After getting the parking spot last Friday things kicked into high gear and I begin test driving cars. So far I have driven the Kona, Niro, Model 3 and a Bolt (I threw in an Ioniq hybrid since I was already at Hyundai). My first impression is that electric cars are amazing! They are quiet and smooth and the low end torque that everyone talks about really does live up to the hype, making the cars feel sporty and fun. And that is saying a lot because I am not really a “car person”.
Hyundai Kona EV Limited
The first car I drove was the Kona, and unfortunately I had a terrible time with the dealer. This particular dealer was selling the car with a 5K premium above MSRP and will barely let you test drive the car, limiting you to short drives of only a couple blocks. The saleswoman who was showing me the car was really nice though and broke the rules, letting me drive a lot further regardless of getting yelled by her boss for it.
Despite all that, I liked the car. It was small, only 164.6 inches long, which is a plus for city parking while still feeling spacious. The trunk was also large and with the seats down there is lots of storage. One thing I didn’t love about the car was the noise it made at low speeds to warn pedestrians. It was quite loud and I was always aware that it was there. Due to the nature of the test drive I never got to see what it was like on the highway so I’m not sure if it would go away.
The car is definitely a reasonable option so it is going to come down to things like price, range, and features. On this front the car seems great with the SEL trim level coming in at ~$36,500 MSRP with 256mi EPA estimated range. It also has a $7500 federal tax credit and in California another $2000 rebate. However, the Kona has one huge shortcoming for me summed up with one image.
To get Smart Cruise Control (SCC) with Stop & Go you have to get the Ultimate trim which is considerably pricier, and with my long commute this is at the top of my list of features. Given this I am not sure if the need to buy the Ultimate will be a deal breaker, but we’ll see how it stacks up against the other options. The other feature I am looking for to help with the commute is the Lane Keep Assist which comes standard on all trims. I couldn’t actually get this working on the test drive, possibly due to the low speeds, so I can’t attest to the quality. A full comparison of options on the trims can be found here.
Kia Niro EV EX
The next car I drove was the lower trim of the Niro. The car is a really compelling option with a MSRP of $38,500 along with the $7500 federal tax credit and $2000 rebate in California. It also comes standard with Smart Cruise Control and Lane Keep Assist. This means that the car will, for the most part, drive itself on the highway something akin to autopilot by Tesla. I had a chance to try this feature on the test drive while we were driving on the highway, and in my opinion it worked great. It stayed between lane lines and slowed down for the car in front of me, and I found the controls for changing following distance and turning on the cruise control and lane assist to be intuitive.
Other things I liked about the car were: the intuitiveness of paddles on the steering wheel to change how aggressively the car regenerated when you let off the accelerator, the large trunk and hatch back, and good sized back seat. Really the only bad thing I can say about the car is that all the seat controls were manual, as is the hatch back, but I don’t really care about that. The higher trim adds electric seats, leather, sun roof, parking distance warning, and a better sound system with a price tag of $44K ($45K for the launch edition which adds LED headlights and auto dimming rear view mirror).
All in all, I really liked the Niro. With a range of 239 miles and all the major features I want, and with a very reasonable price tag for an EV (especially with rebates), I expect it will be a top contender.
Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus
I am not going to say as much about the Tesla because the car is already so well known, or at least it is to me. The biggest thing about the Tesla is that it clearly has a much more luxurious feel. For one, it is bigger which helps, but also the seats are a vegan leather, there is a large display with an aesthetically pleasing layout, it has power seats, and the trim and buttons all looked appealing. I was also pleasantly surprised at how large the trunk was. Also in the pro column is super charging, autopilot with the possibility of upgrading to the full self-driving package, and the general “wow” factor. On the last point, much to my chagrin, people actually said “wow” when I told them I was considering buying one. This is in contrast to the look of confusion about the other three options.
Comparing this with the Kona and the Niro, at approximately the same MSRP of $39,500 and range of 250 miles, the Tesla definitely offers more features. The big difference are the rebates which are only an $1875 federal tax credit that ends on Dec. 31st and the CA state rebate of $2K. I actually put in an order for the Tesla to try to beat the deadline in case I decide I want it, only losing the $100 order fee if I decide to cancel. The other aspects of the Tesla that are somewhere close to the con column are that the shape of the car isn’t my favorite, specifically the back end, and there isn’t a dashboard directly in front of you, but I didn’t notice it too much while driving. Another thing that was a little difficult for me was the side-to-side clicks on the steering wheel buttons, which seemed a bit stiff and a little too far in to be comfortable. The vertical scrolling was fine. Lastly, the aerowheels are a bit ugly but I have been assured they can be removed to reveal a much nicer wheel.
Ultimately, I think the decision here will come down to whether I think the price is worth having access to superchargers and a nicer interior.
Chevy Bolt LT
I am going to wrap up with a quick note about the Bolt. I only drove it briefly and I didn’t really like it before I tried it, and the test drive didn’t change my mind. The car just feels kind of like a cartoon car. I don’t know exactly what it is but I think it may be how squat but tall it is. Also, everything on the interior is manual (even in the premium), the infotainment center felt a little clunky, and the trunk feels shallow. Premium trim adds leather seats but I doubt this would fix my perception of the car.
The biggest thing I got from the test drive was that to get the cruise control and lane keep assist I would need to get the Driver Confidence Package 2, though the car I tested didn’t have it. The result is this means a MSRP for a LT trim level of ~$39K. Chevy is offering pretty large rebates, bringing this down to about $31K in order to compete with the Kona and Niro, though.
Right now it looks like a race between the Kia Niro and the Tesla Model 3. The Kia because it has the larger rebate and all the features I want, and the Tesla because it offers more features for the same MSRP along with the supercharging network. In a future post, I will collect statistics, prices/rebates, and features and try to parse out which option is really the best value based on what I want and how I expect to use the car.