KIA’s new electric SUV Niro: It’s a matter of choice

You’re forgiven if you’re a bit confused with all the BEVs, PHEVs and HEVs, not to mention the MHEVs, that are on the market.

More and more brands have several choices of “electrified” models in their range.

That’s the way things are going if we convert all new cars sold by 2030 to electric.

But people are still a little stumped (well those who contact me are anyway) with all the different “EV” acronyms being applied to cars with some electrical input.

Only battery electric vehicles (BEVs) rely entirely on electricity for their power supply. Often referred to as EVs, they are powered solely by electric motors and rechargeable batteries. You can charge it at home or via the national network.

A plug-in hybrid or PHEV is equipped with a gasoline engine, an electric motor and a special battery pack. The battery can be plugged in and charged like an all-electric car, but crucially, it doesn’t have the size or capacity of a BEV.

A hybrid electric vehicle, or HEV, has a gasoline engine and an electric motor. It is important that the battery can only be charged by the petrol engine. These cars are commonly known as “hybrids”.

And then there’s the “mild hybrid” vehicle (MHEV), which uses a battery-powered electric motor to improve efficiency and reduce emissions. Mild hybrids also use regenerative braking to charge the battery while driving. They will not be charged from an external power source and will not be able to drive purely on electric power.

I’ve been asked to outline the different genres and how they work because I’ve just tested two new KIA Niro arrivals. One is a Niro PHEV; the other a Niro BEV.

I’ve already reviewed the PHEV, so I’ll steer clear of repeats. But I thought it would be instructive to take on the tricky task of trying to find pros and cons for both.

It’s a position many of us will soon be confronted with: go all-electric or take the extra step with a PHEV because of its perceived petrol engine ‘back-up’.

Visually, there isn’t much of a difference between the PHEV and the BEV Niro, other than the front grille and a few touches here and there. The grille is a two-tone closed affair; There are different bumpers and ‘model specific’ 17″ alloys.

I think the BEV looks marginally better than the PHEV with its sharper front grille differentiation.

The BEV is more expensive: €43,550 (including government grants and VRT rebate), although not as much as expected. Yes, the K3 version of the PHEV starts at €38,500, but the spec in the BEV is similar to the K4 stage of the plug-in, starting at €41,500 so there’s not that big of a gap.

The BEV has a claimed range of 460 km, which is excellent. But after driving I would say 420 km is more realistic. I’m guessing that’s a little below the PHEV if you’re plugging in regularly. Range goes out the door if you’re cruising hard on the Autobahn with either model, for example.

I’m at risk of overwhelming you with facts and figures here, so I’ll just say that the BEV felt faster off the mark.

Both handled well, but when pushed, I felt the all-electric version was a bit better in corners and on worse surfaces. Both benefit from an improvement in suspension and steering feedback.

Charging the BEV’s 64.8 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery from 10 to 80 takes just 43 minutes with a suitable DC quick charger.

Refueling the PHEV with gasoline takes a few minutes (you can charge the battery element at your leisure at home or off-grid). I think that’s a big win for the PHEV in terms of time spent “refueling”.

The BEV also has a heat pump, a battery heating/cooling system and a vehicle-to-device (V2D) power supply.

Both cabins scored the same – they are basically very similar. Likewise the displays and fittings. As did some of the voice control errors that turned a well-known Irish name into “London”.

However, the cabin has become an area where KIA excels. The Niro is not an eye-catcher on the outside, but my God, you feel spoiled inside, although I would have liked a little more space in the back.

The BEV’s special 17-inch alloys I think beat the PHEV because there was less cabin noise (you notice it even more in the near-silence of an electric powertrain). That’s a plus for the all-electric version.

So what would I buy? It’s a tough question because I feel like there are different customers for everyone. A BEV might not suit anyone across the country, while a PHEV might. Vice versa for a city dweller.

But if I had to make a decision, I would go for the BEV. Why not? It is made for the real journey into the electric future.

fact file

KIA Niro BEV. €43,550. 64.8 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery.

A wide range of safety and driver assistance technologies (Lane Keep Assist, Lane Follow Assist, Smart Cruise Control, Blind Spot Collision Avoidance); Shift-by-wire (rotary switch for drive, reverse and park), power front seats, heated rear seats, driver heads-up display, driver display, center touchscreen, mobile phone charger.

Apple Car Play, Android Auto with voice control, dual-zone climate control. KIA’s new electric SUV Niro: It’s a matter of choice

Fry Electronics Team

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