Would you get the Kia or would you get this Nissan or would you choose none of the above? Or would you choose to spend 25% to 30% more and get that Tesla Model 3? We think one is better in a major way but which one?
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For this article, I was fortunate enough to be able to get my hands on a Nissan Leaf and the new Kia Niro EV at exactly the same time. (You can see a full Kia Niro review here.) The Leaf model full disclaimer is not the newer longer-range Nissan Leaf which hopefully we will be driving very soon.
But the overall vehicle is essentially the same, except that that longer-range model has a slightly bigger battery pack underneath the vehicle and a little bit more power under the hood, all of which we’ll discuss here.
The two vehicles are fairly similar when you actually start scratching the surface. They’re both electric vehicles, they both have identical wheelbases in the vehicles we tested, they both have LED headlamps, they both have heat pump heating systems and they both have charge doors right upfront.
In the generation of the Nissan Leaf, we tested they decided to subdue the styling a little bit versus the first generation. So this is not quite as polarizing as the last model and it was designed to blend in a little bit more with the rest of the Nissan family.
There is a similar grill going on to the rest of that Nissan line and then the overall shape of the vehicle is a little bit more of a traditional hatchback, rather than the first-generation Leaf.
On both vehicles halogen headlamps are standard and the LEDs are optional. On both cars, we tested they both had the LEDs. Once we get behind the charge door things are a little bit different, the Nissan has a larger charge door, the Niro has a smaller one right up front but once you start looking behind you’ll notice that the charge ports are a little bit different as well.
When you take a closer look at the Nissan charge area you’ll notice that there is a rubber gasket right around the lid, that helps keep things a little bit cleaner than what we see in the Niro. Each of these charge doors are also separately sealed as well to keep things nice and clean on the inside.
On the Leaf you will notice that there are two different charge doors, that’s because this vehicle uses the slightly older Chademo charging standard. It has been recently upgraded to charge faster but it’s not quite as common worldwide as the newer combo connector that we see in the Kia.
Behind door number two you will find no gasket and you do have to push the door open and closed which is not my preference, I like the old latch mechanism that Kia used to use.
Then there are the little charge doors with pull off covers that are left to dangle around, again not quite my preference versus the doors that we found in that Nissan.
On the flip side, the charge connector is gaining more prominence in America so over time we expect to see more of these SAE charge combo connectors than the Chadamo connector that we find in the Nissan. The reason is every manufacturer except Nissan has moved to this particular connector.
That does, of course, exclude Tesla which continues to use a proprietary connector. My other complaint is you do have to install the little widgets in their proper order, the bottom one first then the top one because if I were to pull and push the top one on then the other one won’t actually completely sit down, so that is kind of a fiddly little bit that I didn’t like with this charge connector.
One of the things you’ll notice right away is that the Niro is styled more like a hatchback or a crossover, and the Leaf is styled a little bit more like a sedan or perhaps a more traditional hatchback.
That’s why the two vehicles have identical wheelbases but this leaf is actually notably longer than the Nero. Most of the difference happens right up front where we had that long hood profile but there’s also a little bit of a difference right back here in this area.
The Nissan also starts with slightly smaller wheels and narrower tires 205 with tires the Kia over here starts with 215 with tires and 17-inch wheels.
The Drive Train
Now let’s get to the important part what’s driving each of these vehicles down the road. You’ve probably noticed at this point that the Nissan Leaf starts notably less expensive than the Kia, but it can get a little bit more expensive depending on exactly what you’re getting inside the vehicle versus the Niro.
That’s because Nissan is offering us two different electric drive trains. The first of them produces 147 horsepower, more than the first-generation Leaf, more than the first-generation Kia EV. The second one produces over 220 horsepower which is more than the 201 horsepower we find in the Kia.
Also, Kia is offering us just one battery pack at 64-kilowatt hours whereas the Leaf is offering us two different designs. The smaller battery pack is the way that Nissan is getting to that lower base price, so if you’re looking for an Ev and you don’t want to spend too much cash then you have to decide how much range you actually need. Do you need 150 miles of range or do you need over 200 miles of range?
You also have to ask yourself about performance, because the Kia model produces 201 horsepower which is faster than the Nissan Leaf producing around 150 horsepower. But the upcoming Leaf+ is likely going to be faster than the Kia because it produces a little bit more power and it’s a little bit lighter as well.
