Taking the scenic route in life is when some of the most interesting things happen. However, you don’t expect the humdrum act of charging your car to spark joy and a sense of the great outdoors.
But maybe it should. While there are now over 1,350 public charge points across the island of Ireland, according to the ESB, most are situated in carparks surrounded by a sea of tarmacadam rather than being in postcard pretty rural idylls.
While out on a recent road trip, behind the wheel of the Kia Niro EV, motoring correspondent Melanie May discovered a beauty in the everyday, all within easy access of the city.
“On a cold winter morn, the bright blue metallic paint job of the test car brought a much-needed burst of colour to the 50-shades-of-grey day,” says May. “Thanks to some clever tech called pre-conditioning the interior is toasty warm as soon as you sit in, if you use a downloadable phone app to pre-set and schedule the climate control before your journey.”
So, sinking into the soft, vegan leather seats, the cabin's temperature is just to her liking — tropical.
The destination is Fernhill Park and Gardens, Enniskerry Road, Newtownlittle, on the south side of Dublin’s Three Rock. The location is surrounded by native and evergreen trees, burnished bracken and watered-down winter reds. There is tarmac of a sort, but the setting and its sense of easy escapism completely distracts you from this.
Apart from offering a warm welcome, pre-conditioning is one of the Kia Niro’s many intelligent features. By pre-heating the car whilst it is charging you use energy from the grid, not the car's battery, thus making the Niro EV even more efficient and allowing you the driver to wring as much range out of the battery as possible.
“The new Kia Niro EV is a sharp-looking and spacious electric vehicle that makes driving as stress-free and safe as possible,” May notes. “You can tell that Kia built this mid-size crossover with comfort and convenience in mind.”
The vehicle comes with a 64.8kWh battery pack that powers an electric motor paired with a single-speed automatic transmission that drives the front wheels. The output is 204hp and 255Nm of torque which is plenty of performance for a car of this size. It has a one-charge range of up to 460km, on the worldwide light vehicle test procedure (WLTP) cycle, and can charge up to 80 per cent of that, about 370km, in around 40 minutes. Using a DC connection, you can add 85km of range for every 10 minutes spent charging. This gives you time to enjoy a bit of a tailgate party — coffee and snacks while you wait.
“Of course, the range will fluctuate in the real world depending on many factors — driving style, road type, and weather. However, having driven the car during a particularly chilly week in December, it wasn't too far off the claimed range,” she says. “I did a mixture of fast motorway driving, city centre stop-go traffic and winding country roads. I also drove with the heated seats and heated steering wheel on, and the heating turned up to balmy throughout.”
Another clever feature designed to aid the car's efficiency is the various levels of regenerative braking ranging from light to one-pedal (i-Pedal) driving.
Selecting i-Pedal enables the car to accelerate, slow down and come to a complete stop by simply increasing or decreasing the pressure applied to the accelerator. One-pedal diving comes into its own in city centre congestion as it maximises the battery's efficiency and recoups every last bit of energy as you slow down. This energy feeds back into the battery and adds kilometres to the range.
“While I drove the 18km to Fernhill Park and gardens, home to possibly one of the most scenic charging spots in Ireland, the range only depleted by 11km because of the amount of kinetic energy that my very smooth braking put back into the battery. Apart from improving efficiency, one-pedal driving is a more relaxing way to drive, and it reduces driver fatigue.
“And on the subject, driving the Kia Niro EV is remarkably easy and enjoyable. With no engine noise and good levels of sound insulation, the cabin is practically silent, especially on the motorway. The suspension is set up for comfort, which is most welcome when you hit potholes and bumps, and the handling is well-balanced and retains composure through corners. Supportive seats mean it is also very comfortable over long distances.”
It's safe, too, as it has a whole suite of high-tech conveniences. For example, there is the lane keep assist system — which helps keep the car in its lane without any driver input — and a reversing camera system with dynamic guidelines to keep you, your precious cargo, and other road users safe.
The cabin looks slick with uncluttered surfaces. The touchscreen infotainment system is responsive and easy to navigate. All the controls, dials and buttons are where they ought to be, and there is a toggle button to flick between the climate controls and infotainment quickly. Everything is laid out to minimise distraction, so you don't have to take your eyes off the road. “It's all rather zen,” May quips, “especially when you hop into the fully reclining passenger seat and enjoy a snooze while the car charges.”
The cabin also has many handy cubby holes, pockets, and cup holders. For charging up devices on long road trips, there are USB and 12V charging ports in the front, back and boot. “Another nifty feature is the 3.5kW power outlet on the car's charging port,” she notes, “Which allows you to charge up electric bikes and e-scooters or boil a kettle the next time you stop for a tailgate picnic which could just be as simple a meal as coffee and snacks — sustenance while you wait.”
As the battery is under the car, the floor is completely flat, meaning there is lots of leg room for rear passengers. The rear seats split in a 60:40 fashion, and with the seats folded the already spacious 475-litre boot increases to 1,392 litres. If that isn't enough, you'll find a front boot under the bonnet that holds 20 litres. Handy for storing the charging cables.
“Overall, the new Kia Niro EV is a handsome and hugely practical car with plenty of space, ideal for small families,” May concludes. “You get a lot of car for your money including a seven-year warranty, thoughtful tech and a decent, reliable range.”
Discover the Kia range at kia.com/ie.