Tesla Model 3 vs Kia Niro EV – Tesla Killer Or Not?


We tested the Tesla Model 3 and the Kia Niro, which one came out on top?

If you’re just looking for the most fun electric vehicle then without question the Model 3 is it. Even though you have those low-rolling-resistance tires, the handling is excellent, braking scores are livable and the instantaneous delivery of power is likely going to put a smile on your face every single time.

In this article, I’ll be talking about two of the newest long-range inexpensive electric vehicles in America. Both options will give you 200 miles of range and will cost under $40,000 when you properly equip them.

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Starting on this end you have the new Kia Niro EV, pricing was just announced on this one it comes in at a $38,500 base price and the Tesla Model 3 is either the least expensive or the most expensive, depending on how you want to look at it. I should mention that paint options on the Model 3 are more expensive than the Kia.

Exterior Styling

When it comes to the overall front-end design distinctive doesn’t necessarily mean attractive and I think that the Model 3, even though I’m not the hugest fan of the front end look overall is the most attractive entry in this segment. We have sleek proportions going on in the Model 3, it has a very sexy side profile and a very low front end.

Moving on over to the Nero you have probably the least controversial, some might say the most boring design in this particular segment. Kia has gone for a look that is not going to offend anybody.

Let’s talk about where these EV’S slot into the landscape. The Model 3 is a compact luxury sedan, although again it does have a price tag that’s down in the same neighborhood as the Niro. That’s not too surprising of course because Audi, BMW, Mercedes, they all make vehicles that are under $35,000.

The Model 3 is very solidly a packed luxury sedan at 180 four point eight inches long, this is a little bit shorter than a Volkswagen Jetta a little bit longer than a Toyota Corolla. Some folks have mentioned that the overall interior volume is larger than those and therefore it should be a midsize sedan, that’s just not the case.

Vehicle Length

Remember that when it comes to the interior volume you’re talking about the area that’s right under the rear window, which is not a usable area under the front window but between the window in the dashboard and that’s not a usable area either.

The Model 3 is significantly smaller inside and outside than a Toyota Camry, which comes in at 192 inches long. The Kona and the sole are in the next subcategory down and around 164 to 165 inches long.

Horse Power

The Niro Ev, the Kona EV and the upcoming 20/20 sole EV all share an electric motor. It produces 201 horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque, which is pretty good in this segment.

The Tesla is the most powerful in this lineup at 258 horsepower and an undisclosed amount of torque at this particular moment. The Tesla is also the only one out of the two that is rear-wheel drive, all the other entries in this segment except for the Tesla at the moment are front-wheel drive.

ModelBrake Horse Power
Standard Range258
Long Range RWD283
Long Range AWD197 +252
Performance AWD197 + 283
Niro201

If you’re looking for an all-wheel-drive EV be prepared to pay a great deal more than the group that you’re talking about here. It is available in the Model 3 but it’s going to cost you significantly more than the version that you’re looking at here, or you could get something like a Jaguar Ipace or an Audi E-Tron, but in this article you’re talking just about the vehicles right around $40,000.

Battery Size

Although the Tesla Model 3 is the most powerful it has the smallest battery in the bunch at 50-kilowatt hours of overall storage capacity. The Kona and the new Salty EV have the biggest battery pack in this set at 64 kWh.

Vehicle Range

According to the EPA, numbers which are of course submitted by the vehicles manufacturers, not necessarily directly tested by the EPA, the Kona will get the longest range at 258 miles overall and the Tesla in the middle at around 240.

Our chart right now includes data from our testing of the bolt and of the kona. We didn’t test those on the same day but you did do the exact same test metrics with those Models.

The important thing to know here is that the Kona got the highest overall efficiency score in our test at three point nine eight miles per kilowatt hour. The Model 3 came in next, it is unquestionably one of the most efficient EV’s on the market in America right now at 3.85 miles per kilowatt hour.

The trouble with their overall range in the Model 3 is just that the battery is smaller than the Kia. So even though the Kia came in at 3.75 miles per kilowatt hours it has a significantly larger battery, and that helped the Niro get an actual range at ninety percent use of the battery of two hundred sixteen miles, versus 174 in the Tesla.

