09.25 Tue

Business

Kia’s Niro EV offers up retro-futurism

While its powertrain is high-tech, the SUV’s interior is sorely dated
Sept 13,2018
Kia Motors’ electric Niro SUV on the road in Paju, Gyeonggi. [KIA MOTORS]
PAJU, Gyeonggi - Kia Motors’ new electric Niro SUV manages to offer drivers a glimpse of both the future and the dreary past at the same time.

Its 64-kWh electric battery enables the small SUV to travel up to 385 kilometers (239 miles) on a single charge, but the low-quality interior plastics and analogue-style buttons don’t match with its futuristic identity.

The Niro is Kia’s main eco-friendly vehicle, and hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the SUV are also available. A total of 200,000 Niros were sold worldwide since its launch in April 2016. The Niro EV has the longest range among Kia’s electric lineup, which also includes the electric version of the Soul and Ray.

The Korea JoongAng Daily got behind the wheel of the Niro EV on Tuesday for a 60-kilometer drive from Seoul Museum in central Seoul to a cafe in Paju, Gyeonggi. According to Kia, the Niro EV has already secured 8,500 preorders since they started two months ago.

Unlike earlier electric cars, the Niro EV felt like a conventional gas vehicle. The brakes didn’t stop the car suddenly, nor did it accelerate instantly, one of the most disturbing characteristics of earlier electric cars.

What was surprising, however, was the array of analogue buttons and plastic materials that filled the car’s interior. The navigation screen was small and placed inside the center console, a throwback to years ago. These days, screens that float on top of the center console are common in the latest vehicles.

Drivers can change the Niro EV’s regenerative braking level to their liking from three different settings. This feature uses the kinetic power of the car to recharge the battery.

If it is set at a high level, the car stops almost instantly after the driver takes their foot off the accelerator. If set at low level, the car glides like a conventional car and doesn’t slow down immediately.

The paddle shifter, located behind the left side of the steering wheel, switches between the regenerative braking’s three levels. When driving with the function set to three, the car suddenly slowed down when not accelerating, though it didn’t come to a complete halt. This feature clearly takes some getting used to as this reporter felt nauseous when driving with the level set to three. The car also couldn’t help but rattle due to the sudden deceleration.

A long pull of a paddle shifter on the right sets the regenerative braking to “auto” which analyzes the road conditions, such as whether it is a hilly road or if there is a car in the front, to decide how much regenerating braking to use.

The Niro EV is packed with the latest smart driving technologies.

It features forward collision assist, lane following assist, smart cruise control and driver attention warnings, among others. The lane following assist function benefitted this reporter on the highway.

When on a curvy highway course, it was obvious that the car was moving the steering wheel on its own to keep the car in the middle of the road. However, the smart function didn’t interfere when this reporter changed lanes on her own.

Even after finishing the 60-kilometer course with the air conditioner on the whole time, the Niro’s remaining driving range was 327 kilometers.

Kwon Hyug-ho, executive vice president of Kia Motors, said at a briefing before the test drive that the carmaker plans to develop a platform for EVs that can drive more than 500 kilometers on a single charge.

The Niro EV’s price starts at 47.8 million won ($42,360).


BY JIN EUN-SOO [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]
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