In terms of overall efficiency, these two vehicles are about equal, but the Kia is a little bit more efficient than the long-range Nissan Leaf. At this point, we should also talk about the differences in charging.
The Nissan has an onboard six-point six-kilowatt charger and the Kia has an onboard seven-point four-kilowatt charger.
Not every level 2 charging station out there can support the faster charging rate of the Kia and some of them may not even be able to support the faster-charging rate of the Nissan either.
But if you have access to one that could, then the Kia will gain miles faster than the Nissan when it’s plugged into a 240-volt charger.
When it comes to DC fast charging the two vehicles are about equal. This supports the latest, Nissan, fast charging standard, although fast charging is an option whereas on the Kia, which again costs a little bit more, fast charging is standard and it supports the newer SAE fast charge standard.
Both vehicles will gain mileage right around the same rate, although it is worth noting that this battery pack is liquid-cooled this battery pack is air-cooled and that’s likely why we’re told that this one will not charge repeatedly as quickly in hot weather as the Kia battery pack right over here.
The overall seating position is a little bit different between the Niro and the Leaf. The Niro definitely has a slightly more crossover vibe, the seating position is a little bit more upright and of course, the shape of the interior components are definitely a little bit more crossover.
Oddly enough in the Niro cabin, we find a little bit more legroom and a little bit more Headroom than we find in the Leaf, even though the Leaf is a little bit longer overall on the outside.
Over in the Nissan again the seating position is a little bit more relaxed. The seat bottom cushions are a little bit closer to the floor but I really like the way that Nissan has designed their overall seat bodies. I find the passenger seat to be ever so slightly more comfortable than what we find in the Niro.
On the downside, the center console does bow out a little bit and that does hit me in a funny place on the knee.
The cargo areas are quite different from one another. In the Leaf, we get a little bit more actual storage volume and you’ll notice that the cargo area has a decent amount below the opening.
That’s because there is no spare tire well in the bottom of the cargo area. It allows us to put over 23 cubic feet of stuff in there, but we do have to deal with an emergency road kit that you’ll find in a bag rather than in a slot somewhere hidden out of the way.
It’s also worth noting that if you get the optional Bose audio system the subwoofer occupies a little bit of that cargo area and it’s in a kind of unusual spot right at the back of the cargo zone.
The Niro has a more conventional crossover cargo area, it is basically the same size that we find in the hybrid at 18.5 cubic feet. A little bit smaller than what we find in the Leaf but it’s more practically shaped.
The subwoofer on the side doesn’t take up any floor space and if you open up the floor area you will find some additional storage space which is quite handy. You’ll notice it is shaped like a spare tire because if you lift the divider out of the way you will find a spare tire well which you don’t find in the Nissan.
In the Niro, it is taken up by the tire inflator kit, the charge cord which is tucked away in there but if you did want to put a spare tire in there you can buy one of the spare tires that’s designed for the regular hybrid model, and it will definitely fit right there under the cargo area load floor.
Hopping inside the Leaf first we have leather upholstery just like we find in the Niro but these seats are not optionally ventilated, they’re just heated in this particular trim.
Overall inside this cabin, we find slightly fewer premium materials overall than we find in the Niro, it’s most noticeable on the doors and on the dashboard. The overall design I find just a little bit less attractive as well.
Keep in mind that this Leaf is less expensive in base form than the Niro and that is a very important thing to keep in mind when comparing cars.
In the center of the dashboard, we find a touchscreen infotainment system, it is a little bit smaller than the screen we find in the Kia. There is a single zone automatic a control system power button for the vehicle, a single USB input auxiliary input toggle switch for the seat heating in two different levels, a small storage area right there and then we have the gear shifter.
This is a joystick-style shifter so it always returns to center. For drive pull it over to the left and then pull down, for reverse-pull it over to the left and then push up for neutral. There’s a toggle to engage the E-addle mode which is sort of a one-pedal driving mode, there’s also an eco button.
We have two pretty average-sized cup holders, the electric parking brake and then a small storage cubby in the center console.
The LCD instrument cluster in the Leaf gives us more information than what we find in the Kia and I think it’s slightly more attractive overall in terms of its general design as well.
