Tuesday 18 June 2019

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Kia’s e-Niro is a long-haul electric car star

Wednesday, 9th January, 2019 5:01pm

Electric car media launch events tend to take place somewhere flat. The Netherlands is a popular location — with so few hills, the cars’ batteries are not going to be perturbed by having to haul their own weight, plus those of the rest of the car, and sundry over-fed journalists, up to the heights of any nearby peaks.

It takes some confidence, then, to bring us to the south of France, where the roads are famously vertiginous and lofty, to drive a new electric car. Kia has that confidence, confidence in its new e-Niro electric crossover.

You’ll already be familiar with the Niro as a conventional hybrid (soon to disappear from sale) and a plugin hybrid (very much staying on sale, and very much an impressive car).

The e-Niro (yes, pronounced like Robert DeNiro, and the famed Hollywood star will be appearing in Kia’s ads for its new electric car) chucks out the hybrid’s 1.6 petrol engine and its fuel tank.

In its place comes a whopping 64kWh battery pack (which all on its own weighs a full 400kg) and a 204hp electric motor driving the front wheels.

From the outside, the e-Niro is obviously different to the hybrid version thanks to a blanked-off radiator grille (well, there’s no radiator after all) which also contains the flap for the plug-in point.

That point is compatible with the double-decked CCS fast-chargers, so the e-Niro can chug down an 80 per cent charge in around 40-45 minutes.

What about fully charged, though? Well, this is where the e-Niro may be something of a breakthrough car.

We’ve become depressingly used to climbing aboard electric cars which claim one thing when it comes to range, but display and altogether lower number on the dash when you sit in.

In the e-Niro, though, there it was on the dash — 420km before we needed to recharge.

Aha, but you’ll think, what happened when we took it out on those vertical French mountain roads? Bet the range didn’t stack up so well then, eh? Eh?

Well, actually we drove the e-Niro pretty vigorously, up and down hill, through traffic, through small villages, and along some dual carriageway, and at the end of a 70-odd-kilometre test route, the range on the dash said…380km.

Much of the impressive range is down to the e-Niro’s clever regenerative braking system.

Lift off the ‘throttle’ and you can select from three levels of regen braking, using the electric motor to slow the car down and simultaneously using that drag to turn the motor into a generator, feeding juice back to the batteries.

Level one is for motorway use, with almost no drag and no regeneration, allowing the e-Niro to coast along effortlessly. Use the paddles behind the steering wheel and you can ramp that up until the motor acts as a pretty impressive brake.

In fact, click and hold the left hand paddle and the e-Niro will come to a full, if languid, stop. It’s clever, albeit not as simple to use as Nissan’s similar e-Pedal setup in the Leaf.

Still, the e-Niro feels more lively to drive than the Nissan. With a 200hp electric motor up front, acceleration from low speeds is hugely impressive, especially if you’ve flicked the car’s settings over to Sport mode.

Even on motorways (which are less of a drain on range resources than you might expect) the e-Niro picks up strongly from cruising speeds.

Well, it does if you’ve bought this long-range model with its 64kWh battery and the 200hp motor anyway. There is a shorter-range version, with a 39kWh battery and a range of around 289km, and a lower-power motor, but Kia Ireland reckons it will mostly order and sell long-range models.

It’ll be more expensive, but likely worth more in three years’ time when it comes to trade-in, and when other models have caught up with the e-Niro’s range.

How expensive? Well, that’s still TBC but the likely figures are around €37,000 for the long-range model, and €33,000 for the short-range.

Not cheap, exactly, but not wildly more expensive than the current Niro plugin-hybrid.

It’s a hugely impressive car, the e-Niro.

Not exactly cheap, it’s true, but with the kind of proper, useable one-charge range that has hitherto only been the preserve of the likes of Tesla, which asks rather a lot more for its cars.

True, the e-Niro could be more engaging to drive (the steering is far too light and rubbery for any actual entertainment) but as an electric car package, right now this looks like the one to beat.

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