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Roomy Kia Niro EV takes a run at electric's big players

Image of a Kia Niro EV
The Kia e-Niro has the technology and personality to compete in a crowded plug-in vehicle segment, and it's priced to qualify for federal and provincial EV rebates.

With a range of 385 km, the Niro EV is an agile mix of comfort, tech and practicality

Rob Klovance

Kia is probably not the first automaker that comes to mind when you think of electric cars. In a world where Tesla makes headlines on an almost daily basis, and the arrival of an electric Ford F-150 pickup is a major event, the Kia powers on in relative obscurity.

Expect that to change.

In the Niro EV, the Korean automaker has built a vehicle that can at least make you think twice about buying the world's most popular EV – the Tesla Model 3 – or the popular Hyundai Kona EV. And if my teenage son is any indication, it's actually kind of cool.

Nothing about the Kia suggests it's a knockoff version of a pricier plug-in. And if the buzz around Kia's superfast EV6 launch is any indication – check out this slick EV6 GT promo video – Kia is poised to join Hyundai as the electric car equivalents of Ko Jin-yung and Inbee Park.

Who are they, you may ask? The top two ranked female golfers in the world.

Image of the interior of a Kia Niro EV
Controls in the Kia Niro EV are intuitive, and the cabin is big on creature comforts.

With a range of 385 km, the Niro EV is an agile mix of comfort, tech and practicality

As is the norm with vehicles made available to the press, the Kia SX Touring model I drove for a few days was loaded with pricey extras designed to impress. Not surprisingly, while you can get some versions of the Niro EV for as low as $45,000, this one came in with an MSRP of just under $55,000. That still qualifies you for federal and provincial EV rebates, adding up to $8,000, but it puts the vehicle in a crowded space of big-selling plug-ins.

Having said that, you get a lot of luxury and tech for those additional bucks. The seats are leather and heated front and back (along with the steering wheel). There's a long list of features you can operate remotely on your smartphone, including climate controls, Find My Car, and a vehicle health and diagnostics check. There's an optional battery heating system to cut down on range loss in cold weather, Harmon Kardon speaker system, wireless charging, sunroof, lane-keeping assist and blind spot detection with rear/cross driver alert.

And with its sleek lines and yacht blue colour, it's light years removed from the signature boxy look of the Kia Soul. It may not be as sleek as a Tesla, but it's a showstopper with its blend of practicality, 385 km of range, interior comfort, generous backseat space, and a cargo area that, with seats down, boasts 53 cubic feet of space. That's more than than the gas-powered version of the Niro, and more space than both the Tesla Model 3 and Hyundai Kona EV. For taller drivers and passengers, there's also more headroom up front than in the Kona.

Where the Niro lags behind those two rivals is in electric range and power. The Kia's range is good, but the Kona can get up to 415 km on a charge, and even the base Tesla Model 3 (standard range plus) offers 423 km of range. The Kia is quick enough for most of us off the line, but its zero-to-100 km time of 7.8 seconds is decidedly behind the Model 3 and its startling 5.6-second acceleration.

The Niro's interior cabin is very 2021, with comfy seats (love that headrest you can actually use) and modern touchscreen options that are generally intuitive. Nitpicks include the Sounds of Nature option that eats up a portion of the home screen and is a bit silly. A crackling fireplace in a car. Really?

What I liked:

  • Exterior styling
  • Variety of energy management controls (Eco, Normal, Sport and Eco+) that fine tune regenerative braking, heating and A/C.
  • Fun to drive
  • Interior space and comfort
  • Touchscreen and media options
  • Ergonomic (and usable!) headrests

What I didn't like:

  • Slight skittishness on acceleration
  • Price that pits it against well-equipped bestsellers

The verdict:

The loaded SX Touring version of the Kia Niro EV is teeming with features that make it feel comparable to the Model 3 and Kona, at least until you look at the slightly lower battery range and sacrifice in acceleration. The best option for many might be to go for the base model, which gets you a modern, spacious SUV crossover for closer to $45,000 (or $37,000 after rebates), but consider forking over another $1,000 for the Cold Weather Package that provides a heat pump, battery heater and heated steering wheel. And if the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt don't offer the room you're looking for, the Niro EV is an enticing option.