Nissan borrowed one of their flat-bottom steering wheel designs from some of their other vehicles. There is the blue stitching and then a lot of buttons on the front of the steering wheel.
Nissan allows us a very easy way to turn on and off their active safety systems, that’s the blue button on the right of the steering wheel. It basically turns the whole package on and off.
Hopping inside the Kia we find a design that I think is a little bit more harmonious than what we find in the Nissan. I also think it is a little bit more elegant than what we find in the Nissan. It’s not necessarily as futuristic-looking but I think it does feel a little bit more premium.
We have a color touchscreen LCD in the middle of the center console, apple car play and android auto are standard. The factory navigation is optional and then we get a button bank in the center console that I think is also a little bit more harmonious than what we find in the Nissan.
Infotainment & Center Console
Infotainment controls above the climate controls and below we have a wireless charging mat for your cell phone or other media device. There is a single USB input with a lot of storage
Every electric vehicle seems to need an unusual shifter design so instead of the joystick we have a rotary knob. We rotate over to the right for drive, all the way over to the left for reverse and we press that P button for Park.
This center console area is also where we find the controls to the heated and ventilated seats, the heated steering wheel, the parking sensors drive mode button and of course the electric parking brake.
We then have larger cup holders than we find inside the Nissan center console and you can remove the dividers. You can push them out of the way if you want to store larger and bulkier items in here.
We have a pretty traditionally styled center console that opens revealing a very similarly sized storage cubby to what we found in the Nissan.
The instrument cluster in the Kia is a little bit plainer than we find in the Nissan. It’s not quite as large but it doesn’t give us quite as much data as we find in the Nissan instrument cluster either.
Moving out from there the steering wheel is a little bit more conventional but it’s thicker rimmed than what we find in the Nissan, I found this one a little bit more comfortable. There are sport grips on the top and then we have a nice touch on the back which are regeneration paddles.
On the back of the steering wheel, you will find the regen paddles. The more aggressive regen is on the left and the less aggressive on the right. You can use the paddles to adjust the regen in four different levels or you can actually use the down paddle to come to a complete stop just with regen braking.
The radar adaptive cruise control is on the right of the infotainment console. There is no button on the steering wheel to enable or disable all of the active safety technology so you do have to go through the menus if you do want to turn those off.
Over on the left side the driver has some of the other buttons, specifically blind-spot monitoring and of course the lane-keeping assistance.
One key difference on the driver side between the Kia and the Nissan is that we have a tilt telescopic steering column on the Kia, the one in the Nissan just tilts.
How Do They Drive?
The overall driving nature of the Niro and the leaf are not too far removed. They’re both larger vehicles, they both have a reasonable amount of torque and they’re both obviously limiting torque at lower RPMS to help keep from shredding the front tires.
The Niro is faster than the Leaf but of course, remember that this has more power than that base Leaf. I expect the Leaf+ to be faster than the Niro because it produces a little bit more power than we find in this model and it is a little bit lighter.
The Niro is heavier than Leaf, likely because it has that active liquid-cooled battery rather than an air-cooled battery pack so that makes this overall a little bit heavier. Even though the two vehicles are fairly comparable in terms of overall size.
Start scratching the surface and you’ll notice that a number of other measures are very comparable between the leaf and the Niro. Overall handling ability is very very similar although they feel a little bit different.
This one feels a little bit more sporty than the Leaf, a little bit softer and a little bit more relaxed, but in terms of overall grip they’re fairly similar.
Overall stopping distances are also quite similar because the curb weight of the vehicles is fairly close and they both get basically the same size tire.
The tire compounds are a little bit different but the two 15inc wide tires are essentially the same sectional width so overall tire resistance overall contact patch is quite similar between the two vehicles.
When it comes to the overall ride score the two vehicles are again pretty similar. We have basically the same wheelbase in both vehicles so the way that these two vehicles handle is very similar.
The Nissan Leaf is a little bit softer so if you’re looking for something slightly comfortable on long highway rides that’s definitely going to be the option. If you’re looking for the slightly more engaging mountain highway Drive that’s going to be found in the Niro.
In our cabin noise test, the narrow was slightly louder overall than the Nissan Leaf. The Leaf has a great deal more wind noise than the Niro but the Niro has more road noise than the Leaf so depending on the surface that you’re on one may actually be quieter than the other.
