The Chevrolet Bolt is the original, affordable long-range electric vehicle. Introduced for the 2017 model year, the Bolt compact hatchback offers an EPA-rated 238 miles of driving range and a base price of less than $40,000 before federal and state tax incentives are taken into account. In contrast, the least expensive Tesla Model S in 2017 stickered for close to $70,000 and sported an EPA-rated 210-mile driving range.
The Bolt’s reign on the affordable, long-range EV marketplace is no more, though, as Hyundai, Nissan, Kia, and Tesla all offer sub-$40,000 electric vehicles with more than 200 miles of driving range. Although consumers are sure to cross-shop every one of these relatively affordable EVs, it’s the Hyundai Kona Electric, Nissan Leaf with the optional 62-kWh battery pack, and the Kia Niro EV that best compete with the Bolt due to their hatchback body styles.
Admittedly, all three Asian electric hatches intrigue us in their own ways. But it’s the Niro EV that strikes a deeper chord with us, because – frankly – it simply looks better than the Kona Electric and the Leaf. But a pretty face alone isn’t enough to topple the Bolt from its perch. Does the Niro EV offer the goods to upset the game-changing Bolt?
Performance and Handling
Chevrolet: With its inferior torsion beam rear suspension, the Bolt is theoretically at a dynamic disadvantage to the Niro EV and its independent rear suspension. In practice, though, the Bolt is far and away the more enjoyable car to drive spiritedly. Its low center of gravity, quick and surprisingly tactile steering, and responsive accelerator pedal give the Bolt an almost Mini-like driving persona.
Acceleration from a standstill is properly brisk, too. The immediacy of the 200-horsepower electric motor’s 266 pound-feet of torque pulls the Bolt forward with the tenacity of a leashed Doberman lunging at a squirrel, and the trot to 60 miles per hour takes a claimed 6.5 seconds, although Chevy limits the top speed to 91 mph.
The Chevy is certainly more fun to drive than the Kia, but it’s still perfectly capable of making the most of the mundane. Softly tuned shocks and springs ensure a comfortable ride, while the ability to engage in one-pedal driving is an absolute joy. Whereas the Niro EV’s strongest regenerative braking setting asks its driver to touch the brake pedal to come to a complete stop, the Bolt’s regen is so strong it brings the small hatchback to a stop without touching the left pedal. Of course, those in search of a more traditional two-pedal driving experience can leave the car in Drive (shift to Low for high regen), which requires the driver to use the brake pedal to bring the Bolt to a halt.
Kia: With 201hp and 291 pound-feet of torque, the Niro EV’s electric motor packs an extra pony and an additional 25 pound-feet of torque relative to the Bolt’s. In spite of this advantage, the Kia doesn’t feel any quicker than the Chevy. In fact, it feels marginally slower. Blame the Korean hatch’s heft, as it tips the scales at 3,854 pounds or 291 more than the Bolt.
Those extra pounds don’t go unnoticed once the road starts turning, either. Whereas the Bolt is lithe and involving, the Niro EV comes across as heavy and numb. Its steering is mute, its electric motor is slow to react to accelerator inputs, and its regenerative braking system lacks one-pedal driving. Even with five different regenerative braking modes (0, 1, 2, 3, and Auto), the driver must eventually put their foot on the left pedal (or hold the left steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifter) to bring the Kia to a stop.
Regardless, the Niro EV remains impressively comfortable in more mundane driving situations. The Kia better keeps road and wind noise at bay relative to the Chevy, while benefiting from a more composed ride over rougher roads. In spite of this, the Niro EV’s less engaging personality makes it the dynamically inferior product among these two electric hatches.
Styling and Interior
Chevrolet: The Bolt is no beauty queen, and its cab-forward design gives it an almost mini-minivan-like look – a fact further exacerbated by our test car’s Green Mist Metallic paint. Although the whole of the electric Chevy’s styling is rather unbecoming, a number of its individual parts are surprisingly chic. The Bolt integrates its attractive taillights into the rear liftgate with wave-like LED light strips, while the hatchback's beltline merges with black trim pieces in the fenders, which, when taken as a whole, visually separates the car's upper body panels from its lower ones.
Unlike its rather homely exterior, the Bolt’s interior is – dare we say – handsome. Anchored by a massive 10.2-inch touchscreen in the dash that’s complemented by an 8.0-inch digital gauge cluster, the airy insides of the Chevy look as forward-thinking as its battery-electric powertrain. Unfortunately, hard, low-grade plastics line the Bolt’s cabin, while large and inconsistent panel gaps abound. Such poor build quality might barely pass muster in a cost-conscious EV built by a startup manufacturer, but it’s unacceptable in a vehicle assembled by an automaker as large and storied as General Motors.
Kia: With its more traditional styling cues, the Niro EV is significantly prettier than the Bolt. Despite sharing its looks with its gasoline-electric Niro and plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid Niro PHEV siblings, the battery-electric Niro EV benefits from a handful of model-specific design details that arguably make it the most attractive member of the Niro family.