ModelEPS Range90% EPATest DistanceMi/kWhActual Range
Model 3 2402161743.85192
Niro2392152163.75240
Bolt238214174303198
Leaf +2262032003.6223
Leaf1501351363.8152
Kona 258 232 229 3.98 254

That’s a pretty big gap and you’re just talking about that ninety percent usage of the battery. If you wanted to max things out in our testing the Model 3 will never get 240 miles of overall range.

Its real-world range is somewhere in the neighborhood of 190 miles, because the tires in both vehicle you’re inflated to the manufacturers recommended inflation pressures.

That is considerably lower for the Kia and pretty high for the Tesla Model 3. The Model 3 door sticker says 45 psi so quite a high tire pressure but on the flip side the Model 3 has the widest tires at 235 with tires versus 215.

The range test was fairly highway heavy, about 80% of it spent on interstate highways with a maximum speed of 70 miles an hour. The remaining 20% of the mileage was quite favorable for most EV’s out there with speed limits a maximum of 45 miles an hour and most of them are unlimited access expressways.

Vehicle Charging

When it comes to charging there are definitely some similarities and differences between these two EV’s. The Kia has its charge ports upfront over on the driver’s side, behind the panel you will find a J1772 charging connector and then the CCS combined charging system connector. That’s the newest charging standard in America.

Tesla likes to do everything a little bit differently so they put their charging connector back on the driver’s side and they use a proprietary charging connector, you’ve probably seen one out there if you’ve researched any EV’s.

There is an adapter so you can use a standard J1772 charging connector. When it comes to DC fast charging there is, of course, the Tesla supercharger network, or you should be able to adapt the Chademo charging connector as well.

There has been some confusion over that, you did talk about that a little bit in our initial Model 3 article but to clarify things, Tesla has already announced the part to allow a Model 3 to charge from a Chademo charging station.

However, let’s suppose the software is not quite done yet, so at this exact moment you cannot charge a Tesla Model 3 at a Chademo station but you expect that to happen soon.

Types Of Vehicle Chargers

Something not discussed frequently when talking about EV’s is the EV’s that are included with the vehicle, or electric vehicle supply equipment. This is not a battery charger, the charger is located onboard the vehicles and just provides power to the charger.

Kia gives us a pretty standard charger, it’s capable of 12 amps at 128 volts but that will take a long time to charge your car.

Not a surprise that Tesla gives us the sexiest EV’S available, rated for 32 amps so will support the maximum charge rate on the Model 3. And then Tesla gives us two different cord, you have a 120-volt cord and then you have a 240-volt cord if you have that power available

Charging Speeds

Charging speed is a function of the rating of the onboard charger on the vehicle, the rating of the circuit or EV’S that you have the vehicle plugged into, and then, of course, the condition of the battery.

All things being ideal the Tesla Model 3 has the slowest onboard charger of the two at 7.6 one kilowatt faster and the Nero at 7.2. Again, the Niro’s on-board charger is the same one that’s used in the Kona and the Sol.

Based on our real-world efficiency numbers that means that the Nero gains range at 27 to 28 miles per hour.

But Model 3 is the winner because it has the fastest onboard charger and the highest average of efficiency giving us a range gain of 29 miles per hour.

If you get the longer-range Model 3 then that will be even better, because the longer-range Model will have eleven and a half kilowatt charger onboard which is significantly faster than the 7.6 you find in the discount Model.

Independent research says that most charging happens at home or at work, over 90 percent of charging sessions. But a lot of people still DC fast charge and that is one of the key areas of difference between these two vehicles.

If you can find a station that will support the maximum charge rate in the Nero, you’ll gain about 135 miles out of a 30-minute charge, it’ll charge at around 72 kilowatts.

Charging Networks

Most CCS charging stations, however, and most Chademo charging stations top out at 50 kilowatts, which will give the Niro about 94 miles of overall range in 30 minutes.

This is assuming that you’re starting at around five percent of battery state of charge where you’re going to get the most DC fast charge benefit.

Then you have the Model 3. Tesla has been advertising that the new supercharging v3 stations will charge it some seriously quick rates but that does not apply to the base Model 3.