If you’re on a particularly quiet road surface like a freshly paved asphalt road then the Niro may be quieter than the Leaf. If however, you’re out on a rougher piece of pavement the Leaf is probably going to be quieter.
Well, I’m talking about cabin noise. It’s worth pointing out that the Nissan Leaf has a lot more electric vehicle noises coming into the cabin so we don’t really hear any of that electric motor whine from the electronic systems.
You can’t really hear them in the Niro but you do hear them to some extent in the Nissan Leaf, and that is a bit of a difference.
If you like hearing those words, if you like feeling that futuristic sound as you’re driving down the road then you’re going to like the Leaf, if you want it to be as quiet as possible then you’re going to find that experience in the Niro.
When it comes to overall vehicle efficiency you get exactly the same MPGe score according to the EPA. In a real-world driving test, the two were surprisingly close together, even though the display in the Niro we were getting an average of 3.4 to 3.6 miles per kilowatt-hour.
Our actual math when we did the numbers came in at 3.8 to 3.9 which is right what we were getting in the Nissan Leaf.
Both of these vehicles actually score slightly above the EPA’s MPGe score. If I had to pick a winner here in terms of driving dynamics I would choose the Kia. It feels a little bit tighter, a little bit better sorted and perhaps a little bit more like a traditional vehicle.
I also think that it feels a little bit more premium overall, including the behind the wheel field, the overall way the steering rack feels etc. But that’s not to say that the current generation Nissan Leaf feels like a wet noodle, they’ve made some decent improvements in this generation so it definitely is more exciting to drive than that first-generation Nissan Leaf.
Now we must tackle the tricky question of which one do I like better. Well I like aspects of both vehicles but I have to say that if my money were on the line I would probably pick the Kia.
Now there’s a big caveat to that of course and that is if I was looking for one of the best deals in this segment then I would probably get the Nissan Leaf. Also if you’re looking for an electric vehicle it states outside the twelve states in which the Kia is going to be sold in then the Leaf is really the only way to go here.
You just have to decide whether you need the model that gives you 150 miles of range or the one is over 220. That’s one of the things that I really like about the Leaf is that we do have the ability to choose.
If you want this slightly higher efficiency model, the one that gives you that 150 horsepower approximately in about 150 miles of range then that’s what we can get with the Niro.
The Leaf is cheaper than the base price of the Kia Niro because the Niro is really the more direct corollary to the Leaf+. And at the moment Kia is not offering us a shorter range electric vehicle like we will be seeing shortly in the Hyundai lineup where they have the Kona and then the Ionic EV as well.
It’s also worth noting that you’re likely going to get a better deal on a base Leaf EV at the Nissan dealer than the Niro at the Kia dealer. It’s been on the market for a little bit more time, the dealers likely have more stock of them, it’s just going to be the car that you’re going to get a slightly better deal on.
And if you’re looking for a vehicle with that 150-mile range again the Leaf is an excellent option.
I have to say that I do prefer the overall seating position in the Niro and I also like the interior design more than what we see in the Nissan. It feels more premium than this particular Leaf model.
Overall the Nissan really feels like a vehicle that is designed to be overtly profitable in this particular form and that is tricky with an electric vehicle if I might opine here for a second.
The Kia Niro EV is likely being produced because Kia needs the ZEV credits in California, they need the Kafe credits nationwide and this is definitely going to help them get there.
It’s desirable, it’s a fast EV, it handles well and I love the interior design. I think it’s a good-looking practical EV all the way around.
But its mission for existing is probably a little bit different than this Nissan, of course, we don’t know that for sure because neither Kia nor Nissan will tell us exactly.
Nissan has been a little bit more transparent and wanting to really push EV adoption and that’s why you can buy the Nissan Leaf in more areas around the world, but it’s also likely why this is designed to be profitable in its own right.
That’s why we have that air-cooled battery pack, it’s going to be less expensive to produce, less expensive to maintain than what we find in this vehicle now.
It may not last as long in the long term because the battery health may suffer if you’re constantly DC fast charging it or if you live in a very hot climate, but it is going to be more profitable for Nissan to make long term.
That’s probably why we see some of the overall design choices in the Nissan versus the Kia. The interior does not feel quite as premium but it is a vehicle that is likely going to be profitable for Nissan long term.
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