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Can You Road-Trip the 2023 Kia Niro EV With Its 253 Miles of Range?

kia-niro-ev-wave-2023-06-exterior-white-profile 2023 Kia Niro EV | Cars.com photo by Joe Bruzek

The redesigned 2023 Kia Niro EV takes huge steps toward modernity and uniqueness with its fresh interior and exterior, but its 253-mile EPA-rated driving range and on-the-road fast-charging capability are modest, making it appear on paper as more of an around-town runabout versus a barrier-breaking, distance-driving EV. When I mentioned the idea to my colleagues of taking the Niro EV on a 570-mile round-trip journey, their reaction was, “Are you sure you want to do that?”

Related: 2023 Kia Niro Review: More Personality, Still Practical

I don’t blame them; after all, we have a Tesla Model Y in the Cars.com long-term fleet with 326 miles of rated range and respectable fast-charging speeds that has logged thousands of road-trip miles with its long range and Tesla’s vast Supercharger fast-charging network. Still, I wanted to see what it’s like to road-trip an EV that, by the specs, isn’t the best candidate for long-distance driving to see whether the experience is passable or maybe even surprises and delights — especially because the Niro EV is so easy to live with thanks to its roomy interior (considering its small exterior) and pleasant driving manners.

Plus, the Niro EV starts around $40,000 with destination charge and is an affordable alternative to many expensive EVs, including the EV6 that’s the star EV in Kia’s lineup with 300-plus miles of range and impressive fast-charging capability, but for the 2023 model year starts at $49,795. Could the Niro EV be a reasonable all-around alternative to expensive EVs?

After all, this trip between the Chicago area and eastern Michigan was only 279 miles. How hard could it be?

EV Route Planning

The first obstacle was simply planning the route. Surprisingly, in-car trip planning that plots a route and charge stops within the vehicle’s navigation is still a relatively rare function of EVs. Part of the reason our Model Y is such a seamless road-tripper is because the car plots the route and charging stops for you, including estimating time charging and final time to destination. It does this job well, which eases range anxiety — but configured today, our Model Y is a $72,000 SUV.

The Niro has some limited trip-planning features, but it won’t plan a route to the extent of the Tesla. Instead, I tried the EV trip-planning mobile application, A Better Route Planner at the suggestion of Cars.com Editor-in-Chief (and Hyundai Ioniq 5 owner) Jennifer Newman. The app’s suggested route includes charging stops and times, and predicted a total of 4 hours, 51 minutes to the destination, including one 29-minute charge stop at a DC fast charger about 170 miles into the 279-mile drive. This route was the quickest arrival option and also took into consideration arriving at the final destination with a safety net of at least 10% battery charge.

Fast-Charging Experience

The trip was a 279-mile, 4.5-hour drive in normal conditions without stopping, which most gasoline-powered cars can do without breaking a sweat. The Niro EV’s 251 miles of estimated range at the start of the trip wasn’t going to make it all the way, and less efficient highway driving meant an achievable highway range of around 230 miles based on my observed efficiency.

kia-niro-ev-wave-2023-01-exterior-front-angle-charging 2023 Kia Niro EV | Cars.com photo by Joe Bruzek

Even so, it was the limited (but not scarce) fast-charger locations that dictated distance traveled between charging, not the Niro’s range. The only charging stop happened 170 miles into the trip. The 26-minute charging session took the battery from 28% to 69% and added 108 miles of range, which provided a total 165 miles of predicted range to complete the remaining 110 miles of the trip.

And 110 miles later, the trip ended at the final destination: a hotel hand-picked because of its on-the-lot Level 2 charger. With the battery at 18% and 34 miles of range remaining, you might think “mission accomplished,” but that’s not much to work with if you need to go anywhere once at your destination. The destination hotel’s 6.6-kilowatt pay charger wasn’t great because it was less powerful than my home charger, and it actually halved to 3.3 kW when someone else plugged in for a few hours, making me fear whether I’d be able to fully charge to 100% overnight. Total time driving to the final destination, including the fast-charging stop, was 5 hours, 1 minute, so very close to the trip planning app’s predicted time.

The trip planning app predicted the return trip would take longer: 5 hours, 19 minutes to complete, including a much longer 50-minute charging session. Fast-charging speeds are severely limited when charging above 80% to protect battery health, and while all of my fast-charging happened below 80% on the first leg of the trip, I had to charge beyond 80% for the return journey.

kia-niro-ev-wave-2023-02-exterior-front-angle-charging 2023 Kia Niro EV | Cars.com photo by Joe Bruzek

I arrived at the charger with 50% battery (better than the 39% the app predicted), but only charged to 91% instead of the recommended 98% because it was charging painfully slowly, adding only 97 miles of range in 57 minutes. I pulled the plug with the car reading 201 miles of predicted range to start the remaining 174-mile drive home. At this point, the Niro EV’s range prediction had proven linear enough that I trusted it, and the trip ended with a sufficient safety net of 24% battery life and 52 miles of range remaining. Driving and charging time totaled 6 hours, 17 minutes because of bad traffic delays from rainstorms and an accident.

