Kia e-Niro review: the best electric car on the market

5
Kia e-Niro

It could have been worse. It could have been that the Kia e-Niro’s much-vaunted 301-mile combined range was halved, or at least drastically reduced. As it was, the reassessment required after Kia’s discovery of a cock-up by the external agency which discerned that range figure – which Kia had to reveal to us on the launch itself – only caused that figure to drop to 282 miles.

That’s still a very worthy distance for a production electric car. Disaster averted, then; certainly, the change will be unlikely to dampen the anticipation and enthusiasm among potential buyers of this car, which has built to extraordinary levels.

Before anyone’s even had a chance to drive it, some dealers have been reporting 42-week waiting lists. That’s a frankly astonishing figure for what is, with the exception of its drivetrain, a seemingly unremarkable small-ish SUV, and especially one that’s already available in both traditional and plug-in hybrid forms.

The UK will get 800-1,000 units this year – but Kia reckons it could at least double or even treble that, if only it could get hold of enough batteries, which is where the bottleneck lies.

For those on the waiting list, picking which e-Niro to choose has been made easier by the fact – in contrast to its stablemate, the Hyundai Kona Electric, which comes in four forms with two battery pack options – that there’s just one e-Niro model for now. But are they going to be disappointed when they do, finally, get hold of their cars?

The e-Niro is at its best when cruising, although it's also entertaining to drive on a more challenging road

They might be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about when they first climb aboard. Inside, they’ll find an interior that looks more or less like any other Kia’s, save for a smattering of blue highlights, with a sensible layout, materials that err on the cheap side of acceptable, and robust build quality. Then again, this inherent ordinariness might just appeal to more conservative buyers who want to convert to electric, but are put off by the overt technology of something like a Tesla.

There’s certainly lots of storage space, with a huge cubby scooped out behind the rotary drive selector – an e-Niro exclusive, replacing the more traditional stick you’ll find in the hybrid versions. The other big difference is a binnacle filled with a TFT screen that show your speed, range and charge level, as well as a host of other information that lends it a slightly cluttered feel.

The seats have been raised to make room for the battery beneath the floor, but there’s still plenty of head room and, as a result, a pleasingly clear view out. In the back, the effect is the same, and while the higher seats mean the e-Niro doesn’t feel quite as palatial as its hybrid stablemates, it’s still plenty spacious enough for two adults – three at a push.

The sturdy interior is pretty much standard Niro fare, apart from a few blue highlights, a huge lidded storage bin aft of the gear selector and a screen in the main instrument binnacle that displays speed, range and charge level - and much else besides

The boot’s 451-litre capacity, meanwhile, is greater than that of any other electric car at this price point and perfectly adequate for most families’ needs, even if it is a little smaller than some combustion-engined SUVs’.

All this would be for naught were the e-Niro a hound to drive, mind you. Happily, it isn’t. In fact, it’s actually quite charming – praise not often levelled at electric cars. Around town, the space-age whirring it produces to alert pedestrians to its presence is delightfully Gerry Anderson, for example.

You can select three levels of regenerative braking using the steering wheel paddles, meanwhile, or even set the car to automatically determine the level of friction it applies depending on whether you’re going up or downhill, or following another car closely. No matter which you choose, the e-Niro’s steering is light, its gentle throttle is easy to modulate, and while the friction brakes can be a little inconsistent, you rarely use them enough to notice.

With 451 litres of overall volume, the boot is larger than that of any other electric car in this price range

Up the pace a bit, and it’s clear that the e-Niro is no sports car. The steering is devoid of any feel, and if you really start to push it hard, the nose starts to veer gently wide of your line. That said, it’s very difficult to get the e-Niro truly out of shape, simply because it’s doing so much shuffling of power and braking of individual wheels behind the scenes to keep you pointing the right way; this is a safe car on the limit, even if it isn’t one that feels entirely predictable or involving.