Marked by a closed, body-color upper grille with an integrated charge port and more aggressive front and rear fascias, the Niro EV’s swept back headlights, long hood, and stubby tail bless it with handsome looks and pleasing proportions. Its high beltline and relatively low roofline, however, make the Kia’s insides feel far more claustrophobic than the glass-heavy Chevy’s.
Still, the quality standards of the Niro EV’s cave-like cabin are far superior to the Bolt’s, and its nicely grained, soft-touch plastics and precise-fitting panels provide the compact Korean hatch with an almost luxury-car-like feel. The Niro EV also benefits from its model-specific center console. In place of the Niro and Niro PHEV’s traditional gear lever and center console that merges with the dashboard, the Niro EV features a modern twist-dial shifter and a center console that’s separated from the dash. The Bolt includes a similar setup, and as a result, both the Chevy and Kia include a flat storage space between the front seats that serves as a perfect place for setting down items such as a purse or bagged lunch.
Chevrolet: At first glance, the Bolt’s in-car technology appears superior to the Niro EV’s. Its big 10.2-inch touchscreen infotainment system and 8.0-inch digital gauge cluster sport high-quality graphics, logical menus, and, in the case of the dashboard display, quick response times to touch inputs. But look past the surface, and the Bolt’s in-car technology falls far short of the Niro EV.
Navigation is conspicuously absent, although Apple CarPlay and Android Auto both come standard. Likewise, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power driver’s seat, and rear seat climate control vents are unavailable throughout the Bolt model line.
As a top-of-the-line Premier, our tester at least came equipped with a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel and heated front and rear seats (the steering wheel and front-seat heaters are optional on the base LT). Additionally, the Premier-specific $595 Infotainment package added a seven-speaker Bose audio system, a wireless charger, and a pair of USB ports at the back of the center console that complement the two USB ports that come standard.
Kia: If screen size is the most important technical aspect of a subcompact EV hatch, then the Niro EV’s got some catching up to do. A 7.0-inch touchscreen comes standard in the entry-level EX, while Kia reserves an 8.0-inch setup for the higher-spec EX Premium, tested here. Although down 2.2 inches to the Bolt’s massive dashboard-mounted display, the Niro EV EX Premium’s touchscreen includes an in-dash navigation system, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility (both of which are included in the navigation-less EX).
Sure, the Niro EV’s infotainment system’s graphics aren’t as sharp as the Bolt’s and its on-screen menus are a little less logical, but the Kia makes up for this with its additional feature content, including EX Premium-specific kit such as a power sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats, and a 10-way power driver’s seat. A heated steering wheel is available, but adding it requires checking the $1,000 box for the EX Premium-specific Launch Edition package, which also includes LED headlights, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, front parking sensors (in addition to the trim’s standard rear sensors), and a cargo cover.
Ultimately, the Niro EV’s additional comfort and convenience items give it a slight edge over the Bolt and its better infotainment setup.
Chevrolet: Hatchbacks are inherently practical, and the Bolt is no exception. With a maximum cargo capacity of 56.6 cubic feet, the electric Chevy betters the Kia by 3.3 cubic feet. With its rear seats in place, however, that figure falls to 16.9 cubic feet. A removable, false cargo floor (optional on the LT and standard on the Premier) offers covered storage in the cargo bay and creates a flat load floor with the rear seats folded.
Kia: Despite offering less overall cargo space than the Bolt, the Niro EV actually betters its American-made competitor’s cargo bay by 1.6 cubic feet with the rear seats in place. Unfortunately, that extra space comes at the cost of rear-seat room, and the Kia’s 36.0 inches of rear legroom and 37.7 inches of rear headroom are down 0.5 and 0.2 inches to the Bolt. Although negligible on paper, those slightly smaller figures accompany a more claustrophobic space and less upright seating position relative to the Bolt. Nevertheless, both vehicles’ rear perches offer stretch-out space comparable to those of compact sedans such as the Chevrolet Cruze and Kia Forte. While the Niro EV’s backseat is comfortable, the Bolt’s is even more so.
Chevrolet: It’s not that we’re mad at the Bolt for its meager list of available advanced safety features, we’re just disappointed. Adaptive cruise control and lane centering are missing from the menu, while a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear parking sensors are standard on the high-end Premier, but require spending $495 for the Driver Confidence package in the lowly LT.
Meanwhile, Chevrolet bundles additional advanced safety kit such as forward-collision alert, automatic front braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, and automatic high-beam headlights into the Driver Confidence II package, a $495 option on both LT and Premier models. The only real feather in the Chevy’s safety cap is its surround-view camera that’s standard fare on – and limited to – the Bolt Premier. That said, it is an IIHS Top Safety Pick.
