Award-winning, in-demand crossover marks Kia’s true arrival into the EV market

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The reception of the second all-electric Kia to go on sale in the UK, the award-winning Kia e-Niro crossover hatchback, has been somewhat different than that of the first. The Soul EV went on sale in 2014, but it took until 2018 for the car to pass 500 registrations in this country.

That was a crossover supermini initially available with a 27kWh drive battery, and with 132 miles of claimed range, 0-62mph performance taking longer than 10 seconds and a punchy £30k asking price. The Kia e-Niro marks a stark contrast to the original Soul EV in so many ways, but the biggest of them all is nicely epitomised by the fact that it burned through the 900-unit UK sales allocation for 2019 inside of its first month on general sale.

Charging port is on the front grille. As a rule, we prefer them on the back of the car so you don’t have to drive forward into parking bays

With a battery supply bottleneck limiting Kia’s production ramp-up, dealers are currently advising customers putting a deposit down today that it might be a year, or longer, before their orders can be satisfied. There is an outstanding e-Niro order bank of some 5000 cars to deliver in Kia’s native South Korea alone.

You’d have to assume, then, that Kia has done things a lot differently with the e-Niro than it did back then with the Soul EV. People all over the world are plainly very ready to buy this car – and this week, we measure precisely how great a step change in the developmental story of the mass-market electric car it represents.

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Price £32,995* Power 201bhp Torque 291lb ft 0-60mph 7.2sec 30-70mph in fourth na Fuel economy 3.5mpkWh CO2 emissions 0g/km 70-0mph 45.3m

The Kia Niro crossover is offered in hybrid, plug-in hybrid and now fully electric forms, although the only one available in more than one trim and equipment level is the first in the list (2, 3 and 4 trims, with just over £4000 between the cheapest and most expensive).

The cheapest hybrid still gets touchscreen sat-nav and a reversing camera as standard; the most expensive adds smart cruise control, xenon headlights and leather upholstery. Interestingly, the e-Niro gets bigger alloy wheels and a bigger boot than the PHEV.



Kia e-Niro 2019 road test review - hero side

Since the Soul EV was a combustion-engined adaptation, the e-Niro can be thought of as Kia’s first purpose-built electric car; although, since hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the Kia Niro are also available, that may seem a slightly troubling notion to contemplate.

It may therefore be more helpful to explain that both the Niro and e-Niro are built on a platform designed from a clean sheet to accept electric, plug-in hybrid and hybrid powertrain options. It’s the e-Niro that offers the most power and the best claimed performance statistics of the three, being priced at the sort of 20% premium over and above the PHEV version that you would expect of a performance-tuned hot hatchback compared with a mid-range model.

Odd not to find LED headlights on a car like this, although the e-Niro’s halogens are powerful enough and have a decent auto-dipping system

The e-Niro has a 64kWh drive battery with two and a half times as much storage capacity as the Soul EV had five years ago; which, for the moment, is significantly more than the majority of similarly priced EVs offer. Because it’s a purpose-built EV, it carries that battery between the axles and under the cabin floor, where it doesn’t adversely affect the car’s storage space or weight distribution. The liquid-cooled, lithium ion battery weighs 457kg all on its own, and makes for a car with an unladen weight claimed at a whisker over 1.8 tonnes – and which we measured at a whisker under that threshold.

That makes it particularly heavy, of course, for a car that sits somewhere between a Kia Ceed and a Kia Sportage on outright size – so it’s a good job Kia didn’t forget to include a motor ready to move that mass easily. The e-Niro’s AC synchronous electric motor drives the car’s front wheels directly through a fixed ratio, but produces 201bhp of peak power and 291lb ft of torque. Which, for the record, makes for a better power-to-weight ratio than a Seat Ateca 1.5 TSI FR, and more torque to weight than one or two lower-order hot hatchbacks we could mention.

Suspension for the car is via MacPherson struts at the front axle and a multi-link rear. Seventeen-inch alloy wheels, wrapped with 215-section tyres, are the only options available – and while the latter are the same size as the ones on the related Hyundai Kona Electric we tested only last year, they’re Michelins rather than Nexens. Since the Hyundai suffered with questionable grip and traction, that may well prove to be a significant point to note.

Relative to other Niros, meanwhile, the e-Niro gets extra noise insulation in its A- and B-pillars and more noise-insulating front subframe bushes, in all cases to counteract the greater perception of wind and road noise that the absence of a humming combustion engine can cause.


Kia e-Niro 2019 road test review - front seats

Being an added-convenience crossover hatchback, the e-Niro is a proper adult-sized four-seater with room for three kids across the second row at a push. It has a 451-litre boot that is unintruded by the presence of batteries and leaves an under-floor storage cubby for your charging cables. It is a more practical family car, by all of those measures, than a Nissan Leaf and offers fully 90mm more second-row leg room than the Hyundai Kona Electric that we criticised for its shortage of cabin space. In each of those respects, then, as a particularly practical, affordable, all-electric family car, you might say the e-Niro is something of a first.

