Since moving from the Valley of the Sun to the Valley of Vegas, I find myself doing much less driving on a daily basis. So much less that I’ve realized that I might be able to live with an electric vehicle.
To test that theory, Kia loaned a 2019 Niro EV, an EX Premium, for a week-long test drive.
Niro is the newest of Kia’s compact crossover vehicles. It’s name is a Kia creation that combines “Near Zero,” representing technology, and especially in the case of the EV version, and “Hero.”
It is built on a wheelbase longer than either the Soul or Sportage, yet is longer than the Soul but shorter than the Sportage. Niro is available with a gasoline engine, as a plug-in hybrid or as an all-electric vehicle, which means base pricing ranges from $23,490 with a 1.6-liter petrol engine to $44,000 for the EV EX Premium such as the one I’ve been driving.
Note, however, that when you add in options such as a cold weather package, premium launch edition, carpeted floor mats, cargo mat, cargo net, and even pay $200 to delete Homelink and ventilated seats — that’s right, the Monroney says you pay for something you’re not getting — the car I’ve been driving has an as-tested price of $47,155.
But the topic here isn’t price but practicality and whether I actually could live with an electric vehicle here in southern Nevada.
So, what’s it like to drive an electric vehicle?
If you think an EV is just a golf cart with a car body around it, you need to change your thinking, even if Niro will carry your clubs quite nicely, thank you.
With 291 pound-feet of torque immediately available — no waiting for a gasoline engine to have to spool up toward redline — the electrified Niro accelerates from a stoplight more like a sports car than a compact crossover. In fact, you have to keep an eye on the digital speedometer because the car not only is quick but quiet, and it’s easy to find yourself cruising at speeds greater than the posted limit.
And there’s another aspect of driving the Niro EV that takes some getting used to. That’s the fact that you barely ever touch the brake pedal because the car slows immediately when you reduce pressure on the accelerator pedal.
There’s a long downhill section of roadway between my house and pretty much anywhere I’m headed. In a petrol-powered vehicle, I have to tap the brakes from time to time and, if I’m headed in a southerly direction, I end up downshifting to control the speed.
But with the Niro EV, I simply lifted some on the right pedal and found it easy to maintain the posted limit. Same thing pretty much applies as you prepare to turn or to stop at an intersection. Lift and the car slows nicely. About all you need the brake pedal for is to come to a complete stop.
By the way, stopping is easy with 12-inch ventilated front discs and 11.8 solid discs on the rear wheels.
Steering (motor-driven power steering) and suspension (MacPherson struts up front, multi-link in back) operate just like any other vehicle. The driving is easy and comfortable in town or on the expressways.
So what’s it like to recharge the batteries?
The Niro EV arrived at my house with 104 miles of range indicated on its digital dashboard. I picked up my grandson to take him to his baseball game and he complained about how hot it was — it was 104 outside and who knows what in the car — and he asked why the air conditioning wasn’t blowing on him.
Turns out there’s a switch on the dash so the driver can direct all the a/c to the left-front seat. My grandson found the button and pressed it, and the range immediately dropped from 104 to 94.
Our round trip covered 18 miles and when I got home, the range report said 71 miles, so I connected the charging cable to a 110-volt standard household outlet for the night, and for the next morning and much of the afternoon.
The result: The range grew to only 131 miles.
I didn’t jot down how much I drove the next day, but it wasn’t far and I plugged in again overnight and got the range up to 162. After another such night it reached 162. Again, I did some errands around town, plugged in overnight and finally the range reached 250 miles.
Even at the 104 mile range, I wasn’t fretting with range anxiety as I had when driving EVs in the Phoenix area, where it might take 45 minutes to go from my house to, say, Scottsdale.
I didn’t have occasion to try one of the ChargePoint EV stations, although there are nearly two dozen in the Vegas Valley, including three within a couple of miles of my house. According to Kia, while it can take 9½ hours to fully charge the battery with standard household current, but you can get to 80 percent in about an hour at a commercial fast-charging outlet. Or to put it another way, in half an hour — think bathroom break and a snack — you can add 100 miles of range.
The key to being a happy EV owner, I suspect, is having a 220 outlet in your garage.
So, could Larry live with an EV?
Yes, and no.
Yes, for life here in the Vegas area, a couple hundred miles of range would be more than acceptable, and although I haven’t gotten an electric bill since I plugged the Niro in for a week, the Monroney notes that the average fuel (electric) cost should be around $600, or, if you keep the car for 5 years, you’d save $4,000 compared with a petrol-powered car of the same size.
Speaking of fuel use and cost, the onboard computer told me that during my week, I averaged 3.8 miles per kilowatt hour, which the Green Car Journal says is a more realistic measurement than the government’s MPGe figure and can be used in a formula with your local electric rate to determine the actual cost of electric car operation and efficiency.
As road-side EV recharging facilities continue to be added, regional road trips likely wouldn’t be an issue either. On the other hand, I still like to do long drives on the so-called blue highways, and occasional cross-the-country interstate cruises, but maybe that’s what rental cars are for?
So, yes, my week with the Niro indicates that I could live with an EV, but perhaps not this particular one. You see, my last two vehicles have been been pickup trucks, and I’ve found that once you own a pickup truck, you can’t live without one.
But if Kia or whomever comes out with a mid-size EV pickup that I can afford, yes, indeed, I sure would like to try living with one.
2019 Kia Niro EV EX Premium
Vehicle type: 5-passenger electric-powered crossover, front-wheel drive
Base price: $44,000 Price as tested: $47,155
Powertrain: 356-volt permanent magnet synchronous motor with Lithium Ion Polymer battery, 201 horsepower @ 3,800 to 8,000 rpm, 291 pound-feet of torque @ 0 to 3,600 rpm Transmission: gear-reduction unit
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches Overall length/width: 172.2 inches / 71.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,854 pounds (note: battery weighs 1,008 pounds)
EPA mileage estimates: 123 MPGe city / 102 MPGe highway / 239 miles estimated range
Assembled in: Hwasung, South Korea