Exploring South Korea in the Kia e-Niro

Cars Culture

One of the most awesome ways to discover South Korea is by car

The Land of the Morning Calm’s size makes driving a viable option. Cars can be hired at Incheon International Airport and via hotels in Seoul. But we didn’t need to rent one because the whole point of our visit was to drive the all-new Kia e-Niro.

You see, Korea’s capital is home to Kia Motors, and the automaker has launched this car in the hope of putting to bed the reservations of electric-car naysayers.

Korea Kia eNiro

The cynics tend to think that vehicles without combustion engines don’t have the range or the performance of ‘regular’ cars – and they always slam the price. Well, after having a first drive of the e-Niro, we’re pleased to report that Kia will probably turn these disbelievers into believers.

Why? Well, the all-electric car gets a 204ps motor that propels the front wheels, boosting the Kia e-Niro’s athleticism well above the current plug-in and hybrid Niro models. There’s even enough grunt to get a squeal from the front tyres, as we found out when putting our foot down to overtake some slow Seoulites.

Before we examined the car any further, we parked up to see one of the most majestic palaces in the land – Gyeongbokgung Palace, built in 1395. As well as the imposing Throne Hall and a pavilion practically afloat in a pond, the National Folk Museum is on the grounds. The camera-friendly changing of the guard occurs daily outside the main entrance, too.

A very short drive from Gyeongbokgung is Insadong, the coolest traditional market in Seoul. We grabbed lunch from one of the stacks of restaurants before visiting the craft shops and art galleries – and then getting back behind the wheel.

We headed out of Seoul towards Imjingak and the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ), seeing the Han River as we drove. This runs through the core of the city, splitting it in two. The northern territory, where we’d been, is a focal point for culture and history, while the southern area is known for its vibrant Gangnam District. Remember ‘Gangnam Style’ the 2012 hit record by Psy?

Imjingak Resort was constructed in 1972 and is a short distance away from the DMZ which divides South Korea and North Korea. It is one of the closest populated areas to the land of reclusive leader, Kim Jong Un.

Once at Imjingak, we learnt that it was built in the hope that unification would be possible. The main building is bordered by a North Korea Centre, several monuments and a Unification Park. From the viewing point, you can see North Korea.

Despite its name, the DMZ is the most heavily armed area on the planet. Across 4km of land, tank stoppers, landmines and barbed wire line the border and stretch midway to Pyongyang in the North and Seoul in the South.

The truce that ended the fighting between the two lands was signed here back in 1953. However, as peace was never officially agreed, the two countries are still formally at war.

Our time in South Korea was already running out – we were only there for a few hours, courtesy of Kia. So, we had to start making our way back to Seoul.

On the way, we played with the paddles behind the e-Niro’s steering wheel – these regulate the force of brake regeneration. While you can’t drive the Kia with one pedal as you can in Nissan’s Leaf, the trio of levels allows you to make the most of the e-Niro’s charge.

The drive also gave us to time to spot a wealth of sights — these span from royal shrines and ancient palaces to the Bukhansan Mountain National Park, and to the modern World Cup Stadium in Seoul itself.

The principal city is one of largest in the world regarding population. It only covers 605km2, but it contains 23 million people, making it the second most inhabited metropolitan place in the world after Greater Tokyo. The name ‘Seoul’ derives from the old Korean word Seorabeol, meaning ‘capital city’.

Once back at our base – the Westin Chosun hotel, situated in the heart of Downtown Seoul, we reviewed the e-Niro’s range and discovered it could manage about 282 miles (454km) on one charge. More impressively, we detected the official figure is higher when just driving around town. That means many e-Niro drivers will only need to charge up once a week – at the most.

Granted, the topping up process isn’t as straightforward as a quick fill up at the pumps, but connect the Kia to a 100kW quick charger and less than an hour later (54 minutes) you’ll have charged the battery pack from next to nothing to 80 per cent. That’s enough energy for the e-Niro to cover between 226 (364km) and nearly 300 miles (483km), depending on how you drive it.

So, how much does this new all-electric car cost? Well, at £32,995 (after the UK’s £3,500 Government grant), the Kia e-Niro will only set you back around £1000 or so more than the flagship Nissan Qashqai.

The all-new e-Niro is a no-nonsense five-door crossover that makes electric car ownership more appealing than ever, whether you’re driving in the Land of the Morning Calm or back in Blighty. The model goes on sale in the UK in April 2019.