Stealth comes standard on the egg-shaped Kia Niro EV.
It whirs silently by like a wispy cloud on a sunny day, barely visible among the noisy clumps of crossovers, F-150 pickups,and Tahoes.
I suspect that the all-electric 2019 Niro EV attracts plenty of attention in automaker offices from Michigan to California.
Consider the virtues of the appliance-white Niro EV I had recently: A 239-mile range from its lithium-ion polymer battery, slightly more than the much-ballyhooed Chevy Bolt; quicker acceleration than most compact vehicles of any kind; and an expected base price of $37,500 before tax credits.
Sure, you may have to explain to your friends that Niro is not a ‘70s California glam-band, but that’s part of the vehicle’s quiet appeal.
I admit my compact Niro crossover – a pre-production model – was pretty easy to miss.
A solid Kia “tiger-nose” grille, for example, stretched between the Niro’s large headlamps, while a sculpted “hood” added a bit of distinction.
Meanwhile, the Niro’s mostly smooth, subtly rounded sides wore a faint character line through the middle of the doors, settling on 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped with skinny 215/55 tires.
Granted, it won’t attract many looks at your local Cars-and-Coffee, but it could be a heck of a getaway car.
However, as Prof. Willie Dixon said, you can’t judge a book by looking at the cover.
Press the “power” button on the dashboard and you summon silence. The only way to know that you have connected with Niro is from the lighted gauges on the dash.
Select “D” on the rotary shifter and the Niro departs on a nice little wave of smooth power, leaving behind noise, vibration and other mechanical stirrings.
As you probably know, electric motors generate instant torque, so they generally feel much livelier than internal-combustion engines.
So, the front-wheel-drive Niro EV is plenty quick. Floor the throttle and it leaps away with a chirp of its tires, accelerating to 60-mph in an estimated 7 seconds, according to Car and Driver.
Moreover, quick, light steering and a solid platform almost give the 3,900-pound Niro a semi-sporting feel, able to turn into corners about as crisply as some small sedans.
It also rides better than many sedans – compliant with a touch of firm, enhanced by the lack of noise.
Like most EVs, the Niro has no transmission, instead directing its 201-horsepower and 291 lb.-ft. of torque directly to the front wheels.
In addition, the Niro’s regenerative brakes – which use friction energy in the brakes to generate small amounts of electricity for the battery – are so aggressive that you can practically stop by just backing off the accelerator.
There’s also a downside in the likable Niro, the persistent electric-car gremlin: recharging.
For one thing, you probably won’t get 239 miles consistently from the Niro’s fully charged battery. Hard acceleration, traffic jams and conveniences such as the climate-control system draw down the battery more rapidly.
During one period of driving, I burned through 52 miles of range to go 48 miles – and I wasn’t using the climate-control system or driving particularly hard.
If I had waited until my range was down to 15 miles or so before I sought to recharge the Niro, I could be in real trouble.
Using a standard 120-volt outlet found in most garages, a complete recharge takes 59 hours, Kia says. Get an electrician out to upgrade the outlet to 240 volts and a full recharge requires 9 hours, 35 minutes, Kia says.
Of course, the Niro also has the ability to accept a fast-charge from a 100-kilowatt system, which takes less than two minutes, but good luck finding many of them outside of California and a few other states.
(The Niro EV, incidentally, will be sold initially in 12 states, including Texas and California.)
I retreated to the Niro’s black interior to ponder all of that, which unfortunately was less impressive than the vehicle’s performance.
A flat black dashboard in coarse plastic, for instance, dropped down to a mid-dash in silver plastic fitted with a 7-inch display screen.
Horizontal panels beneath it provided knobs and buttons for the Niro’s audio and climate-control systems.
Mine also was equipped with heated seats, a cell phone-charging platform and had Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability.
Although most of the interior was coated in hard plastic, the armrests on the door-panels were stitched in blue-green (Kia’s eco-colors), while the supportive seats featured bolsters trimmed in blue-green and centers in a stylized blue-green material.
I can accept that, considering the Niro’s reasonable price. What I couldn’t live with is the lack of any real recharging infrastructure in most of the U.S.
EVs are absolutely legitimate, kids. The system to support them is not.
Until I can get in my EV and drive cross-country knowing that I can find fast-charges everywhere, EVs simply aren’t real cars – just urban commuter-vehicles and novelties.
2019 Kia Niro
What I liked most: The Niro’s impressive performance, handling and ride.
What I would change: How about some more spark in the exterior and interior to complement the electric heart of the vehicle?
MSRP: Unknown, but expected to be about $37,500.
Fuel economy: Range of 239 miles on a full charge, with recharge port on the left
Lack of chargers is why I wouldn't consider any EV besides Tesla. Tesla has Superchargers stationed midway between big cities. It's possible to drive from coast to coast with them. Their charger network is about 3-5 years ahead of everyone else. Or you could just use the Niro for a daily driver and rent/use a gas car for the occasional trip.