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Why the Kia Niro EV Takes the Non-Tesla Electric Car Lead in 2019

Without excelling in any one area, the 2019 Kia Niro EV delivers the kind of all-round qualities that could bring non-Tesla electric vehicles into the mainstream.

It's taken almost a decade, but in 2019 we finally seem to have a selection of relatively affordable, long-range electric vehicles.

From the runaway success of the Tesla Model 3, through early players like the Chevy Bolt EV and Nissan Leaf, and on to newcomers including the Kia Niro EV and Hyundai Kona Electric, car buyers interested in making the jump to electric vehicles can now at least do a little cross-shopping.

But which of these options offers the most compelling EV option in 2019, outside of Tesla's line-up? For that, we're increasingly coming back to the Kia Niro EV.

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2019 Kia Niro EV: The Best All-Rounder?
On the surface, the Kia Niro EV doesn't always offer the "best" option in individual categories. It's not as quick off the line as the Chevy Bolt EV. It doesn't have quite the range of its 64kWh pack sibling, the Hyundai Kona Electric. Even aesthetically, it's arguably less interesting than the Kona and second-generation Nissan Leaf.

What the 2019 Kia Niro EV does offer is the best overall package for a non-Tesla affordable electric vehicle.

At 22 ft³ has more storage space than all but the Nissan Leaf, yet doesn't lose a significant amount of range to provide it.

The cabin also has a lot of creature comforts, such as power seats with heating and ventilation and moonroof, yet it remains firmly in the affordable EV bracket. The car comes with built-in navigation but integrates Apple Carplay and Android Auto for those who prefer their smartphone apps.

Then there's the performance, where the Kia Niro EV delivers the quick and planted driving experience of an electric vehicle, without feeling overpowered or off-balance.

The range is also more than acceptable, with the EPA estimate of 239 miles often stretching much closer to 250-275 miles in real-world driving. The fast charging rate also tops out at a very respectable 75kW or thereabouts, leaving only premium non-Tesla competitors like the Jaguar I-PACE and Audi eTron ahead of it, neither of which are in the "affordable" bracket of the Kia Niro EV.

Kia's driver-assist features are also up there with the best of them, combining a competent lane-keep assist system with adaptive cruise control and low-speed settings for the commuter crawl. Nothing that will blow away the more ambitious offerings that are frequently promised by other automakers, but more than enough to keep regular drivers happy.

Put everything together and you have a highly capable EV that delivers in almost every important category, even though it doesn't excel in any of them individually.

Here's an update on Electrify America and the charging issues faced by the Kia Niro EV on this developing charging network.

Efficiency and Everyday Appeal
It's that overall mix of practicality, efficiency, and comfort, blended with the advantages of an electric drivetrain, that make the 2019 Kia Niro EV the affordable non-Tesla option to beat as we head into the next wave of electrification.

The main caveat to this argument comes not from the car itself, but from Kia's willingness to move EV metal. At the time of writing, the Kia Niro EV is only offered in 12 states: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.

On the subject of ZEV states, here's where affordable EVs like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt EV have recently been available for as low as $20,000 with incentives.

While this was also the case for the 2017 Chevy Bolt EV initially, GM eventually rolled out the car to all 50 states. However, Kia confirmed at launch that there are, as yet, no plans to offer the car nationwide.

If Kia fails to change this stance for future model years, it will undercut the potential for the Kia Niro EV to become the go-to vehicle for mainstream buyers who want to make the switch to electric. That would be a shame, as the everyday appeal of the car is exactly what could attract the kind of family buyers that other EVs have yet to convert.

But what comes next?

Will an established brand that has already set one foot on the path to electric vehicles, such as Nissan or General Motors, expand their electric lineup to regain the non-Tesla EV lead? Or will a new player like Volkswagen or Ford deliver on the EV promises they've made for years?

It's all to play for in the march towards electric vehicles, with the only certainty being that any automaker that fails to lay the groundwork now will be playing catch up for years to come.

Who do you think holds the best hand to challenge Tesla in the all-electric market, whether with current models or future releases? Let us know in the comments.

Steve Birkett is an electric vehicle advocate at Plug & Play EV. You can follow him on Twitter at @Plugandplayev, Instagram and Youtube at Plugandplayev Channel to send him EV news tips.


Eric (not verified)    July 26, 2019 - 1:15PM

I like my EV Kia Niro because it has decent range, and it looks like a normal vehicle. I don’t like all the EV’s that look futuristic.

Paul Govan (not verified)    July 26, 2019 - 4:38PM

In reply to by Eric (not verified)

Foot-dragging carmakers like VW, BMW, Honda, Ford etc would have us all believe that they have to spend year after yawning year developing special, all-new EVs and EV "platforms".
Utter nonsense of course - it's just one more excuse/alibi to drag their feet. Most people would self-evidently be very happy if carmakers just pulled their fingers out and did what Hyundai have done with the Kona and Niro.
Paul G

Paul Govan (not verified)    July 26, 2019 - 4:28PM

"Takes the non-Tesla lead"? Hyundai /Kia have taken the lead - period - in the hottest automotive consumer segment worldwide ie.SUVs, compact SUVs, crossovers. The electric Kona and Niro have breached the gasoline-only consensus that carmakers(outside China) have adhered to for too long to protect the highly profitable SUV market-segment against EV intrusion and disruption. Still no other carmakers outside China are willing to produce or even talk about affordable e-SUVs for the masses.
Paul G

DeanMcManis (not verified)    July 28, 2019 - 6:11PM

In reply to by Paul Govan (not verified)

Nope. The Niro, Kona, and Soul are smart, actually producing affordable, long range CUVs. Outside of the Bolt, there is no competition for price and space. But ALL of the EV models sold added up together are less than just the Model 3 sales alone. So Hyundai has not taken the EV sales lead, not even close. But they are the strongest competitor today. The EV market will change next year, and again in 2021 especially for EVs, but for now Hyundai committed early to this growing EV CUV market and it will pay off well for them.

Steve Birkett    July 29, 2019 - 9:37AM

In reply to by Paul Govan (not verified)

In certain vehicle categories, it might be possible to argue that another manufacturer has the lead over Tesla by sales, but only because Tesla hasn't entered that segment yet. From a base of 20,000+ units sold, there's even a good chance that the Tesla Model X will beat out the Kona Electric or Niro EV in terms of 2019 sales. When you can't sell as many affordable electric SUV/CUVs at $40K as Tesla can sell luxury SUVs at $80-90K, you're not the industry leader in any meaningful sense. Right now, by production, sales, technology, and most other yardsticks, it's Tesla first and everyone else a distant second.

Duke Woolworth (not verified)    July 29, 2019 - 5:54PM

The Kona is fine but has a miniscule back seat. Leaf's cargo area a little strange with its hump in the middle. Some or all Kias and all Teslas have more efficient heat pumps to warm the cabins.