This battery pack will top out at about 100-1 kilowatts, definitely faster than the Niro but not as fast as the larger battery available in the Model 3. So if you want that quick range gain, you will have to upgrade to the bigger battery pack.

Assuming the same conditions the basic Model 3 will gain about 150 miles of overall range in that same 30-minute window. I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating here in this article.

The innovation with the Tesla supercharging network is not necessarily the speed because the CCS and the Chademo standard theoretically can support similar charge rates.

And it’s not the number of chargers or the number of ports available either, because in California especially in the Bay Area Chademo charging connectors and CCS charging connectors far outweigh the number of Tesla supercharging connectors.

The supercharger advantage is location, location, location. When you take a look at the supercharging network map, it is clear that Tesla designed these charging stations for their vehicles for long-range travel.

So if you want to go from the Bay Area to LA, if you want to go from the Bay Area to Oregon, New York, Washington, Wyoming, that is possible in a Tesla Model 3 because of the location of those superchargers ports.

Model 3 Seating

When it comes to our front seat comfort score the Model 3 is the winner. We have a multi-way adjustable driver’s seat and a power front passenger seat and both seats offer 4-way adjustable lumbar support, something that you generally expect in the luxury segment.

I also think that the overall design of the seat is very comfortable, it reminds me of an awful lot of infinity seat designs. The big thing to note is that Tesla never delivered the actual base seat that they had promised.

They were saying that the base Model would get manual seats you ended up with powered seats, they said you wouldn’t have lumbar but you do end up having lumbar support.

Niro Seating

With the Niro you don’t have the four-way lumbar support that you found in the Tesla and you don’t have a power passenger seat, but overall I found this seat and seating position a little bit more comfortable.

We also have a tilt telescopic steering column with about the same range of motion that you find in the Tesla.

Model 3 Rear Seating

Because of the sleeker sedan profile of the Model 3, even though it is longer than the Niro I didn’t find that much more legroom on the inside, still I had enough room to sit right behind the driver with about two inches of overall length. And thanks to the glass roof I had about half an inch of overall Headroom left

Some folks out there have commented on the lack of driveline hump in the Model 3 versus the driveline hump that you see in the competition, that’s not a driveline hump in most battery electric vehicles.

The tunnel serves a purpose to make the vehicle a little bit more rigid overall, it also helps prevent the drum-like sound that you can hear in the Model 3 if you tap where the center passenger’s feet would go.

Likely because of the more upright sitting position and because the Niro has more legroom I found more legroom available sitting behind the driver.

I had about 5 inches or so and then when it comes to overall rear seat Headroom this manages to beat the Tesla Model 3 by just a little bit, giving me about an inch of overall Headroom improvement over the Model 3.

Niro Rear Seating

The rear seat area in the Niro is not quite as wide as you find in the Model 3, and even though you don’t have a pronounced hump it is not quite as flat as you find in the Tesla.

Cargo Area

I was a little bit surprised by this but both vehicles got the same 24-inch roller bag score at 5 bags overall, even though the volume of the cargo areas varies quite a bit.

Behind the very vertical hatch the Nero gives us just under 19 cubic feet of storage space very, similar to what you see in the other Niro’s available in America.

Obviously the big advantage to the Niro is the overall opening and the squareness of the hatchback, so if you did want to go to Home Depot buy a BBQ toss it on you’ll be able to do it in this.

The other thing you’ll be able to do in the Niro is put a spare tire and retain it to the floor because everything that’s required to hold that spare tire down is available even in the electric version. Although, by default, the electric version just gets the can of fix-a-flat and the inflator.

I am a little bit disappointed that the Model 3 didn’t end up a hatchback like the Model S because that hatchback lift back design makes them very practical. The whole section opens up so you can put those larger items like barbecues in Model S, you won’t be able to do that in the Model 3.

A Tesla hallmark that has lived on with the Model 3 is the Fronk. It’s worth noting that this Fronk is an awful lot smaller than the one in the Model S, and it is smaller still if you get the dual-motor version of the Model 3.

With our Model 3 you’re barely able to fit a 22-inch roller bag upfront, but you couldn’t squeeze in another one of those 24-inch roller bags.

