Kia e-Niro 2019 long-term review
It impressed in our road test - now it's time to find out if Kia has created the first affordable EV that's truly easy to live with
*Why we’re running it: *To find out if the e-Niro truly is an electric car you can own without having to make any compromises
-Month 4 - Month 3 - Month 2 - Month 1 - Specs-
-Life with a Kia E-Niro: Month 4-
*Air conditioning makes all the difference - 14th August 2019*
Semi-seizure the other day as I jumped in, drove a few hundred metres down the road and looked at the range again to discover about 5% had vanished. Regen problem? Lead foot? Nope, I’d switched the air-con on. It drains ‘fuel’ whatever the propulsion system, of course, but in an EV, the cost of staying cool has never been more transparent.
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*We still can’t find fault with our long-term EV – scout’s honour - 24th July 2019*
Any idea what 451 litres looks like? Me neither. Well, I hadn’t until my son and his mates signed up to a three-day Scout camp and loaded the boot of the e-Niro to the roofline. And there it is: 451 litres is exactly the right amount of space to fit six rucksacks, three sets of cutlery and a teddy bear.
It’s also, quite frankly, just enough. Just enough to get them where they needed to go with what they needed, just enough to carry all we need as a family of four wherever we go and just enough for me to declare that the e-Niro (and the Niro upon which it is based) is ideal family transport.
Now, some will want to play automotive Top Trumps and argue that other cars in the class have more boot space, but we are talking fractions here. You can um-and-ah over whether a couple of litres will make a difference, but whether you buy a Nissan Qashqai, Seat Ateca or e-Niro, I predict you’ll be just fine.
Nor does any of this come at the expense of decent rear space. Tall teenagers may bellyache on a very long journey but, again, with a nine- and 11-year-old and friends, we have yet to discover the e-Niro has less than we need. In fact, given it is sold only in top launch spec, there’s rather more than they are used to, from the leather seats through to the multitude of USBs.
And here’s the point: experience has taught me that electric cars come with compromises. I drove the Mitsubishi i-Miev (remember that?) and thought the world had gone mad. Then I leased a Renault Zoe for two years, which I adored, but my goodness did it smart when you caught yourself on the metal door edge, shorn of any cushioning in the name of saving weight and cost. And then there’s the BMW i3, a great car that has elected to compromise itself through a need to be quirky.
But none of that applies to the Kia – or at least, not to the point that it is overtly identifiable after several months in the car. The absolute worst I can throw at it is that it could do with a bit more sound-deadening in the boot, to avoid road noise booming at certain speeds.
Beyond that – electric powertrain included – I cannot find or think of a single compromise that I’m having to make.
Maybe that should be no surprise. A recent survey by sister title What Car? polled 25,000 motorists on how they use their cars, and unearthed the fact that one in 10 could switch to even a 100-mile-per-charge electric vehicle without compromising their lives in any way. Broaden that assessment to the comfortably 250-mile-range e-Niro and the number of drivers out there for whom an EV is just right grows again.
Of course, some will argue that the compromises come with what you lose: engine noise, the convenience of a three-minute refill, dynamics as a result of the weight and so on. And they have a point, because all of these things are absent or dulled. But rather than thinking in terms of better or worse, I find myself driving around enjoying what I have: quiet, peaceful progress, comfort that I’m not adding to the diesel pong that plagues inner London and the challenge of driving as efficiently as possible.
*Easy miles *The challenge of getting maximum miles from minimum energy usage is curiously addictive.
*Kia start-up chimes *The seemingly obligatory jingles are low-rent – and I wouldn’t claim to have a cultured ear.
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-Life with a Kia e-Niro: month 3-
*An electric exception should be made - 3rd July 2019*
You might have read about mayor Sadiq Khan planning a no-cars day in London. Part of me admires the ambition, and the push to get people in a congested city onto public transport, but I think EVs should be allowed. If you believe in personal mobility, then you need to promote more realistic solutions – and the e-Niro is clearly a big part of that.