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Niro EV Vs. EV6

Having spent weeks in both — and previously reviewed the EV6 — a big nod goes to the Niro EV because I was more comfortable driving it thanks to its normalized hatchback shape and head restraints. The EV6 provides almost no over-the-shoulder visibility due to massive head restraints and a sloped rear roofline, and at 6 feet tall, the top of my head brushed the headliner on the EV6 GT-Line with its standard moonroof. There are no such issues in the Niro EV. Also, the Niro EV has a rear wiper blade (the EV6 does not), which proved a real difference while driving in the rain.

As far as efficiency, an all-wheel-drive 2022 EV6 (105 mpg-equivalent) logged 3.3 miles per kilowatt-hour during a separate Cars.com highway efficiency test versus the Niro EV’s 3.5-3.6 miles per kWh in this test (a higher number is better). That EV6 also only managed 231 miles of predicted range at a 100% charge versus my observation of 240-250 miles in the Niro EV. Granted, that EV6 was the 320-hp version with AWD and muscle-car-like acceleration versus the Niro EV’s 201-hp powertrain and lukewarm acceleration. Rear-wheel-drive versions of the EV6 are rated at 117 mpg-e and up to 310 miles of range.

kia-ev6-2022-12-exterior-dynamic-rear-angle 2022 Kia EV6 | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

The biggest difference between the two, however, is perhaps more meaningful for this test: The EV6’s 800-volt charging architecture can replenish the battery extraordinarily fast when linked up with a 350-kilowatt DC fast charger, which we’ve experienced in real-world conditions. The Niro EV’s 85-kW DC fast-charging capability pales in comparison to the EV6’s 240-kW potential. We’ve added 162 miles of range in 18 minutes to an EV6 (18%-80% state of charge) at a maximum 187 kW versus the Niro EV’s best fast-charging performance on this trip of 108 miles of range added in roughly 26 minutes (28%-69%) at a maximum 78 kW. The EV6 (and related Hyundai Ioniq 5, available for less money than the EV6) offer legitimate time-savings when fast-charging on the road — provided you’re using a 350-kW charger.

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What Would I Do Differently Next Time?

Other than the obvious — which would be to take our Tesla Model Y or an EV6 — there are a few things I’d be mindful of for future EV road-tripping. What extended the overall time for both drives (not included in the driving and charging times provided above) was that the charging stops didn’t align with a mealtime, so I wasn’t able to combine eating and charging. While this sounds like a “me” problem, it’s worth mentioning because it’s a function of how tied I was to a specific DC fast-charging location for this trip; there’s no “I’ll just stop at the next exit” when road-tripping an EV because there might not be a fast charger nearby, or one that can maximize the charging capabilities of the car. Next time, I’d plan the charging stops around mealtimes to avoid another stop.

I’d also be more mindful of the vehicle’s charge percentage when arriving at a fast charger. I thought charging to 100% overnight would be the way to go for maximum range at the start of the trip, but as mentioned above, overall range was less of a consideration than how far it was to the next charger. Next time, I’d charge the battery just enough to arrive at the fast charger with a more fast-charger-friendly starting state of charge, like 15%-25%, to take advantage of peak fast-charging speeds.

Also worth noting is that this wasn’t an inexpensive trip: Between the two fast-charging sessions and overnight Level 2 charge session, it cost $40.94 to travel 570 miles. Owners, however, qualify for 500 kWh of free energy from Electrify America that would have saved $27 from our costs (59.2 kWh). To put the total we spent in perspective, it would cost slightly less to make the trip in a 2023 Kia Niro hybrid (LX, EX or SX trims) with its 53 mpg combined rating: $38.08 for 570 miles based on current average fuel prices for regular gasoline. The Niro hybrid also has an estimated driving range of 588 miles that could easily handle one way, if not the whole trip, on a single tank of fuel.

Yes, there are workarounds that could have made the trip more manageable, but overall, road-tripping the 2023 Kia Niro EV isn’t something I’d want to do frequently. Was it passable? Borderline; I can’t stand idle time on road trips (let’s just go already!). The Niro EV is best used as an around-town runabout versus an all-around EV that can take the occasional road trip.

Still, that doesn’t diminish its other qualities. It remains a competent EV, though not one that breaks any barriers or makes EVs more well-rounded. It took extra work, and time, to travel long distances in the Niro EV; total time spent charging the Niro EV on the road added 1.5 hours to the combined trip. It doesn’t have to be like that because other EVs make road trips more seamless, though the faster charging speeds and built-in trip planning could very well come with a cost penalty.

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