Either way that’s an awful lot more luggage than you could put under the Niro hood because there’s no storage space available up front.

Exterior Build Quality

The paint quality on the Model 3 is definitely below the Niro. Our Model 3 had a $1,000 paint option on it, it was delivered with some scratches in the paint, a lot of stuff under the paint and a few thin areas mostly around the interior portions of the door and the hinge area. Not as well painted as the Kia.

When it comes to overall panel gaps, panel alignment, I have to say it’s not put together as the Kia, it seems the Kia was together with a little greater precision.

On the inside of the vehicle, I think the interior of the Model 3 is the nicest of the two. So even though the Model 3 isn’t assembled with as great a precision as you see in the Kia, the interior feel is a step above.

Interior Build Quality

Moving on to the inside I think the Model 3 wins the overall interior design and interior quality contest. Not just because of the large touchscreen infotainment system but just the overall fitment of the interior panels, the quality of the interior materials.

There are soft-touch door panels down to the ground, just as you’d expect in a luxury vehicle and things are just a little bit different inside the Nero.

My only real complaint with this interior is the overall practicality. Tesla has gone after button minimization I think to a little bit of an extreme, and I would have appreciated just a few more dedicated buttons.

Moving over to the Niro you find a pretty traditional sunroof that opens, you also have ventilated seats which are strangely not an option on the Tesla. That surprises me a little because ventilated seats help reduce the overall power consumption in the summer.

Another thing you don’t find on the Niro is the regen paddles on the back of the steering wheel.

The one on the right reduces foot liftoff regen and the one on the left that you can barely see increases it. You can choose between four different levels and one of them is a true coasting mode with no regen braking.

Entertainment Systems

The infotainment system in the Model 3 is a win over the Kia but there are a few things that are strangely missing.

For example, there is no apple car play or android auto, so if you want to use Waze on this screen that’s just not something that you can do at the moment.

Another oddity is that if you have our phone connected via Bluetooth as the music library, you have no way of actually interacting with that library via the system.

You have to use your phone’s interface to navigate around that and that’s not going to be as safe as if you’re using the car screen.

Now to the benefits. The big benefit is even in the base version that doesn’t give us on-screen traffic information,n this is still all being delivered by Google Maps and it is very snappy.

You can move around the system, you can zoom in you can zoom out, everything is very very easy to use. It also gives you the active status of those supercharger stations.

The navigation interface is very speedy. If I want to just insert a winery that I have already used the Maps us very rapidly, it will also map us using active traffic information and then give us our round-trip battery expectations.

Give and take is again the name of the game, because even though you have apple carplay and android auto, and in the Niro it had a nicer sound system than you find in the basic Model 3.

If I go back to the Kia menus you would notice this is not as snappy as the Tesla system, and it also doesn’t give us EV systems that are quite as advanced either.

For example, it just gives us a distance window. If I click on the energy information panel you have a lot of detail about exactly where the energy is going.

If you plug a destination into the navigation system you’ll notice you don’t have that same level of detail as you found in the Tesla. Motions aren’t quite as smooth, the graphics aren’t quite as nice either.

Handling And Speed

It’s no surprise that out on the road is where the Model 3 shines, it is not only faster but it’s also better handling than the competition. In our 0 to 60 testing this Model took 5.6 seconds to hit that highway speed.

Now it is worth noting that the one thing that you do seem to have software restricted on our particular Model because we paid $35,000 for it is the overall performance.

If you get the standard range plus, then it is software unlocked to be just a little bit faster but as it is this is a full second faster than the Kia Niro and at least half a second faster than the Hyundai Kona

When you take a look at the 0 to 30 times the Niro is about a half-second slower than the Tesla Model 3. The biggest reason for that in both of these vehicles is that they’re limiting torque below about 35 miles an hour, so if I’m going 45 up a hill and I stab it, the difference between the Niro and the Model 3 is a little bit smaller.

But if I was to come to a complete stop or go below about 35 miles an hour and then press on the accelerator pedal, you get a more leisurely acceleration until right around 30 35 miles an hour when you then get all of the power from the battery pack.