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*Greater familiarity is revealing just how accomplished this EV is - 19th June 2019*
I've checked the records and the Kia e-Niro continues to rack up miles at a faster rate than any of the three previous cars I have run for Autocar. Who said electric cars were impractical to the point that they were only really useful as a second vehicle for local runs?
I can’t claim much of the credit, my humble three-mile commute doing little to tick the odometer up on a regular basis, although I don’t give a second thought to the occasional 200 to 250-mile drives I do. Based on my experiences, even without any recourse to a hair shirt and overly prudent throttle control, there’s a comfortable 265-plus miles of range whatever the journey.
Of more impact, however, is how often the e-Niro is borrowed by colleagues, which is another demonstration of just how capable – and likeable – this game-changing car is. Sure, an office full of car enthusiasts is naturally inclined to want to find out for themselves just how good it is, but the fact that they keep on coming back and asking for another go in what is – ultimately – a small family SUV is quite pertinent.
From the outset, I suggested that what made the e-Niro so impressive was, rather mundanely, the size of the battery (and therefore range) and how little its makers were charging for it. It’s what led to the ‘half-price Jaguar I-Pace’ tag – even if that’s something of a distraction, given just how good, and different, both cars are in reality. Over time, I also realise that summary does the Kia something of a disservice.
So although the e-Niro (and Hyundai Kona Electric) do rewrite the range versus cost equation, they also have a level of accomplishment that has only really become apparent over repeated exposure to the car. The wonderment starts with how the car drives. While it’s no firebrand, it is extremely pleasurable to drive, whether you are enjoying the calm way it goes about its progress or the sting of instant torque.
Offering an alternative perspective on what ‘car enthusiast’ might mean in the future, I’m also increasingly sucked in by the energy consumption information for each journey, and hooked on honing my coasting and regen level expertise in a bid to better previous targets.
There are three levels of regen, each increasing the urgency of the braking system when you lift off the throttle. At its peak, the effect is not far off from pushing the brake in an ordinary car, and at its slightest, it lends the car an otherworldly ability to coast. Both require some getting used to but so far I’ve found maximum braking to deliver the better economy, although maybe I just need to anticipate road conditions better. In fact, there’s my excuse for getting some more time behind the wheel.
Then there’s the effective interior. That it works in a no-compromise way for a family should be no surprise – it is, after all, based on the decent non-electric Niro SUV – but there are clever touches, from the number of USBs to neat storage areas, all wrapped in materials and with fit and finish you might not think Kia capable of. Combined, these touches are just as important in justifying the price as the battery capability – as well as being proof that going electric requires fewer compromises than you may imagine.
*Opinion Shifter *By being so delightful, it’s changing my perspective and priorities on what I want from a car.
*UK charging network *Not a fault of the car, but the patchwork of charging networks in the UK remains a frustration.
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-Life with a Kia e-Niro: Month 2-
*Goes further than you might think - 29th May 2019*
Long trips have underlined just how reassuringly conservative the range indicator is. A 40-mile trip into London (very congested) and out to Silverstone and back (170-ish miles of fast motorway) ended with more than 90 miles on the range indicator – suggesting well over 300 miles is comfortably achievable, and more than the official tests suggest.
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*Unlike the BMW i3, the Clark Kent of EVs keeps its superpowers hidden from view - 22nd May 2019*
Design. So easy to criticise, so difficult to get right. For the Kia e-Niro, compliments are few and far between, yet the negatives aren’t that it doesn’t look good, just that it doesn’t look extraordinary.
There’s a common phrase that ‘not all heroes wear capes’, and I suspect many of the knockers I’ve spoken to were rather hoping for a car that has been hyped up for moving the electric agenda on so far to shout a bit louder about its game-changing qualities through its styling.
It was interesting, then, to spend some time in Tom Morgan’s BMW i3s recently, a car that nobody can deny has been shaped and even coloured to catch attention, from its confusion of curves and straight lines right through to its pillarless doors, which famously mean that rear seat passengers can’t get out unless the front door is open. It’s a statement alright, and many more passers-by found time to comment on it than the Kia.