It offers a comfortable, ergonomically sound driving position, too, with all of the controls and the digital instrumentation someone already well versed in the business of driving a modern EV could want. You’ll locate a rotary transmission controller on a raised centre console, but you’ll also find what look like gearshift paddles behind the steering wheel.

Three blue lights on the top of the dash flash in sequence during charging so you can get an idea from outside, at a glance, how full your battery is. Handy.

They’re actually there to allow you to incrementally control the regenerative braking of the car’s electric motor that happens on a trailing throttle, and that has such an abiding influence on how different a modern EV is to drive from any combustion-engined car. Pull the right-hand paddle and the car’s regen cycles upwards to max; pull the left-hand one and it cycles back to nothing, allowing the car to coast entirely unchecked when you lift off the accelerator.

Those regen paddles are also typical of the e-Niro’s fixtures and fittings as regards perceived quality, because they’re quite expensive on the eye but much cheaper to the touch. The car’s interior door handles also look like metal but feel unmistakably like plastic – and fairly cheap plastic at that – and although much of the cabin’s lesser switchgear and other fixtures look and feel more materially solid, you do wonder why Kia didn’t spend a bit more in the areas where you can’t help but physically interact with the car.

The e-Niro’s infotainment system is very respectable, without being particularly impressive on a car of this price and type. First Edition cars get an 8.0in touchscreen set-up with DAB radio and factory navigation, the latter including European mapping (should you find yourself abroad and reticent to use your mobile data connection) as well as live traffic information provided by TomTom.

The navigation mapping detail is a bit basic, and it has that sparse, oversimple feel about the menus that smacks of something designed to work on a smaller, third-party system’s screen. Still, it works well enough. And you can, of course, use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto mirroring instead, both of which the e-Niro gets as standard, as well as wireless charging for Qi-equipped handsets.

The car’s audio is an eight-speaker, 320-watt system from JBL, which sounds a bit more weedy than you might expect for what is alleged to be a ‘premium’ package.


Kia e-Niro 2019 road test review - charging port

The e-Niro’s electric motor certainly isn’t silent when working hard – although it’s quieter than an internal combustion engine would be when asked to perform in the same way. It makes a high-pitched electronic whine under load, layered against a gentle turbine whizz as the rotor gathers speed, that’s not loud or bothersome, and isn’t without intriguing audible character.

It’s interesting that, just as its partner brand Hyundai did with the Kona Electric, Kia has engineered a very slight but perceptible instant of hesitation into the e-Niro’s throttle response – albeit one that only seems to apply when the car’s accelerating away from standing.

There’s little more liberating in modern motoring than the feeling you get from an EV sailing serenely down a gentle gradient, regenerating just enough energy to keep it from running away unchecked, and gaining range as it goes

Dip deep into the right-hand pedal and the e-Niro accelerates with real purpose, right from the moment its driven axle begins to turn – but there’s a split second of delay between the movement of your right foot and the animation of that axle. It’s something that some EVs don’t have, and it’s plainly there to help ‘normalise’ the electric driving experience for those who’ve spent decades driving combustion-engined cars and won’t be used to such a rapier connection between pedal input and system output.

On the run, the e-Niro starts out feeling really brisk up to about 50mph, its potency beginning to tail off slightly above that speed as we’ve become used to from directly driven EVs, but remaining punchy enough to feel authoritative and swift even at motorway speeds. The car goes from 30-50mph in 2.4sec: a tenth slower than the Kona Electric managed, but also only two-tenths slower than the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S we tested in 2016. From 60-80mph, it’s an order slower – but still almost a second quicker than a BMW 520d.

Arguably even more impressive than the instant, seamless muscle of the e-Niro’s powertrain, however, is how controllable the car’s adaptable regen settings make it. Being able to choose exactly where and how quickly the electric motor recovers kinetic energy is critically important to both the drivability and the energy efficiency of an EV, and the e-Niro’s paddles allow you to do just that.

The car also has something called Predictive Energy Control, which uses its radar cruise control sensors to measure your closing speed to any car in front and can automatically blend in motor regen on your behalf if you want it to.


Kia e-Niro 2019 road test review - cornering front

When you’ve got nearly half a tonne of battery mass to deal with, it’s clearly easier to hide it in a bigger car with a longer wheelbase that it would be in a smaller, shorter one. That’s what the handling of the e-Niro teaches you, specifically by creating a more settled, stable and secure impression than the related Hyundai Kona Electric tested last year. The bigger point worth noting here is simply the lack of dynamic compromise that the e-Niro imposes.

From the way this car handles, how agile, manoeuvrable and obedient it feels, the way it grips the road and the quiet assurance with which it deals with tighter bends and roundabouts, the e-Niro just seems like a well-sorted, well-behaved biggish family hatchback. It doesn’t feel short of grip or traction compared with the average crossover hatchback, as some EVs can. It doesn’t run out of body control when driven quickly or given a testing combination of lumps and bumps to deal with. It is a very dynamically competent act, and an almost entirely blameless and vice-free drive.

