Nero means black in Italian, and Kia used some black magic to differentiate the Kia Niro EV from the hybrid version. Instead of a shifter in the middle of the dash, a circular twist-dial engages forward or reverse. The Park button is in the middle. And the rest of the package is futuristic. Dig those contrasting-color “aeroblades” by the C-pillar that stretch back to the rear of the car. Just when we thought that different roof colors were cool, now Kia is taking a page from the Audi R8 and injecting a color design element that is purportedly functional for aerodynamics.
With a just under 65-kilowatt-hour pack under the hood (so to speak), the Kia can deliver 250 miles of range under reasonable conditions. That’s pretty good for a stylish vehicle that pushes out over 200 horsepower in an attractive, futuristic and functional package.
Keeping It Clean Inside
When you first plop yourself into the Niro, you’re impressed by the premium materials and textured surfaces. I really like the design of the door pulls. To go along with the electric sustainability theme, the Niro uses recycled plastic throughout the interior. It has an interesting semi-rough texture that looks high-end. The top models use a vegan leather material that feels nice.
According to Kia, the headliner is made of recycled wallpaper, which contains 56 percent reused PET fibers. The slim, contemporary seats with integrated coat hangers enhance roominess, and they’re covered with high-quality bio polyurethane and material made from eucalyptus leaves. BTX-free paint, which is free from benzene, toluene and xylene isomers, is used on the door panels to minimize the impact on the environment and reduce waste.
The wraparound infotainment screens both measure 10.25 inches. Where the screens end, a section of real estate on the dashboard is dedicated to ambient mood lighting that can be adjusted to a color of your liking (with some predetermined lighting suggestions when you access that menu). The sides of the seats include standard USB ports, enabling back-seat passengers to easily charge their devices.
About the only interior thing I did not like was the LCD touchscreen that shares controls for both the media system and climate controls. You’re supposed to be able to quickly toggle between media and climate. But normally I adjust the volume on the radio like I’m a 4-year-old with an Etch A Sketch. Therefore, I found myself twisting the knob and inadvertently raising the cabin temperature by 15 degrees. It became so frustrating, I willed myself to only use the volume rocker on the steering wheel.
It’s a great idea to have an uncluttered cabin, but if you’re listening, Kia: An analog switch that can toggle the controls from climate to multimedia would be awesome. Or just enlarge that LCD panel to include both climate AND multimedia. Owners will get used to it and master it, but my volume-knob obsession kept me from mastering the otherwise nicely weighted analog knob.
The Harman/Kardon Active Sound Design allows the driver to digitally enhance the engine and motor sounds of the Niro through an eight-speaker Harman/Kardon premium sound system. At 315 watts, it’s on the smaller size of Harman offerings, but remember that fully electric vehicles are quiet, and keeping weight under control is important in an EV. It is pretty good but runs out of dynamic headroom when you crank it up.
If you’re trying to get sporty, rather than adjust the volume, you can instead become part of the driving experience by using the adjustable regenerative braking via the paddle shifters. You can help the Kia recapture energy by monitoring traffic ahead or when lights turn red. Then you press the appropriate paddle to “grab” the momentum energy and send it back into the battery pack. Sometimes it takes human monitoring to access the most regenerative energy.
An especially innovative feature of the Niro is its Onboard Power Generator, which turns the car into a mobile power source. If you’re tailgating or camping, a special plug gives you a 110-volt outlet that plugs into the charging receptacle in the grille. It’s like a scaled-down version of the Ford Lighting system. But if there’s a power outage in your neighborhood, your Nero could probably keep the food in your fridge cold for over a week if you ran an extension cord from the car to the house. The Nero also offers a progressive safety suite with all the usual advanced driver assistance features.
The Nero is not inexpensive, coming in at $44K, with fully loaded models just under $50K. But with a tax credit on the hood, it’s a compelling package for those looking to make the jump from gas to fully electric.