But here’s the rub: unless you’re a total extrovert, sometimes it’s nice to blend in, and you might argue that the i3s has been on our roads long enough now, and at sufficient volume, that it isn’t the head-turner it once was. Likewise, at times the BMW was a pain to live with. I don’t need to labour the point about the rear doors, suffice to say that dropping your kids off at dance class shouldn’t feel like some kind of SAS evacuation drill, as you unbelt, leap out, release your door, release their door, swing them out and then – phew – get yourself back in. The spirit of Benny Hill lives on.
That in itself was a decent lesson in perspective, because the e-Niro is just so damned easy to live with by comparison. I understand the accusations of it being a bit on the dull side to look at, but therein lies its advantage. Because nobody has felt the need to make it quirky, it slots into life just like that. Not just in terms of having rear doors that anyone can open, but also for having a more natural front seating position – space that has been maximised to normal conventions rather than in order to make a statement – and ample storage exactly where you’d expect it. Live with the Kia for a while and you’ll take all these things for granted, of course – but the BMW was a decent reminder that, to my mind at least, quirky is a fine line from being irritating and inconvenient.
There is, I’ll concede, something special about the BMW’s interior materials. The back story of ecomaterials is compelling, and the look and feel of them convey that it is both a special car and very much a premium one. The Kia’s interior is top-notch – in terms of fit, finish and quality an impressive match for that offered in many of BMW’s mainstream models – but it is short of wow factor beyond eliciting frequent acknowledgement from passengers who didn’t realise a mainstream brand like Kia could do high-end so well. Our choice of paintwork, I must acknowledge, is definitely on the conservative side too, and the range of choices offered by BMW is considerably more striking than Kia’s more straightforward current palette.
All this highlights the fine line that manufacturers are treading as they increasingly launch electric cars. To them and us, they are groundbreaking… for now. In short order, though, they will become mainstream, and there’s nothing worse than your ‘look at me!’ statement car becoming try-hard in the shortest of time.
It’s a phenomenon that makers of sports cars face all the time, and it’s no coincidence that all the data points to them typically selling well, briefly, before everyone’s attention is caught by the next shiny eye-catcher to be launched. To my mind, Kia has got it spot on.
*Go-anywhere range *The more we drive, the more the predicted range rises. It’s topped out at 293 miles so far.
*Cable conundrum *Hardly devastating, but the hassle of storing an often dirty charging cable remains an issue.
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*Has anyone gone further in Britain yet? - 8th May 2019*
A couple of weeks with Steve Cropley and we now have what we believe to be the highest-mileage Kia e-Niro in the UK, having had a month-long head start over UK customers. Driven consistently, but not with any great eco-care, and at motorway speeds, the potential mileage on a charge has risen to a smidgen under 300 miles. Impressive.
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-Life with a Kia e-Niro: Month 1-
*You wait ages for a game-changing EV, then two come at once. We board an e-Niro - 24th April 2019*
Historiography. An unlikely word to start an introduction to the Kia e-Niro with, perhaps, but one that I suspect is relevant. It concerns the study of how history is written, and how time can change how events are perceived. Imagine what we might now be presented with had Germany won the Second World War, for instance, or the multiple variations of the truth that will be presented 10 years hence when (or if) Brexit has played out.
Today, we know that the e-Niro is a good car; class-leading in many estimations, in fact, to the point that it won the prestigious What Car? Car of the Year Award back in January, becoming the first non-European built car to scoop the award and making Kia the first Korean brand to hold the accolade. In its final assessment, What Car? said the e-Niro – and most specifically its independently verified 253-mile range – “make it the first electric car you can own without having to make any compromises”.
It’s worth acknowledging now that Kia owes much to parent company Hyundai and the Kona Electric, on which it is based. The Kona Electric is slightly smaller (making its near-equal range perhaps more impressive, given that space for batteries is reduced) but (oddly, given that both are lavished with similar amounts of standard equipment in launch forms) marginally more expensive. Both are seriously impressive cars.
