The electric-vehicle invasion hasn’t exactly happened the way it was supposed to some years ago—with mass-market models getting longer-range batteries or becoming even more affordable. 

Instead, Tesla has shown that electric vehicles can elbow in from the top and middle of the market, with an aesthetic that takes on premium brands. What’s left of that more utilitarian track, in 2019, is embodied by the reconstituted 2020 Kia Soul EV—a model that was already EPA-rated at 243 miles and to be given a base price some amount under $40k. 

Oh, wait. The Soul EV originally expected this past spring isn’t coming this year, Kia eventually conceded this fall, after a series of smaller delays. So this year it’s the Kia Niro EV that “big battery, high value” approach of Kia and Hyundai that made the Hyundai Kona Electric a solid contender for last year’s award. 

The Niro is one of three vehicles to qualify as nominees to be Green Car Reports’ Best Car To Buy 2020. See that post for the requirements; most notably, a vehicle needs to be completely new or significantly refreshed, and widely available. 

As it is, the Niro EV isn’t as strong of a value. In the absence of a lower-priced base model that hasn’t yet shown up, the only version offered is the EX Premium, which starts at $45,045 and in our Best Car To Buy test car, added up to $47,155 with the options including a worthwhile $1,000 Cold Weather Package (heat pump and battery heater)—within about $2,000 of the base   Model Y Long Range build offered today.

Considering that buyers of Kia vehicles are still eligible for the full $7,500 federal EV tax credit, that bumps the effective price for many to be below $40,000—or well below counting state incentives. But it doesn’t feel cheap. 

2019 Kia Niro EV - Best Car To Buy 2020

2019 Kia Niro EV - Best Car To Buy 2020

If you go by features, the Niro EV piles them on and definitely redeems itself. A 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility is included, as are a power sunroof, heated and ventilated leather front seats, Harman Kardon premium audio, adaptive cruise control, active lane assist, and automatic emergency braking. 

The Niro EV is built on a platform that was originally designed for hybrids and EVs, so it’s packaged well—with no significant difference for functionality versus the Niro Hybrid. The 64-kwh battery pack is laid out mostly under the passenger floor, with added capacity under the rear seat, with five large modules made up of pouch cells from SK Innovation. The whole battery is sealed and liquid-cooled together with the power electronics. 

A permanent-magnet motor powers the front wheels in the Niro EV, making 201 horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque and delivers performance that we’d describe as very perky

2019 Kia Niro EV - Best Car To Buy 2020

2019 Kia Niro EV - Best Car To Buy 2020

We’re definitely not in love with the way the Niro EV rides and handles on every kind of road. It can develop a side-to-side pitchiness over uneven backroads, and road noise becomes an issue on the highway, especially over coarser surfaces. The seats are comfortable, but we wouldn’t call them premium by any means, and the seating position itself isn’t ideal for taller guys—of which we have several on our editorial team. 

Even though the Niro EV feels like an affordable car most of the time and doesn’t ever transcend its price tag, it goes above and beyond as an electric car. That includes predictable regenerative braking, an easily understood interface for it, and a reliable range meter. The brake regen comes in three steps (1, 2, 3), with an additional coast mode (0), and if you hold the left paddle while decelerating the vehicle will come to a full gradual stop without touching the brake. An “Auto” regen mode takes advantage of camera and radar inputs but isn’t as smooth or predictable as others like it (such as Porsche’s system in the Taycan). 

It’s worth pointing out—and emphasizing—that the Niro EV has a significantly higher EPA-rated range (239 miles) from a 64-kwh battery than either of the other two nominees this year (the E-Tron and Taycan) extract from in the vicinity of 50 percent more capacity. 

2019 Kia Niro EV - Best Car To Buy 2020

2019 Kia Niro EV - Best Car To Buy 2020

Because of that, it follows that recharging the Niro EV just isn’t as much of a big deal. It tops out (for a very short time) at 100 kw, fast-charging on CCS DC fast charging hardware capable of that, and can recover 100 miles of charge in 30 minutes, according to Kia, or get to 80 percent in about an hour. It’s no big deal if you don’t find 100- or 150-kw fast charging, as it only takes 15 minutes more on a 50-kw charger. And if you happen to be relying on Level 2 (240V) charging, count on less than 9.5 hours. 

There’s one thing missing for the Niro EV: availability. Kia is actively stocking the Niro EV in just 12 states: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington. Those in other states can special-order them, Kia says. You might have to pay even more to just get one, however; dealerships have been widely reported to be charging “additional dealer markup” on the Niro EV—an issue that’s also been a problem (in many respects) for the Kona Electric. 

Among our three finalists, the 2020 Kia Niro EV is looking like the only one that attempts to find a place in the mass market; and yet it might actually be the toughest one to find. 

Should the Niro EV be the Best Car To Buy, among new models? Let us know in your comments below.