As I landed in Denver, I was thinking about the long weekend ahead of me. I came to town to help some friends in a bad situation, the trip sponsored partially by their family. As I perused the car rental lot, there were loads of new Nissan Frontiers, Toyota 4-Runners and Tacomas, and of course the rows of mini-vans. But tucked in the back with a sign on top that said, "I'm Electric!" was a 2022 Kia Niro EV. With a mind on my sponsor's costs and knowing I'd be spending a lot of time in granola-hippie Boulder, Colorado, I piled my luggage into the back and verified with the gate attendant that I did not need to return the vehicle "full".
2022 is the final model year for this version of the Niro as it is being restyled for 2023, though the powertrain is carrying over.
Not much has changed since our other editor reviewed the 2019 Kia Niro EV and came away with the idea that it might be the first EV he could live with. I'm a bit more bougie than he is, but if it had some nicer materials in the cabin, I'd come away with a similar opinion.
The Niro came well equipped with modern technology conveniences like adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Kia's UVO Connect system is responsive and easy to use, though the search function for finding charging stations could use significant improvement. In the end I opted to download the ChargePoint app on my phone which can present itself as CarPlay app and help with navigating to the nearest charger.
What impressed me most about the Niro EV was the powertrain. Even in Eco mode, the Niro is pretty quick. I prefer the high regenerative braking setting to use one-pedal control. It takes some getting used to, but once you do, you won't want to give it up. In sport mode, the Niro is shockingly quick. Keeping in mind that for all intents, this is a Kia economy car, someone slipped in V8-like low end torque. I ended up having to switch out of sport mode because I was smoking the front tires too often.
As I crisscrossed the greater Denver region with a few trips from Denver to Boulder and points beyond, I racked up 329 miles. Living with the Niro, even without a home charger was still convenient. Even though I didn't need to charge at the time, while in downtown Denver, I parked and plugged in while joining friends for lunch at a Level 2 charger. The hour and sixteen minute the Niro spend nursing on electricity while I stuffed a burger in my face cost $1.92 (not counting the burger) and added 29 miles to my range. I spend the rest of the day on the road crunching up a lot of miles. The next day I had about 50 miles of range left, just enough to get me to Boulder comfortably. Once I arrived, I found a Level 3 charger at a local grocery store, plugged in, and went to have breakfast at one of my most favorite restaurants in the world. While I was eating, the Kia added 115 miles of range in 40 minutes for a cost of $13.06.
As far as EV charging costs go, these prices aren't nearly as good as charging at home, but at 11c per mile for the Level 3 charger, it is still cheaper than all but the most efficient of hybrids and any gasoline powered vehicle.
I spend my last day in the area driving through the mountains and using a lot of regenerative braking. On one particular run with judicious use of the one-pedal mode, I returned nearly 90 percent of the range to the batteries going downhill as I used to go uphill.
Kia and Hyundai both have some pretty compelling EVs coming out in the next few months and years, but from the powertrain perspective, they've already built a car that nearly anyone could live with.