Find out what it’s like to drive an EV

With the keys to the new Kia Niro EV, I wanted to find out if everyone had the same first-time EV experience as I had five years ago. Of course, we put the Niro EV to the test.

The first time I drove an electric vehicle (EV) was in 2017. Fuel prices sat on an average of $1.25 per litre, autonomous vehicle technology was still relatively new to the market, Brexit was a maybe-exit, and Donald Trump was elected as a surreal reality.

When I was handed the keys to the BMW i3, an EV-soaked future was only a distant concept. At the time, EVs were just making their way into the conversations of motoring circles, and manufacturers were racing to present a stylish, range-efficient solution to increasing fuel prices.

Even still, most EVs available in Australia priced many buyers out of the market. Add the then non-existent EV infrastructure and low-range availability, and it’s clear why.

The reality check

During my week with the i3, I was never organised enough to get it to full charge. It was my first reality check. Not only did I need to plan travel around recharging, but it also required more time than a quick trip to the local petrol station.

It was also faster than I anticipated. I thought that was just a Tesla perk but turns out EVs accelerate quicker than your average car, and the i3 clocked  100km/h in just 7.2 seconds.

While I knew the car would be quiet, it wasn’t until I drove along a Melbourne backstreet, silently trailing a person who was walking in the middle of the road with no idea a car was creeping up behind her, that I realised just what ‘silent motor’ meant.

Five years on, it’s a different story. There are more EVs on the roads in Australia, and motorists are more knowledgeable about the future of cars than I was in 2017. The concepts are now a reality, sound technology provides engine-like noises, and infrastructure is improving across South Australia.

When I was handed the keys to the new, pure-electric Kia Niro GT-Line, I wanted to know just how different the first-time experience was for those who hadn’t driven an EV before. Sharing the Niro-love with some RAA colleagues, I handed them the keys to get their thoughts.

Watch this video to see how the first time behind the wheel of an EV turned out for our test drivers.

What do you think it’s going to be like driving an EV?

Andrew Rasch, research and development manager: I know they are quieter but what about road noise at higher speeds? I assume the acceleration will be a lot quicker than an ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle.

Steve Parker, senior manager: I’m expecting it to be a quiet and smooth drive. I’m anticipating a reduction in acceleration power from stationary compared to the cars I’m used to driving. Also, given my own car predates Bluetooth and reversing cameras, I’m expecting a bank of unfamiliar technology and automation.

Lorin Diment, product coordinator: I know EVs are faster on take-off, and less laggy than a petrol vehicle, so I’m interested to see how it feels.

John Pedler, content coordinator: With no combustion engine, I figure the EV will be quiet to drive. With no transmission, I expect acceleration and deceleration to be very smooth.

What are you looking forward to?

Andrew: I want to experience how it’ll handle on the road. Will the extra weight affect the dynamics? We’ll have to wait and see, I guess.

Steve: I have a bit of a knowledge gap around EVs. I’m hoping this drive will take away some of the trepidation that might otherwise be a barrier to me owning one in future. I’d be apprehensive about knowing where to charge the car, and how far a charge might take me.

John: I’m interested to see how much power the EV has and how responsive it is. I’m also keen to see if the interior layout is different to a regular ICE car.

Getting into the Kia Niro EV for the first time
Did the EV live up Andrew and Steve’s expectations? Image: RAA/Wil Stevens

What were your first impressions?

Andrew: I became accustomed to the Niro quickly, and after a while, it felt no different from any other car.

Steve: It took me a while to work out how to start it! The combination of a power button, depressing the brake pedal and using the console dial to select a gear was a bit alien to me, and the correct sequence of actions took some practice to master. The engine was really quiet, so I didn’t get the familiar rumble to let me know that the car was ready to take off.

Lorin: It was a very comfortable, smooth drive. I think I did miss the sound of the engine noise, but I was very surprised at how quiet it was – I expected more  road noise.

John: It’s certainly quiet, and the soundproofing even keeps the road noise to a minimum. The handling was excellent and there was plenty of power and acceleration. As expected, there was no gear-change jerk. Unlike an ICE car, the EV quickly decelerates when you lift your foot from the accelerator pedal.

What did you like or dislike while you were driving?

Andrew: I appreciated the battery symbol on the dash and kilometre range. It was like a phone.

Steve: The technology was impressive, and my appreciation for it deepened the more I drove the car. I was happy to see the percentage charge clearly displayed on the dash (and the kilometre equivalent) as well as directions to the nearest EV charging station on the map display.

Lorin: I really liked the heads-up display with the speed limit. I also enjoyed how easy it was to keep track of the kilometres left before the vehicle needed to be recharged. Having the regenerative braking is a fantastic way to keep the vehicle efficient for everyday driving.

John: The heads-up display showing the current speed limit and the car’s speed (and approaching traffic lights) means there’s no need to look away from the road when checking your speed.

Test driving a Kia Niro for the first time
John and Lorin get behind the wheel of an EV. Image: RAA/Wil Stevens

Overall, what do you think about your first experience driving an EV?

Andrew: Driving an EV has now been ticked off my to-do list. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and it was interesting to notice myself checking petrol prices and then having to remind myself they’re irrelevant for EV drivers.

Steve: I found the drive comfortable, enjoyable and – perhaps most surprisingly of all – not too dissimilar to a modern petrol car. Aside from the lack of engine noise and fuel gauge, driving was a reassuringly familiar experience. I was more engaged with the impressive technology of on-board displays, and alerts than by the fact it was an EV.

Lorin: Overall, driving an EV was a smooth, comfortable, quiet ride. I look forward to seeing improvements in the technology and seeing these types of vehicles become the main type of car on the road.

John: The Niro is quiet and easy to drive and has ample power and acceleration. The basic controls like steering, braking and rolling down the window are the same as an ICE car, so no new skills to learn.

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