Both, too, are sold out for the foreseeable future, which is a fly in the ointment that is worth pausing on. Unless there is a surprise shipment freed up for the UK, you’ll likely now have to wait 12 months to get either car new, a legacy of the demand prompted by the breakthrough technology, the cars’ affordability relative to the opposition and a worldwide battery shortage. You might also add in the UK government’s decision to cut the electric car grant last year as a reason, which reduced the already paper-thin (or perhaps non-existent) profit margins on the cars, and the swing in the value of the pound in recent years, which made the UK a less profitable place to sell cars than elsewhere.
But what if you were quick enough to order a car, are sharp enough to pick up one of the few hitting the classifieds (and while demand is high, the residuals are astonishing) or are surveying the electric car scene, wondering where the best place to spend your money will be in the next 12 months? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out, of course, and so far the signs are terrifically encouraging.
While there is a truth to the throwaway summary that Kia’s greatest success with the e-Niro is fitting such a long-range battery in such a well-priced car, it should neither be allowed to overshadow the fact that it is also a very good car in other ways or that it seems to extract more range from its capacity than many rivals. I’ve done 220-mile journeys and five-mile journeys time and again, and never has the number of miles I’ve covered been less than the indicated amount of range I’ve used. In other words, unless you drive like you’ve got an elephant’s right foot, the mileage claim is not only real, but can be eclipsed.
And how many times in your life have you driven 253 miles without stopping? From London pretty much everything to the east, west and south is within reach. Heading north, all I’d need is a stop to charge to get beyond Hartlepool. If I planned a fast charge en route, Edinburgh would be possible with only a brief stop. This is not a car that demands many compromises – something that will be important to remember as the months go on, as we ponder if this isn’t just a great electric car but a great car, full stop.
Suitably meted out, progress is smooth and near-silent, only tyre and wind noise intruding. Yes, you can stamp on the accelerator and spin up the wheels, but you quickly learn it’s pretty wasteful to do so, and that the car isn’t really engineered to live with Dukes of Hazzard getaways. That said, the instant torque of the electric motors is a boon in town, helping you pop out of side roads and onto roundabouts with ease. Making good progress on the motorway is no trouble, although anything over 70mph does eat away at range. The ride and handling are safe and unexciting, dominated by the battery weight and steering that is short on any feel, but if those are matters of great concern, you might wonder why you’re buying an electric SUV in the first place.
It’s well appointed (all launch edition cars get leather, heated seats, heated steering wheel and more toys than you can imagine as standard) and spacious. Certainly it stands the test of a family of four heading off on a long weekend away without issues, just as any mid-size SUV should be expected to. There are some neat touches that add to its family appeal too. Chief among the discoveries so far is the inclusion of three USBs as standard. Trite, you might think, but kids love to pass long trips on devices, and other car makers think nothing of charging hundreds of pounds for anything more than one socket.
So who’d have thought it? Kia, just a decade ago little more than an upstart brand with big ambitions and a low reputation, has now built a car good enough to be declared the very best put on sale in the previous 12 months. To go back to historiography, briefly, and without wishing to get too highbrow about it all, I’m beginning to wonder if the e-Niro won’t just be viewed with the benefit of hindsight as a breakthrough vehicle, but also the car that crystallised the Kia brand’s emergence as a 21st-century car maker of choice.
The e-Niro reminds me how far electric motoring has come. It’s comfortable, practical and likeable, and perfect for my short urban commute. For me, as for many living with on-street parking, the problem comes with charging. If I didn’t have a charging point at work, it wouldn’t be viable. That’s not the e-Niro’s fault, though, and Kia should be applauded for such a well-rounded car.
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-Kia e-Niro First Edition specification-
*Specs: Price New* £32,995 (after government grant) *Price as tested* £33,560 *Options*
*Test Data: Engine* Electric motor plus 64kWh lithium ion polymer battery *Power* 201bhp at 3800-8000rpm *Torque* 291lb ft at 4000rpm *Kerb weight* 1812kg *Top speed* 104mph *0-62mph* 7.8sec *Range* 282 miles (WLTP) *CO2* 0g/km *Faults* None *Expenses* None
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