Andrew Piltser-Cowan is a criminal defense attorney with a practice in the city of Somerville, bordering Boston. While a Tesla Model 3 was the first instinct of this electric vehicle shopper, the Kia Niro EV was the choice for this inner-city EV adopter. Here’s why, and how the Niro has treated Andy thus far.
Related Story: Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus vs. 2019 Kia Niro BEV – Surprising Similarities & Stark Contrasts
Q - Please tell us a bit about your mindset when you searched for a battery-electric vehicle. What had you owned prior and why did you decide to own a BEV in the city?
Before I got the Niro Electric, I was driving my spouse's 2004 Buick LeSabre. I had also owned a 2005 Hyundai Elantra in the past, and a 1990 Dodge Grand Caravan. In terms of picking out an EV, I honestly didn't look far beyond Tesla at first. The Model 3 had an affordable price point, it was getting a lot of buzz, and my impression at the time -- which turned out to be wrong -- was that Tesla was the BEV manufacturer that offered serious range, while others were strictly for commuting and errands, without enough range to make cross-country driving accessible. I didn't want a situation where I needed to rent a car every time I needed to go out of town, and I didn't know how much longer the Buick would last. I wanted to own one car that could go anywhere.
Q - Did you try the Tesla Model 3?
I did! I did a test drive from the Tesla showroom at the Prudential Center in downtown Boston, and I was totally blown away. It was the most advanced car I'd ever driven. It was near silent. And unlike a gasoline car, which always wants to move forward when it's in gear, the Tesla would only move if I told it to by pressing the accelerator. It was a little rainy that day and we got to experience the automatic windshield wipers as well. Between all the tech and the giant touchscreen display, I felt like I was flying the Starship Enterprise. I applied to lease one and got approved, but Tesla couldn't keep up with demand for the Model 3 at that point and it was going to take months before I could actually get a car. In the meantime, I had the option to cancel the deal without penalty, as well as to check out a car for an overnight test drive, which I did.
Q - What about the Model 3 failed to convince you it was your perfect vehicle choice?
Initially, I was totally blown away by the "wow" factor, but when I took it out for the overnight test drive, I went out with my spouse and housemate and we wanted to really put the car through its paces. We did local roads, highways, some maneuvering tests in an empty parking lot. And we all took turns both driving and riding. We looked at the trunk (and the "frunk"), the overall build quality, and tried to run through all of the ways we might stress the car, or that it might stress us. Ultimately the interior felt pretty cramped for my spouse, and I wasn't a huge fan of how low it rides. I grew up driving a minivan, and I'm a former bus driver. I really prefer a vehicle with a more upright posture, and a higher vantage point to see the road. The more time we spent looking at the body, the less impressed we were by the build quality, and I was starting to read a lot of reports on Tesla owner forums about problems with the paint on the model 3. People were saying it chipped and flaked at the slightest provocation.
Q - How did you hear about the Kia Niro EV? It is a relatively low-selling EV in the Northeast.
After the overnight experience with the Tesla, I decided to refresh my understanding of the EV market. I hunted down a list of all the BEV's on the market, and made an Excel spreadsheet with relevant characteristics -- cabin space, cargo space, range, cost, etc. And I eliminated all of the ones that couldn't make the one-way trip from here to my inlaws' place in NYC without stopping to charge. That left the Model 3, Chevy Bolt, Kia Niro, and Hyundai Kona. I started reading reviews, head-to-head comparisons, and watching YouTube videos. I wanted to make sure that I understood what I was getting into and didn't get an unpleasant surprise with a feature -- or lack thereof -- that I didn't fully understand. I thought the subcompact SUV form factor would be attractive for both myself and my spouse, but the Niro EV had two important features that the Hyundai didn't. First, vented seats to help with cooling in the summer. That was a big plus for my spouse. Second, only Kia was offering the winter package with battery heat pump in North America. The Kona had that option, but only in South Korea. So we test drove the Kia first, we both loved it, and I bought it. Another factor that wasn't a make-or-break, but that I did consider, was that Tesla at the time had exhausted its tax credit, while Kia had not. The way that program worked, it was an incentive for manufacturers to make EVs, so it was only good for a certain number of cars, but it was actually paid to the buyer in the form of a tax credit. So when Tesla exhausted theirs, it was an incentive for buyers to look at other manufacturers' offerings.