Kia: Whether opting for the entry-level EX or the higher-spec EX Premium, every Niro EV includes a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, lane centering, forward collision alert, automatic front braking, and adaptive cruise control with stop and go. It’s a formidable sum of advanced safety features that bests the Bolt’s available kit. As an EX Premium with the $1,000 Launch Edition package, this test car also included front and rear parking sensors, the former of which are a package-specific feature.
Chevrolet: The Bolt is an energy-efficient vehicle; it’s not necessarily a time-efficient one. Thanks to its 60-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, the Chevy can travel an EPA-estimated 238 miles on a full charge. Topping the battery off from empty takes close to 60 hours on a 120-volt charger and 9.5 hours with a 240-volt charger. Of course, there’s always the option of DC fast charging, which Chevy claims adds 90 miles to the Bolt’s battery pack in 30 minutes. Using DC fast charging, though, first entails dropping $750 to make the Bolt compatible with the chargers.
Kia: In contrast with the Bolt, every Niro EV comes standard with DC fast charging compatibility. When plugged into such a charger, the Niro EV’s 64-kWh lithium-ion battery pack can reach an 80 percent charge in as little as an hour. Use a 120-volt or 240-volt charger and you’re looking at charge times of around 60 hours or 9.5 hours, respectively.
With an EPA-combined rating of 112 MPGe, the Niro EV is 7 MPGe less efficient than the Bolt. Still, due to its larger battery pack, the Kia can travel a mile farther than the Chevy on a full charge. Although the Niro EV is slightly less energy efficient than the Bolt, it’s similar charge times, standard DC fast charging capability, and (very) slight edge in driving range ultimately tip the scales in its favor.
Chevrolet: Penny pinchers will welcome the Bolt’s lesser list of standard features relative to the Niro EV, as the bow-tie badged EV’s starting price of $36,620 is $1,880 less than the Kia’s. Yet, with Chevrolet’s electric vehicle sales topping 200,000 vehicles, the Bolt only qualifies for a federal tax credit of $3,750. Meanwhile, the Niro EV is eligible for the full $7,500 federal tax credit.
Annoyingly, Chevy limits features such as roof rails, heated rear seats, leather seats, a folding rear armrest, and a surround-view camera to the higher-spec $41,895 Bolt Premier. Tack on our tester’s $750 DC fast charging compatibility, $595 for the Infotainment package (premium audio, wireless phone charger, two additional USB charging ports), $495 for the Driver Confidence II package (forward-collision alert, automatic front braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, and automatic high-beam headlights), and $875 destination charge, and you’re looking at an as-tested price of $43,735 (before federal and state tax credits).
Kia: With more comfort and convenience features than the Bolt, as well as its continued eligibility for the federal government’s $7,500 tax credit, the $36,620 Niro EV ultimately emerges as the better value. Opting for the high-end $44,000 Niro EV EX Premium over the lesser EX trim nets trim-specific items such as LED taillights and turn signals, LED interior lighting, a sunroof, leather seats, a power driver’s seat, heated and ventilated front seats, an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with navigation, a premium audio system, and rear parking sensors. Add on our tester’s $1,000 Launch Edition package (LED headlights, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, front parking sensors, and a cargo cover) and $995 destination charge, and the as-tested price comes in at $45,995 (before federal and state tax credits).
No doubt, the Chevrolet Bolt is the driver’s choice of these two subcompact electric hatchbacks. But the Chevy’s dynamic superiority can’t overcome its less attractive looks, subpar interior quality, and feeble feature content relative to the Niro EV.
Yes, the Niro EV is a little more expensive and a smidge less energy efficient than the Bolt, but it makes up for these inferiorities by remaining eligible for the full federal government tax credit of $7,500 and being DC fast charge compatible out of the box.
Good luck getting your hands on a Niro EV, though, as Kia only sells the vehicle in 12 states: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. That said, there’s nothing stopping buyers residing in the country’s other 38 states from purchasing a Niro EV and shipping, towing, or driving it back to their own home state.
Winner: Kia Niro EV
|2019 Kia Niro EV||2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV|
|Motor:||Permanent-Magnet Synchronous AC||Permanent-Magnet Synchronous AC|
|Output:||201 Horsepower / 291 Pound-Feet||200 Horsepower / 266 Pound-Feet|
|Drivetrain:||Front-Wheel Drive|| |
|Top Speed:||104 MPH (Electronically Limited)||91 MPH (Electronically Limited)|
|Battery:||64-kWh Lithium-Ion||60-kWh Lithium-Ion|
|EPA Range:|| |
|EPA Fuel Economy (MPGe):||123 City / 102 Highway / 112 Combined||128 City / 110 Highway / 119 Combined|
|Curb Weight:||3,854 Pounds||3,563 Pounds |
|Cargo Volume:||18.5/53.0 Cubic Feet|| |
16.9/56.6 Cubic Feet
|Base Price:|| |
|As-Tested Price:|| |