And so here is a very real question for anyone contemplating a full-on battery-electric vehicle (EV): 2019 Kia Niro EV Touring or Tesla Model 3 with Standard Range Plus?

Tesla Model 3: sleek design.

On paper, these two are very, very similar. The Kia lists for $53,996, plus fees and such, while the Tesla goes for $55,990. Range is about the same – 385 km for the Niro, 402 for the 3. Both are eligible for big taxpayer-funded rebates (say, $8,000 combined in British Columbia, with $5,000 from the feds and $3,000 from the province).

Tesla argues that a buyer should throw in another $14,700 in potential savings on fuel, service and so on. I believe this is Tesla buttering up potential buyers; savings projections that stretch out six years are a guess, not a fact. Nonetheless, if true, either of these hatchbacks will run you about $40,000 in actual out-of-pocket costs. I say that because if the Tesla has a $15,000 EV benefit, so does the Kia.

Then there is performance.

Kia Niro EV cabin: superbly crafted if a little conservative.

Without a doubt, the rear-drive Model 3 is the livelier of the two, with a 0-100 km/h time of 5.6 seconds and a top speed of 225 km hour. The 3 turns like a ballet dancer doing a pirouette, the driving position is racy and the driver looks out through a huge, huge expanse of glass. The low, low centre of gravity which is a function of Tesla’s clever battery design, means this hatchback hugs the pavement. Carving corners is wonderfully entertaining.

The front-drive Niro EV, without question, feels heavier and simply does not handle as well as the 3. Moreover, this particular version of the Model 3 – with Standard Range Plus – has a 54 kWh battery, while the Niro’s 64 kWh battery. Both Tesla and Kia pack the battery under the floor, but the Tesla clearly has the lower centre of gravity.

To be fair, the Niro’s electric motor is rated at 201 horsepower/291 lb-ft of torque. That’s strong. But this car’s 0-100 km/hour time comes it at 7.8 seconds.

Tesla Model 3: The big screen is a signature feature, but the materials, fit and finish are dollar-store cheap and poorly assembled.

Indeed, the fastest Model 3 will do that sprint in less than 3.0 seconds. As a pure performance machine, the Tesla wins hands down, though if you want the lightening-fast 3 with the best range and all-wheel drive, you’ll pay nearly $80,000.

It’s impossible to get a Niro EV that costs more than $53,995 plus the usual fees and such. It’s also impossible to get a faster Niro; all of them have the same powertrain, stem to battery pack to stern.

These two also have about the same cabin and storage space, which means you can seat up to five if those in back are willing to snuggle. But if you sit in both, you quickly see very different design approaches and execution.

The Tesla is a minimalist place with a cheesy dashboard dominated by a huge screen through which the entirety of the car’s functions are channeled. It’s a clever idea, very smartphone-ish.

Tesla Model 3: The glare associated with the huge touchscreen makes it at times unusable.

But that big screen reflects glare. Brutally. At times, on a bright day with the sun at the proper angle, this screen is almost entirely unusable. Everything in that cabin looks and feels like it was sourced at Dollarama. Junky plastics, cheesy finishings, embarrassing fit and finish… I’m being kind when I say minimalist.

The Kia Niro, on the other hand, is a very well-executed place, with extraordinarily comfortable leather seats, high-quality materials from the dashboard to the door handles and a surprising amount of designated and useful storage spaces.

The infotainment screen looks toy-like compared to the Tesla, though. It’s functional and allows you to do things like program your EV drive to best effect, but it’s simply too small for a fancy EV in 2019. I think the Tesla fan base would argue that the Niro is old-fashioned. I’d argue it’s simply superior in every way other than outward visibility, where the 3 is Oscar-worthy.

The exterior designs are in sharp contrast, too: the Niro EV looks pretty much like any other Niro, which is to say not particularly interesting but highly functional; whereas, the Model 3 is distinctive, a low and sleek hatch with quite a futuristic shape. Visually, the Tesla again wins hands-down.

Kia Niro EV: Not a very exciting design.

But the Tesla’s paint job is sub-par, the panel gaps are often too wide and always inconsistent and details such as the door/flap that covers the charging port are an embarrassment for a car with a luxurious price tag.

The Kia’s paint is rich and lovely, the tight panel gaps are uniform and so excellent you would only notice them because I’ve mentioned them. A long list of third-party researchers find Kia quality among the best in the world. This is true of everything from Hyundai Motor. Tesla’s quality woes, particularly with the Model 3, are well documented and numerous.

As for charging, Tesla has its brilliant Supercharger network and you can juice up this version of the 3 to 80 per cent in less than 30 minutes using a 120 kW Supercharger. The Niro EV comes standard with Combined Charging System (CCS) DC fast-charge equipment. You’ll can juice up to about 135 km in 30 minutes using a 50kW charger or 193 km in 30 minutes using a 100kW charger.

Tesla’s Supercharger network is a significant advantage.

Finally, equipment. Tesla boasts of its Autopilot system and it’s very, very good, though the claim that it allows for fully automated driving is misleading to the point of being dangerous. If you’re driving, you will need to remain alert and engaged, even if the car is doing most of the work. There are liability issues around Autopilot and features such as Summon that would concern me if I were an owner using its full functionality.

As for the more mundane stuff which does, indeed matter, at this price point, the 3 has 12-way power adjustable front and rear heated seats; an excellent sound system with 14 speakers, a subwoofer and two amps; a terrific navigation system; in-car internet with streaming music and media and a few other odds and ends.

The Niro EV is at least a match for the 3, however, when it comes to equipment. While you can’t get Autopilot, this Kia does have the full suite of driver assistance systems, from small stuff like warnings about impending collisions, blind spots and lane departures and the like, to driver assist and lane keeping assist. Kia never claims the Niro EV will drive itself, but the car offers plenty of help.

The Niro’s rotary shifter is cool.

As well, the navigation system is very useful and easy to operate (through that under-sized screen), the eight-speaker Harmon/Kardon sound system is excellent and I very much like the look and operation of the rotary dial shifter with mood lighting. The seats are vastly more comfortable and supportive than the Model 3’s and there’s a richness of textures and execution that is just not there in the Tesla.

The Kia Niro EV, then, is absolutely the finer-looking and feeling car of the two. Where the Tesla feels slapped together and cheap, everything you see, touch and feel in the Kia is luxurious. Dynamically, the Model 3 is the better car, however, and the Supercharger network is a distinct advantage, though one that will be short-lived once the various charging networks in the planning stage are executed. Kia quality is verifiably superior to Tesla’s, too.

Which brings us to branding. Tesla remains a sexy player, while the Kia brand…well, no one yet brags about owning a Kia. What is certain is that Hyundai Motor and both its Kia and Hyundai brands are in this game to stay and their intention is to play an increasingly important role in the electrification of the automobile and the premium car market in general.

Tesla Model 3: Second-rate materials and third-rate build quality.

Personally, I’d prefer to live day-to-day with this Niro, even if that means surrendering some measure of bragging rights. The Kia is more comfortable, better built and I think offers a better overall value, even if the Tesla is the more entertaining driving machine.

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