New Zealand chased 259 with seven balls to spare after bowling England out in the first one-day international in Hamilton.
England were asked to bat first, and after a steady start featuring half-centuries from Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott and Joe Root, collapsed away to 258 all out three balls short of completing their allocated 50 overs.
It looked under par at Seddon Park, where New Zealand had piled on 192 for six in the corresponding T20 fixture earlier in the week, and so it proved.
Kane Williamson led the way with a well-judged 74, before Brendon McCullum played a captain's innings worth 69 not out in 61 balls.
But it was Martin Guptill who stole the show - having retired early in the innings after pulling his hamstring, he came back out with New Zealand seven wickets down to crunch 24 in 10 balls and hit the winning runs.
His injury means he is unlikely to feature again in the series, but his heroic cameo gives New Zealand every chance of winning the three-match encounter.
It was something of a surprise, given New Zealand dominating the T20 by bowling first, that McCullum put the tourists in, but it bore fruit as England laboured against the New Zealand attack on a sunny afternoon.
England had brought back Trott, James Anderson and Graeme Swann, none of whom had played a warm-up match since their arrival in the country, while Chris Woakes was entrusted with the all-rounder's role.
They lost skipper Alastair Cook (4) early, becoming the first of Mitchell McClenaghan's four victims.
Trott and Bell steadied the innings, but they did so at a crawl. Both picked up later in their innings, but Trott especially took his time, taking 60 balls to reach 30 before accelerating. And while both got starts, both saw their innings cut short in the sixties, leaving others to rebuild.
Jos Buttler and Graeme Swann played breezy cameos around Joe Root's solid 56, but wickets fell at regular intervals and left the tourists with a simultaneously competitive and disappointing score.
But with the bowling attack reinforced England had a chance to make their batting immaterial. Anderson signalled a warning by ripping out BJ Watling's middle stump with an inswinger in the first over, and when Guptill retired hurt having pulled his hamstring running a quick single soon after limping to three from 16 balls, England must have fancied their chances.
Williamson, an elegant batsman whose stock in international cricket is rising, looked at ease against the England attack, even if Ross Taylor (22) struggled.
And though England kept themselves in touch with the wicket of Grant Elliott (22), the Black Caps had their noses in front for most of the chase.
That changed when Williamson was run out after a miscommunication with his captain, with Woakes deserving credit for agile work at the non-striker's end to remove the bails. James Franklin soon followed, and the required run rate was squeezed up to nine an over.
But McCullum, together with brother Nathan (14) and Andrew Ellis (13) got things back on track, before Guptill's astonishing return.
Barely able to walk his runs, he drove a four before late-cutting a six as England's bowlers lost their way, defaulting to the short ball when it was haemorrhaging runs.
In the end New Zealand rushed over the line, adding 41 runs from the last 17 balls as Woakes, Finn and Broad got the treatment.
England will rue under-performing with bat and ball but also be mindful that neither side has yet managed back-to-back wins in a topsy-turvy tour.