Kia Takes The Wraps Off Niro Electric SUV

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The automotive world is crazy for sport utility vehicles. But as of this moment, there are almost no electric SUV offerings available other than the Tesla Model X. Jaguar says its I-Pace electric SUV will be available soon. Porsche is working on a variant of the Mission E called the Cross Turismo. But when it comes to a fully electric SUV that average drivers can afford, there just aren’t any outside of China.

At the CES 2018 show, Kia showed off a battery-powered concept of the Niro, which is already available as a hybrid or plug-in hybrid. Now Kia has released the first official photos of the Niro Electric SUV, which will go on sale in Korea later this year, before becoming available in Europe and  North America next year. It will be featured at the Paris auto show this September.

The Kia Niro Electric will offer customers two battery options — a 64 kWh version with 380 kilometers of range and a 32 kWh version with 240 kilometers of range. The smaller battery option will be more affordable and should suit the daily driving needs of most people. Pricing for both versions has not yet been announced.

While the company’s new press release goes on at some length about its chunky steel wheels and sporty alloy wheels, the real news for EV aficionados is that the battery used is a lithium polymer unit. Lithium polymer replaces the liquid electrolyte used in conventional lithium ion batteries with a polymer gel. Such batteries typically offer more power per kilogram. While no details about the battery in the Niro Electric are available at this time, the lithium polymer battery used in the Kia Soul Electric is sourced from SK Innovation and has an energy density of 200 watt-hours per kilogram.

Tesla fans will be happy to see the front end treatment of the Niro Electric looks similar to the clean, modern look pioneered by Tesla. There was a time when the grille was the most important design feature of a car. A few years from now, cars with grilles will start to look a bit odd.

The look of the Niro Electric is a collaboration between the Kia design studio in California and the company’s principal design studio in Namyang, Korea. The finished product is just as appealing as the hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the car.

For a much deeper look at my viewpoints on the Kia Niro — the plug-in hybrid version, admittedly — I actually spent a week with one recently. Here are a few choice lines from that Niro PHEV review:

“The bottom line is, I could see myself driving a Kia Niro PHEV long enough to pay off a car loan and enjoying every mile. … The Niro PHEV is perfectly proportioned, provisioned, and priced to hit the sweet spot of the North American market.”

“The Kia Niro is a Goldilocks car — not too big, not too small, just right. It has enough range to be useful but a small enough battery to keep the sticker price of the top model well below $40,000. The base model starts at $28,840.”

“The passenger compartment of the Niro is a very pleasant place to be. The words I heard most frequently from people I took on test drives were ‘spacious’ and ‘comfortable.’ I was able to carry 4 people travelling from France with all their luggage with ease. My wife insisted the Niro was bigger than her Civic Si so we lined both cars up side by side in the driveway. She was shocked to find the Niro was more than a foot shorter than her car.”

“From a driving perspective, the Kia Niro PHEV has a well modulated ride that soaks up bumps and potholes with aplomb. It handles curves with authority and brakes with confidence. I did discover one of the dangers of driving a new car, though —  it makes your daily driver feel like something from a Flintstone’s episode. My car had the optional feature that remembers seating and mirror settings for two drivers. I made the mistake of touching one of the buttons and immediately regretted it. As the power seat made its way toward the steering wheel, I felt like I was in the trash compactor scene from Star Wars.”

We are reaching out to Kia with more questions concerning battery supply, production capacity, and US market availability (as in, availability across the USA, not just in California). We’ll update this article and/or write another one once we get responses.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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