With the recent rush by the prestigious European marques to try to grab all of the glittering limelight for their forthcoming SUV-style EVs, a similarly sized offering coming in at half the price is quietly proving its merits with superior efficiency and range. The Kia Niro EV’s early real-world tests show it will have range within 5% to 10% of it’s significantly smaller “efficiency-champ” sibling, the Hyundai Kona, and far better efficiency than any of the purportedly well-engineered European marques. Only the Tesla Model 3 has better efficiency than the Koreans, but that’s not an SUV or CUV.
Whilst the Hyundai Kona is definitely a small SUV, perhaps even diminutive, the Kia Niro is a bigger vehicle, approximately the same size in usable interior space as the Jaguar I-PACE. But whilst the Jag is struggling with poor efficiency and disappointing range, the Niro, a vehicle expected to be offered at around half the price, is giving a much needed lesson to the prestigious marques about how efficient EV powertrains should be designed. Here’s the latest real-world road test from EV guru Bjørn Nyland, who travelled to Korea specifically to put the Niro through its paces:
Achieving a slightly lower range than that of the Kona in similar testing conditions, despite being a larger vehicle, bodes very well for the Niro, its practicality, and its desirability. Bjørn’s medium speed test was done at cruising speeds of 90 km/h (56 mph), and Bjørn estimates a realistic 5% difference in range at these medium speeds between the differently sized siblings. We can expect the efficiency gap during the high-speed cruising test (120 km/h, 75 mph) to grow to closer to 10% since the aero profile size difference between the siblings becomes more important at higher speeds. Based on past experience, that’s still going to put the Niro in the ballpark of an EPA combined range rating of at least 238–240 miles (compared to the Kona’s 258 miles), and the all-important EPA highway speed rating of around 205–210 miles (compared to the Kona’s 226 miles).
The EPA highway figure is the key one for evaluating an EV’s road-trip readiness, since it closely approximates the range at real highway speeds (around 70–75 mph), albeit in ideal conditions. Given that the Niro has equally impressive fast DC charging as the Kona (up to 72 kW at compatible chargers), the Niro is a very compelling all-round capable package for those looking for a slightly larger SUV/crossover for a family.
We know that the price of the Kia Niro in the domestic market of Korea is only very marginally higher than it’s smaller sibling, the Hyundai Kona. The premium for the larger sibling is only around 130,000 Won ($1160, €1000), which is less than 3% higher. Given what we know of the Hyundai’s existing price points in Europe, and assuming the Kia will have a similarly modest pricing bump, that’s still going to put it at around half the price of the I-PACE.
Jaguar has been holding off giving a consistent EPA range estimate for the I-PACE, saying it is aiming for anything between 220 and 240 miles of EPA-rated range depending on which of its websites you turn to. Given the very inefficient Wh/km results of early real-world testing, though (see Bjorn’s early I-PACE test), Jaguar may be too optimistic. Certainly it won’t have more range than the Niro, despite having a battery of 90 kWh, compared to the Niro’s 64 kWh. Yes, that’s a battery over 40% larger, but with no better range! That really demonstrates the extent to which Kia is running circles around Jaguar on powertrain design and efficiency.
Sure, the Jag is more powerful, but given that it has a dual motor configuration, it could easily have given it an energy-sipping front motor for efficient cruising. But Jaguar neglected to do so. And before you ask, the Jag’s higher headline charging power compared to the Koreans is wiped out in practice from having lower energy efficiency. Indeed, charging experts at Fastned estimate the I-PACE to have a real-world peak charging speed of 85 kW, effectively making it slower to add effective range than the Korean pair, which take in energy slightly more slowly, but use it a whole lot more efficiently.
But why should we pick on Jaguar? To its credit, it is at least the first of the European brands to get its electric SUV in the hands of customers. When Mercedes finally decides to give a consistent estimate of the EQC’s range, you can bet that it will be even less impressive than the Jag. And it seems likely to be priced higher still. Audi and BMW will probably fall close to their European counterparts in pricing and range, also earning themselves demerit badges. And bear in mind that the Niro is on the road in the hands of customers today, whereas I have yet to see evidence of the Jag actually having been delivered to a customer anywhere (jump in the comments if you know differently — including you, prince Charles). The other Europeans won’t have their electric SUVs on the road for at least another year.
Whilst no one is pretending that the Kia Niro has the same interior comfort and refinement that the European marques will have, the fact that the latter are dropping the ball on efficiency is really an embarrassment, considering they like to present themselves as the automotive engineering leaders. After all, efficiency is a no-brainer engineering priority for EVs since it strongly influences negative overall cost (lighter, smaller, cheaper batteries for the same range, and effectively faster recharging times per mile of range added). Seems that the European legacy carmakers still have a long way to go to catch up with the Korean brands, let alone the market leader, Tesla.
And remember that the Korean manufacturers are now recognized for their market leading reliability and comparatively low maintenance costs. Don’t be fooled by the European marques’ glossy presentations and hyped reveals. They still have a long way to go to prove they are capable of surviving the transition from legacy fossil fuel cars to electric cars.
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