Rein your enthusiasm in a notch, though, and actually, the e-Niro becomes very entertaining. The low centre of gravity means body lean is well controlled, and there’s grip and traction available by the bucketload. With its responses sharpened Sport mode – one of four you can select, the others being Normal, Eco and Eco+ – you can actually hear the power being shuffled around, the inside rear wheel chirruping slightly as the system brakes it to pull the nose round into the apex of the bend

The result is a car in which you can build up a rhythm, flowing easily from corner to corner and surfing along on the instant torque of that electric motor. There are sharper SUVs out there – but given the e-Niro’s weight and eco credentials, its ability to stick a smile on your face is impressive.

The e-Niro does much to dispel the range anxiety inherent in battery-electric cars, thanks to a claimed 282 miles - almost double that of much of the opposition

But it’s when you want to settle back and cruise that the e-Niro is at its best. Of course, there’s no engine noise to speak of; in electric cars, this fact usually shines a light on poor road and wind noise damping, but the e-Niro keeps even these under close control, making it a truly relaxing way to travel. And while it’d be wrong the say it glides over bumps seamlessly, it smothers most of them effectively enough that you won’t notice them.

At £32,995 post-Government grant, the e-Niro doesn’t immediately seem like terrific value, but when you consider what it offers – and offset that cost against the savings you’ll make on fuel – it starts to stack up rather well. It’s interesting to note, too, that it’s also considerably cheaper than the smaller Kona Electric when equipped with the same battery pack and, consequently, a very similar range

Because it looks like a conventional SUV/crossover, the e-Niro is well suited to families and those who might be put off by the high-tech nature of some electric cars

Granted, charging infrastructure is still a bone of contention, with many potential EV converts deterred by the difficulties, perceived or otherwise, involved in plugging them in. But if they can work out a way to do so, then here, finally, is an electric car that removes once and for all that other bugbear: range anxiety.

What’s more, it’s one whose size and shape make it family-friendly, whose performance and driving dynamics make it not just palatable, but enjoyable; whose inherent ordinariness makes it feel familiar and approachable; and whose price makes it – just about – affordable.

It is, in short, a car of huge appeal – and the best electric car on the market today.

*Lease price from list price shown in the article is correct as of 17/01/2019 and are based on 9months initial payment upfront.  Prices exclude VAT and are subject to change.  Ts and Cs and Arrangement Fees apply.

THE FACTS

Kia e-Niro First Edition

TESTED Permanent magnet AC electric drive w/ 64kWh battery; fixed-ratio gearbox; front-wheel drive

PRICE/ON SALE £32,995/now

POWER/TORQUE 201bhp @ 3,800-8,000rpm, 291lb ft @ 0-3,600rpm

TOP SPEED 104mph

ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 7.5sec

FUEL ECONOMY 190wH/mi / 240wH/mi (EU Combined/Urban)

RANGE 282/382 miles (EU Combined/Urban)

CO2 EMISSIONS zero

VED £0

VERDICT An affordable electric car that all but eliminates range anxiety. But more than that, the e-Niro is comfortable, quiet, spacious, easy to use, well equipped and genuinely good to drive. No wonder the waiting lists are so long.

TELEGRAPH RATING Five stars out of five

THE RIVALS

Hyundai Kona Electric, from £32,220

The Kona’s longer-range variant shares the e-Niro’s battery back, but costs more and offers less space. Still, it’s a sharp thing to drive, and looks funkier than the e-Niro, should you wish to stand out from the crowd a little more

Nissan Leaf, from £26,180

Lacks the e-Niro’s tall ride height – which may or may not be a good thing depending on your point of view. Either way, the Leaf can’t travel as far on a charge, and isn’t quite as spacious inside, although it is a strong contender in other respects

Skoda Karoq, from £20,880

Conventionally-powered SUV that aces the e-Niro on practicality and price, if not on refinement or running costs. The Karoq is sweeter to drive, too, by dint of its lighter weight – but it simply won’t do if you’ve decided you want to go electric.

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