate to live where I do in that respect.
Speaking of experts, I'd like to thank: Yan Gosselin, agronomist from Montmagny, Yannick Lemelin, customer service coordinator at BEQ Technology, Maxence Huard-Lefebvre, spokesperson for Hydro-Québec, Sylvain Bouffard, director of communications and public affairs at AddÉnergie, Didier Marsaud, director of corporate communications at Nissan, Hugues Bissonnette, national director of Polestar, and Daniel Breton, president and CEO of Electric Mobility Canada.
And let's not forget Emiliano, my young neighbor, whose fresh eyes and perceptive observations often enlightened me. By the time he’s grown up, electric vehicles will be the norm. Maybe even flying cars.
A final thank you to Kia Canada, especially to Frédéric Tremblay and Susan Bernardo, respectively in charge of public relations for the Belle Province and for Canada during my test period. Without their faith in this investment of time and money, I would not have had the opportunity to live this very instructive experience.
I handed over the fob to the Kia Niro EV with some reluctance. But my sadness is some Kia dealer's joy: given the current used-vehicle market, this SX Touring model, which had an MSRP of $56,000, will probably find a buyer ready to pay around $62,000, two years and 25,000 km later!
Taking into account current gas prices that haven’t seen sub-$2-per-litre levels in some time now, given the current shortage of models in showrooms and given the great pleasure I had driving this Niro EV, its future owner will be as happy as the dealer.