2019 best EVs tested - Tesla Model 3 vs. Kia E-Niro, Mercedes-Benz EQC N293 and Jaguar i-Pace
You love cars. You love driving. And you’re ready to go electric, not because you have to but because you want to. So, which is the best EV for petrolheads? Words Chris Chilton. Photography Charlie Magee.
NEW POWER GENERATION – 2019 Today’s best EVs tested
The big reads - Today’s best EVs tested Jaguar’s brilliant i-Pace meets game-changing Tesla Model 3 meets quite cautious Mercedes EQC. And a cut-price Kia e-Niro curveball
TESLA MODEL 3
MUSK GOES MAINS TREAM
Tesla: you’ve heard the name, you’ve probably seen a few around, maybe seen an unfeasibly fast Model S embarrassing some pretty storied names in YouTube drag races. But only now can you actually buy one. By which we mean ordinary people with a few hundred quid in their pocket each month to fund a car can now choose a Silicon Valley alternative to a sensible mainstream car. The Model 3 is where Musk meets mass market.
Well, mass-ish. Predictably the initially touted sub-£30k price never materialised, at least not in the UK. The entry-level Standard Range Plus’s $38,990 home-market price translates to £32k, but swells to £37,340 by the time it’s paid its passage, import tax and VAT, making it ready for sale in the UK.
For that you get a single electric motor driving the rear wheels with sufficient force to get you to 62mph in 5.6sec and give you a 254-mile range on a full charge. It’s a big, £9k step to the next model, the dual-motor Long Range, but the benefits are equally sizeable: an entire second lopped off the 62mph sprint and almost 100 miles added to the range.
But the £60k+ starting prices of the Jag and Benz allowed us the luxury of pushing to the top of the Model 3 ladder. Our £49,990 test car goes by the name Performance, and never has anything printed on the tin been so apt.
Unlike its Model S big brother, there’s no Ludicrous performance mode on the 3. Neck muscles around the world will rejoice at that news because even in Sport mode the 3 is so uncomfortably rapid that it’s borderline whether the sensation is even enjoyable. Tesla says it’s good for 62mph in 3.4sec and our VBOX data showed it could get to 100mph in less than nine. We’re used to Silicon Valley Model S supersaloons giving sports cars a bloody nose but this baby Tesla is as quick as a baby Lambo from only a handful of years ago.
If it all gets a bit too much, or you just want to avoid killing your 329- mile theoretical range, you can switch to Comfort mode. But make sure you’ve not left it there before taking someone on at the lights. Comfort adds 4.0sec to the 0-62mph time, meaning even a Kia e-Niro will have you in a straight line.
You’ll make it back up in the bends, though, whichever mode you’ve selected. Because the way this car goes round corners is almost as shocking as the speed it’s carrying when it gets to them. It disguises its bulk with solid body control, front-end grip and, best of all, high-geared, smartly-weighted steering that actually manages to impart useful information about the state of play at the front end. You can even nudge the tail out in a cheeky oversteer slide.
And for all its bonkers performance focus, the 3 is also an extremely relaxing car to drive. Despite wearing lower-profile tyres than the Kia, and riding on plain old steel coils, not the air springs of its posher Model S brother, its ride quality is excellent. So is visibility thanks to the low scuttle and, like the other cars, the Model 3 can be driven effectively using only the accelerator if you configure the maximum amount of regenerative braking available. Press to go. Lift off to slow.
The absurdly impractical Hollywood-smile white leather interior is a £950 option, but with a standard full-length glass roof flooding the cabin with light you could stick with black and it’d feel plenty big. It is big. More so than you’d imagine, both in terms of passenger space and places to put phones, wallets, bottles and all the other stuff too many manufacturers forget to make provision for.
That kind of thinking, the long range and the ready access to Tesla’s speedy Supercharger network (not free, sadly for 3 buyers) shows Tesla can do the sensible stuff needed to take on the car game’s established players. But an actual car game – an arcade driving game you play by steering with the real car’s wheel – plus daft gimmicks like the log fire display and selectable fart sound effects (yes really) illustrate just how far removed Tesla is from its stuffy rivals.
If this is starting to sound like a clean sweep, it’s not quite that simple. Why, for instance, is a car that looks like a hatchback and so obviously ought to be a hatchback actually a saloon with a frustratingly small boot opening? Our guess is a hatch’s hinge mechanism would have made it difficult to carve out as much headroom while maintaining the low roofline. The high floor also means rear passengers have to sit with their knees up, which won’t be comfortable on long trips.
And there’s that familiar suspicion of sub-Benz build quality about the interior trim and the flimsy charging port cover in the rear quarter, and although it’s a pretty shape, it’s also pretty insipid. This Performance model could get away with more mouth to go with the trousers.
The 3 is so rapid it’s borderline whether the sensation is even enjoyable.
Colgate-white leather a £950 option. Careful with that coffee
PRE-FLIGHT BRIEFING TESLA MODEL 3
Why is it here?
Tesla’s most important car yet is the first to be built in big numbers, and possibly the first one you can actually afford. While Model S prices start at £77,200, you can get into a basic Model 3 for £36,490.
Any clever stuff?
Your phone acts as a key, the Performance model is as quick as a Ferrari while offering a 320-mile range. The not so clever stuff? It looks like a hatch, but it’s actually a saloon.
