Mountain Wheels: All-electric Kia Niro moves the needle on EV normalcy and range
So the future isn’t quite what we expected it to be. The flying cars and jetpacks are still not quite as prevalent as we thought they would be in “The Jetsons.”
But as for electric car technology, automakers at long last have begun to make some serious in-roads in building all-electric vehicles that, in the not-so-distant future, will offer all the utility and ease of use as your existing, gas-engine automobile.
The new Kia Niro, especially in its reasonably costly (before whatever electric vehicle rebates you can land) extended-range EV trim level, is the absolute closest to almost-regular-car experience I’ve had in an all-electric.
My 2019 Niro, priced at $47,155 with almost every option you can get in a Kia that is not one of the larger SUVs, is a comfortably sized, small but not really compact SUV with ample trunk space, regular controls and finishings and a driving character that emulates that of an internal-combustion-engine-powered machine.
Kia claims an EPA-rated range of up to 239 miles on a full charge, which effectively quadruples the range of early generation electrics just a few years ago. I had it last week in Metro Denver, in cold but not Summit County cold weather, and I set about to see exactly how winter and a sophisticated electric car would interact with each other.
Niro, which is also available as a gas-electric hybrid and a plug-in partially electric hybrid, benefits mostly from looking like an almost ordinary crossover. Mine carried four adults comfortably and featured all the winter weather amenities — heated seats, heated wheel plus a fast and efficient HVAC system — that you’d expect in a modern crossover. Better yet, like other all-electrics, simply using those wintertime lifesavers did not immediately cut the range by 20%, so I didn’t feel like I had to freeze as I drove to remain efficient.
Best of all, Niro operates in a pretty regular fashion, and other than the slightly annoying central “gear” knob and the addition of a number of EV efficiency and charging-station-finder screens, it felt no different than a hybrid or even gas-powered Kia of about the same size.
Motoring power is also highway-worthy, with a 201-horsepower electric motor fed by a 64 kWh battery pack and an impressive 291 foot-pounds of torque. Put it into the least draggy of its multiple drive modes and it will totally fly away from traffic at a light, pass larger vehicles on the highway or have the uphill juice to get you across the passes.
It’s front-wheel-drive only at this point, and my guess is that when equipped with proper winter tires, it would be one of the first all-electrics to have some practical year-round capabilities in Summit County.
But — and you knew it would come to this — the charging aspect and real-world range is still far from ideal, though I will charitably say the car is a big step closer to being practical.
I picked it up with a half-charged battery, and after plugging it into a wall socket at home with a quarter-full battery, the news wasn’t good: 49 hours to a full charge. That’s of course the absolute worst-case scenario for an EV; Kia instead suggests that a proper 240-volt Level 2 charger at home or out in the public will get you a full charge in about 9 1/2 hours.
Even in Denver, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s still a stretch to find a DC fast charge station, and the closest one to me ended up being at Avalanche Harley Davidson, in the new development at the Red Rocks/skier commuter parking lots.
Why Harley, I asked? While the Niro was charging, I headed inside and got a briefing on the new $30,000 Harley LiveWire, that company’s first foray into electric bikes, which itself promises about a 140-mile range and blinding speed from that all-electric torque.
Two and half hours later, I was up to about 80% charge (Kia says 75 minutes for this, but that’s likely in balmy California, not just-below-freezing Colorado). I then plugged it in at home and got it almost fully charged.
On the road, that power is pretty tangible, and you have the option of several different strengths of regenerative braking or on-the-fly drag to help keep things charged, especially when making the long downhill run from Summit to Denver. A 60 mph-limited super-eco mode probably will earn some drivers more than 260 miles of range, but you are not going to make friends on the freeway as you do.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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