Car of the Year 2019 Overall Winner: KIA e-Niro First Edition

The BMW 3 SERIES would have made a worthy overall winner, having overcome a former Car of the Year to take class honours, while the Citroën Berlingo and Cupra Ateca were also strong contenders. However, those cars have had the misfortune to be launched in the same year as Kia’s game-changing e-Niro.

Put simply, the e-Niro beats its rivals via knockout rather than on points, because it’s the first sensibly priced electric car that can fit into most people’s lives.

For all the excited chatter about electric cars, they've only found favour among those buyers willing to accept some cost and practicality compromises in exchange for compelling economic and environmental benefits. In short, for the majority of drivers, a petrol, diesel or hybrid alternative still makes more sense.

Now though, there's a movement to change all that, and here's an electric car that offers a substantially longer range than almost all rivals without costing substantially more. In those regards, on paper at least, the Kia e-Niro – along with the closely related Hyundai Kona Electric – threatens to rewrite the rulebook and make electric motoring a realistic proposition for the masses.

Our own independent Real Range tests add further lustre to these claims, with the e-Niro being one of few fully-electric cars that can achieve a real-world range that breaks the 250 mile barrier on a single charge – only the most dedicated of drivers will want to cover more than that in a day.

If we look beyond its range and price, though, is the e-Niro a good car in the wider sense? Is it comfortable, is it easy to drive and does it have enough space to carry your family? Compared with most similar-priced electric cars, the e-Niro is really quite nippy. In fact, when pulling away, you have to be a bit delicate with your right foot to avoid spinning the wheels embarrassingly – even when the road is dry, let alone when it's been raining.

Once you’re on the move, the e-Niro builds speed almost as rapidly as a Ford Fiesta ST. And there’s no waiting for the revs to rises before maximum performance is delivered; simply tread on the accelerator pedal and the car immediately surges forward.

When it comes to electric cars, though, performance isn’t just about how quickly you can get up to speed; it’s about how far you can travel between charges. In official government tests, the e-Niro managed 282 miles between charges. Our Real Range tests showed 253 miles in more realistic in real-world driving, although that’s still a hugely impressive figure and a match for the far pricier Jaguar I-Pace.

Don’t expect to feel as if you’re floating along on a magic carpet, but the e-Niro is pretty comfortable by electric car standards. Yes, you’re always made aware of bumps as they pass beneath the car, but you’re jostled about noticeably less than you are in the rival Hyundai Kona Electric. Even potholes and nasty broken patches of asphalt don't cause a serious loss of composure.

The steering doesn’t give you a particularly great connection with the front wheels, although it’s pleasantly weighted and feels precise, making it easy to place the car where you want it on the road – both around town and on faster roads.

Unlike many electric cars, the e-Niro’s brake pedal responds fairly consistently to pressure, making it easy to slow your progress smoothly. An eight-way electrically adjustable driver’s seat comes as standard in the e-Niro, with variable lumbar support so you can twiddle with your seating position until your heart’s content. There’s no memory function, though, so you’ll need to set it up again after someone else has been driving.

Like all electric cars, the e-Niro is eligible for a £3,500 grant from the Government. You probably won’t get anything more off the price by haggling, though; demand is already outstripping supply and you might even have to join a waiting list.

Although the e-Niro will cost you quite a bit more to buy than a conventional petrol SUV, there are savings to be made elsewhere. You’ll spend a lot less on electricity per mile than you would on petrol, for example, and you won’t pay a penny in road tax. If you venture into London’s Congestion Charge zone, you’ll also escape the usual fee, while there are various parking perks in cities across the UK.

You can charge using a Type 2 cable (included as standard) from a regular 7kW home charging point; this takes around 9hr 50min from 0-100%. For emergencies, you can also use a domestic three-pin charging lead (also included), but this method takes around three times as long. If you want to rapid charge the e-Niro, you’ll need to find a CCS charging point (there are well over 1000 of these dotted around the UK). A 0-80% rapid charge from one of these takes around 75 minutes.

You do get a reasonable number of active safety aids to help you avoid an accident in the first place, though, including automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assistance. However, there’s no option to add blindspot monitoring or rear cross-traffic alert (the latter warns you about approaching cars when you’re backing out onto a road).

As for security, you get an alarm, deadlocks and locking wheel nuts as standard.

The Kia e-Niro pulls off a trick that many electric cars have thus far failed to do, and that’s to be a fantastic electric car – one with a long range – as well as a good car in other respects. After all, it would be rather a double-edged sword if every mile of the e-Niro's hugely impressive 253-mile real-world range was a living hell. But as well as offering better performance than its immediate rivals, the e-Niro is more spacious for passengers than the Volkswagen e-Golf, as well as more comfortable and bigger-booted than the Hyundai Kona Electric. Throw in its decent infotainment system and oodles of equipment and it is a very fine car, full stop.

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