Background Story: Kia Niro EV is Popular Mechanics Car Of The Year - Why You Should Care
Q - How do you like the Niro EV? The drive and the charging of it?
Love it. I'm not much of a motorhead; I just need the car to get myself, my people, and my stuff from point A to point B. The Niro EV does that admirably. I usually run it in "eco" mode, and even with that feature turned on, acceleration up to speed when getting on the highway is better and smoother than any gasoline car I've ever driven. I occasionally play with "sport" mode, which seems to give the acceleration and steering a snappier response. Sometimes on long trips, I like to see how much I can optimize the car's efficiency, and charging is super straightforward. The only thing I wish it had was a higher capacity for DC fast charging on road trips. The 2019 Niro EV can charge at 50kW, which is 20%-80% SOC in 30-40 minutes. That's not bad, given that even in a full day of driving I'd only need to stop and charge once. And I can always stretch my legs, walk the dogs, get a bite to eat, or whatever. The time goes by pretty quickly and it's easier to focus on driving again after a break. But Electrify America and EVGo are starting to put in 350 kW DC Fast Charge stations, and the 2021 Hyundai Ioniq as well as EVs from Audi, Porsche, and Tesla can take advantage of that with charging capabilities from 100-260 kW. I think those shorter turnaround times for highway charging are going to make a big difference in increasing public uptake of EVs.
Q - How has the ownership experience been? Tell us about your purchase and delivery experience. (Please include when you bought it)
I bought the car in December 2019 from Quirk Kia in Braintree, MA. The purchasing experience was totally smooth. I called ahead to make sure they'd have one available to test drive, and it turned out they had a specific salesperson who just works with the EVs. We had a great test drive, he encouraged me to check out various features I wouldn't otherwise have noticed, and their finance department was able to outbid my bank. Once the state registration was complete, the car was freshly washed, and they walked me through a number of different features before I took it home. Ultimately my first drive as the owner was coming home from Braintree in the dark as rain turned to sleet... I was pretty nervous since I had just bought this new car, but she handled herself just fine and we both got home unscathed.
My only complaint about the purchasing experience is that I don't feel like I was really made aware of how many of the car's features depend on having a paid subscription to Kia's UVOLink after the first year. So it's great that I can control the locks from my phone, remote start, track trips, locate the car, etc. But having that stuff disabled when I declined to buy a subscription after the first year was frustrating. The other thing that went away was most of the usefulness of in-dash navigation and onboard voice recognition. Technically both of those features are still there, but restricted in a way that makes them pretty much useless. That said, I don't think it would have changed my purchasing decision, and I can replace the functionality I care about for free with Apple CarPlay, but it still felt like the sort of thing that needed to be mentioned upfront.
Q - Has the Niro been reliable? When you needed dealer help, how did that go?
Perfectly reliable; I haven't needed any dealer support but my salesperson checked in with me a few times after the purchase to see how things were going.
Q - Have you had to spend any money on maintenance or tires yet? (please mention miles)
I'm at 6,000 miles and due for my first scheduled service, but no, I haven't spent any money on maintenance or tires yet.
Q - Would you suggest that other owners try models other than Tesla when they decide on an EV?
Definitely shop around. Tesla no longer has a lock on either long-range EVs or practical charger networks.
Q - If you had to shop for a new vehicle today, what would you opt for?
The market has been evolving fast since I bought the e-Niro, and I haven't followed it as closely--but I'd do my homework and look closely at range, charging capability, driver reviews, and options.
Q- Does your household have any other vehicles that you would like to share with us (Some BEV owners also keep a gasser or hybrid for trips)
The Buick has been on loan to my grandmother-in-law for the past year, so right now it's just the Niro.
Our thanks to Andrew for taking the time to tell us about his living electric experience.
John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. John's interest in EVs goes back to 1990 when he designed the thermal control system for an EV battery as part of an academic team. After earning his mechanical engineering degree, John completed a marketing program at Northeastern University and worked with automotive component manufacturers, in the semiconductor industry, and in biotech. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American news outlets and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on TikTok @ToknCars, on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin
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