KIA going from zero to eNiro with major electric drive - and Soul EV is on the way too
First Drive in Nice: KIA eNiro
KIA's first full electric crossover, the eNiro, will arrive in Ireland next year in time for the 192-plate.
Prices for lower-range models are expected to be around €33,000. The more powerful version will cost €4,000 more (after grants, VRT rebates worth €10,000).
I've just been driving the zero-emissions motor, but first a little background.
KIA is tiptoeing into the electric vehicle (EV) market mainly due to lack of supply next year, but also because it takes time to ramp up for a first foray into the pure electric arena.
The company expects around 150 EVs to be bought in 2019 - eNiros and new Soul EVs. That is scheduled to spiral the year after to around 500.
It also expects to sell 500 Niro plug-ins in 2019, but there will be no Niro 'normal' hybrids as the price gap to a plug-in will be so small.
Anyway, in 2020 combined plug-in and EV buying will be around 950 - that's 15pc of all cars they'll have on the market. It's a major step in a short time.
The firm says the eNiro is the first five-door, five-seat electric compact crossover. It has a range of 455km for the 64kWh model and 289km for the 39.2kWh version. The company expect most buyers to go for the long- range model.
An electric motor drives the front wheels. Power comes from a lithium-ion battery pack underneath.
A few design touches distinguish the 20mm longer, 25mm taller and heavier eNiro. There's an integrated charging port in the grille, the air intakes are re-designed (they open/close automatically) and LED daytime running lights combine with blue trim highlights. There's a 451-litre boot (slightly up on other Niros) with a storage area for the charging cable.
On a 100kW fast charger, the battery of either version can be boosted to 80pc in 42 minutes. Models with the 64kWh pack have a 204PS electric motor (395Nm torque, 0-100kmh 7.8 seconds) driving the front wheels, while the 39.2 kWh version develops 136PS (also 395Nm torque, 0-100kmh 9.8 seconds).
On our drives, the regenerative braking system recouped a lot of energy and helped charge the battery while the car was coasting, slowing or going down hill.
Paddles on the steering wheel let us decide how much regeneration we wanted. As I lifted off the accelerator, there was a braking effect, but to stop altogether I could either hold the paddle for a second or two or physically apply the brakes. New 17in aluminium alloys house the regenerative system.
There is a drive mode select system which lets us select between Eco, Eco-plus, Normal and Sport (that gave us a fair old lash).
There's also a smart regeneration system which increases to slow the car in traffic and lessens when approaching an incline.
The interior differs from other Niros. Because you don't need a gearshift or link, the transmission is replaced by a new 'shift-by-wire' rotator dial drive selector. It's on a panel extending from the central arm-rest where buttons for the electronic parking brake, heated/ventilated seats, drive mode selector, parking sensors etc also reside.
We skimmed silently along narrow, twisty, hilly roads and one spate of motorway in south of France sunshine in the longer-range version.
However, the litmus test, surely, was the accuracy of KIA's claimed range, so I chose a three-section drive of three hours to specifically test that.
I started with a projected range of 447km. We didn't spare the horses. When I'd covered 59.4km, there were 383km left in the battery. When we covered 49.6km (including motorway), there was a range of 341km left. And then I drove up the side of a steep, narrow road - just 8.6km - and found myself with 332km remaining.
So, in two hours, 52 minutes we'd covered 117.6km but had only used 115km of battery power (regeneration played a key role). On that basis it was quite accurate and credible.
I think that's critical for EVs: People have to be able to trust the one-charge distance the makers claim their EVs can cover.
On a less positive note, I thought the steering was a bit all over the place and it took some getting used to. The car also looked dull in our dark-colour version. I'd prefer it in white or red.
The cabin was comfortable and I liked the ease of just turning a knob to drive, reverse or park.
There's not doubt the eNiro is a thoroughly efficient if rather less-than-exciting package, but with the edgier Soul it gives the brand a head start in the race for buyers of EV compact crossovers (among others). Its credible range pushes the 64kWh model into Tesla and Jaguar i-Pace charge territory. That's no mean feat. Oh, and new era or not, the KIA seven-year warranty still applies - to car and battery.
I wonder what changes we'll witness over the next seven years. KIA alone plans on having 16 new electrified models by 2025. There are demanding but exciting times ahead.