NZ's cheapest pure-electric SUV is almost here

The Kia Niro EV is set to launch in New Zealand in the coming months

Kia's new Niro EV adopts a smaller battery than the Hyundai Kona Electric it's based on - meaning it'll be launched here at a lower price.

Kia New Zealand intends to place the Niro EV in the market in two variants, an EX 289 that will sell for $67,990 and an EX 455 edition that carries a $73,990 price tag.

The model numbers tell the story, each giving optimal range in kilometres, as measured independently.

The 455 model has a 64kWh lithium-ion polymer battery and mostly identical performance attributes to its under-skin doppelganger, the Hyundai Kona Electric, which has been on sale since last year in two variants.

The most expensive edition, the Elite costs $79,990 while the price leader, simply known as Kona Electric, costs the same as the EX 45

The reason why the 289 slips into the $60k band is because it regresses to a less powerful drivetrain that does not yet configure in the Kona here.

The entry Kia's 39.2kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack is matched to a 100kW/395Nm motor.

Ranges cited for electric vehicles have often been called into question. The Kia NZ expectations, however, appear to conform to findings established by a newly introduced barometer that has potential to be especially accurate, since it follows a stricter set of guidelines than alternate regimes.

The World Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP), which enacted in Europe last year and has become a measure for many new cars coming here, has particular meaning for Kia.

WLTP testing a few months ago led to a downgrading of results proposed by Kia for the electric Niro; the figures presented by the car brand prior to the independent analysis subsequently being described as an overstatement.

As result of the models being assessed under the WLTP regime, the 64kWh Niro's optimal range rating was downgraded from 484km to 455km, while the model with the smaller pack's was reset from 310km to 255km. The WLTP findings were announced in December and Kia did not contest them.

Hyundai on launching the 64kWh Kona said it expected that variant to provide in excess of 400km range, but also noted an optimal 470km is claimed in other markets.

At time of the Kona EV's release, Hyundai NZ indicated clear interest in the smaller power unit, but has since shown no inclination to deliver it. Does the Niro exercise suggest any price saving is too modest to bother, given the big decrease in range?

Kia Motors New Zealand general manager Todd McDonald argues there is a place for both cars.

"By providing two power options at different price points we're giving buyers the opportunity to decide which Niro EV best suits their requirements.

"Even the 289km range is far superior to some fully electric cars on the market and the 455km option is simply stunning."

Interestingly, while the 64kWh Niro and Kona Electric share the same specs for the battery pack, they have different suppliers.

The battery for the Niro is supplied by SK Innovation, while the Kona's comes from LG Chem, both based in South Korea.

The e-Niro's battery is water-cooled, a first for Kia, helping increase capacity and energy density.

In either placement the 64kWh electric motor delivers 150kW of power and 395Nm of torque to the front wheels.

Hyundai says Kona is capable of accelerating from a standstill to 100kmh in 7.6 seconds. The Niro, according to overseas' data, is 0.2s slower. The 289 requires 9.8s to hit the highway limit from a standing start.

Kia New Zealand has yet to announce exact availability of the battery Niro, which is called e-Niro in most other countries, saying only that it will be here within a few months.

Which Kona will the 455 match up to best in respect to specification? The EX fitout that spans both Niros has yet to be explained, though Kia here has suggested it will be fulsome. They say the models will have three years free scheduled servicing or up to 45,000kms, whichever comes first.

Niro specification information provided internationally suggests it is likely the variant will box tick on Kona Electric's SmartSense safety package.

This includes a range of driver-assistance systems including forward-collision warning; adaptive cruise control, with a setting that can take over in stop-and-go traffic and driver-attention warning.

Kia internationally cites Niro as having high-tech features such as a regenerative braking system and an optional advanced heat pump to help warm the interior while sparing battery power. These also feature on the Kona.

Kia is expected to roll out two more EVs before 2021.