The Niro is a front-wheel-drive vehicle so you don’t have that weight transfer to the vehicle that will help improve overall traction. We also don’t have tires that are as wide as the Model 3.

Regen Braking

There are some advantages to a front-wheel-drive design like the Niro. Overall regen braking ability is going to be a little bit better because the front wheels are generally going to be doing most of the stopping in the vehicle, and of course, adverse weather traction is going to be more predictable in a front-wheel-drive car like the Niro.

Braking

Overall Tesla Model 3 stopping scores are right in line with what Tesla themselves are claiming, and in case you’re wondering yes our vehicle does have the software update the Tesla issued to help address some of the stopping complaints that Consumer Reports had early on with their Model.

The Model 3 we tested had the Michelin MXM 4 tires, the same tire that you find on the Camry and the Accord. So it’s not the ultra-performance tire that you have on the more expensive versions The Model 3, those will stop shorter.

When you’re talking about breaking one thing that I dislike about the Model 3 is that you only get those two different levels of region and braking in the screen, you get low and Max. Max is too aggressive and even low is a little bit more aggressive than I think I would like.

I would love it if you had a paddle on the back of the steering wheel as you see in the Kia that would allow us to adjust that regen. The bigger complaint I have about the Model 3 out on the road is the overall ride quality.

I think it is just a little bit too firm for my tastes, it is a little bit firmer than base Models of the BMW 3 Series, the Mercedes-Benz c-class, Audi A4 the natural competitors to the Model 3.

The Niro splits the difference giving us a slightly softer ride than the Model 3 but overall this has more control.

Overall cabin noise is very similar between the Niro and the Model 3, but oddly enough one thing that you have in here that you don’t find in the Niro is some odd whistles from what sounds like the side view mirror and some of the panel gaps in the roof.

I was told that I could get one of these little seal kits from amazon.com. We did try it, it did not work in this Model 3. The main reason for that is the overall consistency of build quality, the panel gaps on the glass roof are just not even enough for that seal to sit there in place.

On one side it fits in, on the other side there’s just no hope that it would ever fill that gap, and as a result, it fell out after about 2 miles of overall driving and didn’t change the sound levels in the cabin at all.

Where To Buy

Where you buy and how you buy each of these through vehicles because that is a little bit different. At the moment the Nero is available only in the states that follow California’s emissions regulations and Texas and Georgia.

Now we do expect that more states will come soon, but at the moment that’s just about 12 states only in America, it’s the most restrictive in this group.

The next most restrictive is the Tesla Model 3 because Tesla is not allowed to do direct sales in a large number of states in the U.S. Now Tesla skirts around those rules in a wide variety of different fashions, you can do online ordering and they’ll deliver them to you.

The Model 3 is a very different purchase experience. Tesla is trying to get everybody to do it online, you can, of course, call on the phone or go in person so those two are the only ways you will get the $35,000 Model in person or on the phone. On line $35,500 is the base Model, which is the standard range plus with autopilot.

Dealership Experience

The other thing to know is that since there are no dealerships, the dealership experience simply doesn’t exist traditionally. It was very easy to get this dropped off, four signatures, the guy was there for five minutes and I had my car. I loved that particular Model because I’m not a big fan of car dealerships.

Which One Should You Buy?

There are some solid reasons that you might want to get the Niro and that’s why I’m going to call it a tie between these two vehicles. The Niro is more cargo practical, you have more cargo space in the back than you find in the Model 3 and that cargo area is more practically shaped.

You could fit something like a barbecue on the inside, it’s also a little bit more practical when it comes to inserting child seats in the back, especially rear-facing child seats.

It’s still pretty tight in both of these options but because of the more upright seating position in the Niro, it was a little bit easier than the Model 3. In addition to that although the EPA numbers would indicate that they’re very similar, the Niro gives us longer EV range.

You have that bigger battery pack, you have very similar overall efficiency and that yields about 22 percent greater real-world range. And of course, if you live in a colder area and you get the optional heat pump system in the Niro it’s going to be more efficient than the Model 3 and yield greater range in those winter situations.

On the other hand, no matter what you do it’s not going to accelerate faster than the Model 3, it’s not going to handle better than the Model 3 and it’s not going to have a little Tesla logo on it either.

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