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2021 Kia Niro EV long-term introduction: The life electric

The Kia Niro EV is a functional hatchback that just happens to be electric. We're going to put it to the test over the long haul.

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We're going electric in the UK.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

With an impressive range of up to 239 miles from a full charge, an attractive compact SUV shape and a variety of on-board tech, the Kia Niro EV has a lot to offer -- especially for its $40,265 asking price, including $1,175 for destination. That's why we've added one to the Roadshow long-term garage.

A word about this specific long-termer, though. It's a UK-spec car, which technically wears the name E-Niro. I'll be testing it from my home in Edinburgh, Scotland, where I hope to see how the Kia fares with rural roads, with fewer charging points in the countryside and the UK's famously varied weather. I'll be treating the Niro EV as a do-it-all vehicle to tackle everything the UK has to throw at it, from rain-soaked, cobbled city streets, to mountain passes and sweeping coastal roads.

How we spec'd it

The model I'll be testing is the UK-spec E-Niro 4 Plus -- the top model that comes with a 64-kilowatt-hour battery, 201 horsepower and a maximum advertised range of 239 miles on the US EPA cycle. (Kia UK officially quotes 282 miles on the more optimistic European WLTP test cycle.) The 4 Plus also supports 100-kW fast charging, which is still pretty rare across the UK. Plugged into a fast charger, the Niro EV can charge up to 80% in under an hour. On a more common 50-kW charger, the Niro will reach 80% in 1 hour and 15 minutes. The on-the-road price for this E-Niro 4 Plus test car is £39,395, or around $55,500 based on current exchange rates. A similarly equipped US-spec Niro EV costs $46,865 including destination. 

A single-speed gearbox helps propel the front-wheel-drive Niro EV to 60 mph in a healthy 7.5 seconds and on to a top speed of 104 mph. Of course, as with all EVs, the faster you go, the less efficiently you're using the car's battery, so don't plan on getting anywhere near that 104-mph top end if you want to eke out maximum range.

Inside is a 10.3-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system, which supports both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay via the multiple USB ports beneath. There's also heated driver and passenger seats, heated steering wheel, rear reversing cameras, blind-spot warnings, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist. 

Other nice touches on this test car include black leather upholstery, a wireless charging pad and an upgraded eight-speaker JBL sound system which does a decent job of rattling my skull with my driving playlist of Periphery, Dream Theater and Taylor Swift.

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Wireless charging is great, but you still have to plug in if you want to use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Initial impressions

I've actually had the car since the very end of last year, but due to strict COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in the UK, I've been unable to leave the city until very recently and even journeys within the city were on an essential basis only. That means much of my early impressions are of short trips to the shop down the road and back and I'm only now able to take the Niro further afield. 

But I like what I've experienced so far. The Niro EV is an all-electric car that doesn't make a big deal out of it. Outwardly the only hint you get is the lack of a proper grille and the tiny 'e' logo on the back. It has the same body shape as the hybrids in the rest of the Niro range. It's an electric car in disguise, to the extent that on one occasion an irate Nissan Leaf owner told me off as I pulled into a EV charging bay (he was very apologetic when I pointed out that the Niro is, in fact, electric). 

Whether that's a benefit or not is entirely up to you. Personally I'm split; on the one hand I like that you can drive electric and it just feels normal -- you don't feel like you stand out among the other cars on the road. The other part of me wants to stand out, though. To feel like I'm driving a bold new vision of the future. It's that part of me that still looks longingly at cars like the BMW i8 or Kia's futuristic Imagine EV concept.

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The Niro EV just looks... normal.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

That sense of normality continues inside. The cabin is comfortable and while not exactly tipping over into luxury territory, it's all perfectly functional and is no more or less than you'd expect to find on a vehicle of this price. But it's a far cry from the modern EV interiors that you'll find in cars like the Honda E with its endless screens or the gigantic displays found in any Tesla. Again, you're left with the feeling that you're just driving a regular car that just happens to be electrically driven. A benefit or a drawback, depending on your personal preference. 

There are three seats across the back bench, each with enough leg room to seat grown adults, while the trunk's 16 cubic-feet capacity makes it superb for loading up with coolers, body boards and picnic blankets for a family trip to the beach. Or, in my case, multiple flight cases of photography and drone equipment. 

The Niro offers a comfortable ride, with a suspension soft enough to smooth out all but the bumpiest of Edinburgh's old, cobbled streets, and the instant torque of the electric motor means that it's quick and smooth off the line at traffic lights. It's been great for those jaunts 'round town and I've found it to be perfectly comfortable on the few longer-distance trips I've done, too.

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The US EPA says the Niro EV can go 239 miles on a charge.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

I'm yet to fully drain the battery on a single trip so I can't yet give any real verdict on how realistic its advertised maximum range is. What I can say though is that, based on my various short journeys, the estimated remaining range on the dashboard offers a realistic figure that actually allows you to accurately plan when you'll need to stop and recharge, rather than worrying if that remaining 100 miles is actually closer to 70. 

As with all EVs, the range I've seen varies depending on how much I hammer the accelerator and how much time I spend traveling at higher, less-efficient speeds on motorways. The Niro does use regenerative braking, however, which I've become steadily more used to around town, comfortably being able to coast to a stop at red lights and putting range back in the tank in the process. As longer journeys start to factor into my life again I'll have to re-learn how to drive more efficiently to get the best range possible. Overall I'm impressed with the Niro's mix of comfort, space and driving performance, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it fares on longer road trips. 

Check in with Roadshow's other long-term testers