Even with a half-tonne battery between the axles, the e-Niro can deliver hot hatchback performance, sound body control and nearly 300 miles of range

Which doesn’t quite mean that there aren’t one or two things it couldn’t do better, of course. The e-Niro’s steering, in particular, though well-paced, isn’t the most satisfying to use, having a little bit too much cloying weight and communicating little by way of tyre loading or contact patch feel. But, while remote-feeling, it’s a long way from obstructive or objectionable and doesn’t prevent you from enjoying what is a creditable dynamic showing overall.

The e-Niro copes fairly well with the dynamic abuse test that is the Millbrook Hill Route – which is to say, as well as it needs to in order to feel secure and contained when driven fairly quickly on the road.

Placing the e-Niro’s drive battery down low doesn’t prevent it entirely from affecting the car’s limit handling, but it certainly helps take the sting out of the equation. The EV grips the road quite well and doesn’t roll excessively or run out of adhesion suddenly, so it’s entirely drivable even as the electronic stability control begins to chime in, which it does with subtlety but effectiveness.

Brake pedal feel remains a bit of a barrier to the act of driving both quickly and smoothly, but it gets much better in the car’s sport driving mode than it is in Eco or Eco+, where the regenerative mushiness it would otherwise suffer with is mostly tuned out.


Although EVs have come a long way in a few years, plenty of people will still expect a car like this to need every shred of cruising range that might be extracted from its drive battery, and therefore to run on noisy, hard-compound economy tyres; to be cradled low to the ground on its springs so as to be more aerodynamic – and, as a consequence, not to ride well; and to struggle to contain its mass over tougher surfaces, as heavier smallish cars so often do.

None of the above applies to the e-Niro. It has a ride with good noise isolation, so you don’t hear the tyres on the road any more than you expect to; and it has suspension that juggles the need to be supple over shorter, sharper bumps against the need to feel reined in over bigger ones quite well. In the latter respect, you can certainly feel that the e-Niro is heavier than the average family hatchback over long-wave intrusions taken around the national speed limit, but it’s still not a car that’s disconcertingly short on vertical body control even when you’re in a hurry.

Kia’s efforts to make the e-Niro’s body more aerodynamic and to defend against wind noise also pay dividends. At a motorway cruise, there is a little bit of wind rustle apparent around the door mirrors and A-pillars – but not enough to complain about.


Kia e-Niro 2019 road test review - hero front

We’ll cut to the chase here. Kia’s WLTP range and efficiency lab testing suggests an urban range for the e-Niro of 382 miles, and a combined one of 282 miles.

Our testing results are a touch less generous, suggesting that 230 miles is the car’s absolute range limit at a UK motorway-typical 70mph (what we call our touring test), rising to 294 miles if you slow to 50mph and drive in a fairly economical style, as you might on A- and B-roads. Those figures aren’t quite the equal of the Hyundai Kona Electric, but they’re still very commendable for an EV of this, or indeed any, price.

CAP expects e-Niro residuals to be slightly poorer than for Kona Electric, but better than for Nissan Leaf

Charging a 64kWh battery, meanwhile, clearly isn’t the work of a moment – but with a typical domestic UK wallbox charger, it can be achieved at home (for those with a driveway on which to park) to 80% full in less than 10 hours. On a 100kW DC rapid charger, via the car’s CCS Combo connection, the same is possible in less than an hour.

The e-Niro is available in only one model grade for now. The First Edition gets halogen headlights, 17in alloy wheels, heated leather seats and adaptive cruise control as standard; costs £36,495 before the £3500 money-off incentive currently available from the UK government; and qualifies for free VED road tax and 16% benefit-in-kind tax.



Kia e-Niro 2019 road test review - static

When the Hyundai Kona Electric came along only last year, we marvelled that any sub-£35,000 EV could offer so much battery capacity. But there will be a series-production version of the popular Nissan Leaf along soon with almost as much, and right now there’s the Kia e-Niro, too: a car featuring almost as much real-world range and performance as its Hyundai sister car but with better usability, better refinement and better ride and handling to seal the deal.

There is just a hint of plasticky feel about the e-Niro’s interior. Likewise, there is a slight sense that its driving experience is of fine attention to detail but not one to inspire over longer acquaintance. Both observations explain why we’re not giving it a five-star recommendation, even though some will argue that such an outstanding EV deserves one.

The very best affordable EV yet appraised on this website

Our response would be that we’ve given outstanding EVs full-house scores before, when they transcend to become outstanding cars in a broader sense. But we’ll gladly attest that the e-Niro is the best affordable electric car this road test has yet appraised, and that it may do more than any other to convince people about the viability of zero-emissions motoring.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Kia e-Niro (2019-2022) First drives