Which version is this?
Tesla sells three 3s: the Standard Range with one electric motor, and the Long Range and the Performance version we’ve got here, both of which have two. The standard car might cost a tempting £36,490, but you’ll need £49k for the Performance.
The 3 is so rapid it’s borderline whether the sensation is even enjoyable
If throwing Kia’s everyman electric car into battle with three premium- badged EV giants smacks of taking a knife to a gunfight, it’s also testament to how good the e-Niro is.
Check out Kia’s website to order one and you’re met with a message telling you demand is so strong it’s actually sold out. Stick your name down today, and you shouldn’t expect to take delivery before 2020. So what’s caused this uncharacteristic rush to Kia dealers? It can’t be the e-Niro’s styling, which is as bland as lesser (hybrid) Niros, only with added flashes of blue trim, and definitely less cool than sister company Hyundai’s Kona Electric, which shares the Kia’s platform and drivetrain. Kia’s done a great job of upping its cool quotient lately, but the e-Niro’s chintzy chrome door handles smack of old-school Kia, not the modern company behind youthful designs like the Soul.
It’s equally un-Tesla inside. The dashboard and door panels blend in one depressing sea of cheap-looking soulless black plastic. After spending time in the Model 3 or the Benz the multimedia touchscreen embedded in the dash looks like some NOS security monitor a retired Tandy salesman just uncovered in his garage. And there are buttons everywhere.
Which is actually a good thing if you’re not into touchscreens. Not all of us are. Real buttons are quicker, and arguably safer. And there are so many because the e-Niro comes loaded with kit. There’s currently only one model, the £32,995 First Edition, which Kia is milking for all it’s worth while demand is high, and that comes with heated, electrically adjustable leather seats, a heated steering wheel, sat-nav, Apple CarPlay, adaptive cruise and more airbags than the Edinburgh Tattoo.
There’s also space. The interior design might not be as adventurous as the Kona’s but its roomier interior is almost big enough to have an adventure in. There’s a hump in the middle of the rear floor you won’t find in the Model 3, but the Kia parries with a proper opening tailgate and a load bay that’s bigger than the Tesla’s and not that much smaller than the Jag’s. Predictably, the e-Niro’s not as quick as either of those cars. Its single electric motor puts out half the power and it has the smallest battery, too. So while the slowest of our three premium cars takes 5.2sec to reach 62mph, the Kia needs a smidge over seven.
That’s still rapid for a car with no sporting pretensions. In practical terms it’s enough to get you away from the lights before most cars on the road – and before the power tails off – and makes the e-Niro significantly quicker than its key rivals. Volkswagen’s e-Golf needs 9.6sec to reach 62mph and the equivalent Nissan Leaf only just nudges below eight. Crucially, neither of those can get anywhere near the Kia’s claimed 282-mile range. Know what else can’t? The Mercedes EQC. And even the i-Pace, a car hailed for an electric range that’s practical for those who don’t have charging sockets both at home and work, can only squeeze another eight miles.
As with the others, filling that battery using a plain old 230-volt wall socket takes so long you’ll eat into the Kia’s seven-year warranty. But you can slash that 29-hour charging time to an overnight-practical 9hr 50min with a 7.2kW charger, or give yourself an 80 per cent fill using a 50kW fast charger in 75 mins.
When you weigh up those positives – space, equipment, performance, genuinely practical range – you can see why the Kia’s in demand. It’s a well-executed car that makes real sense to its target audience.
Making sense is reason enough for many to buy or lease it. But is it enough for you to do the same? There’s little emotional draw here. The plain cabin doesn’t impart much feelgood factor and although the punchy off-the-line performance will put a smile on your face, using that performance on the open road won’t sustain it.
The e-Niro handles tidily, if unenthusiastically, up to a point. Which is, to be fair, beyond where most owners will venture. Cross that line, barrelling into an enticing B-road bend, and you’ll get a swift reminder that the batteries under the floor of this 1812kg SUV make it a good 300kg heavier than a similar-size combustion-engined equivalent. The real surprise is just how much more fun the Tesla is, despite weighing 35kg more again. We could let the Kia off the hook because the test Tesla costs almost £20k more. But not when the base model 3 costs just a couple of grand more than the Kia to buy, or as little as £50 per month more to lease. Expect that Kia queue to shorten when word about the Model 3 spreads to the provinces.
Kia’s oh-sotrad interior breaks the shock of the new gently
PRE-FLIGHT BRIEFING KIA E-NIRO
Why is it here?
The e-Niro’s near-300- mile range, roomy, well-equipped cabin and competitive price make it such a strong player in the family EV sector it’s sold out for 2019. If it’s so great, could it equal the Merc EQC for half the money?
Any clever stuff?
You’ll find the same e-motor set-up under the e-Niro’s skin as its sister car, the Hyundai Kona Electric. That means a single 150kW motor that’s good for 0-62mph in 7.5sec. On the safety side you get autonomous braking and adaptive cruise control.
Which version is this?
The only version available, the fully loaded First Edition. Standard kit includes electrically adjustable heated leather seats, adaptive cruise control and Apple CarPlay. Kia is likely to expand the e-Niro range once the initial demand settles.
MIND THE STOPGAP
The Mercedes EQC, the first of Mercedes’ EQ electric cars, comes with a huge weight of expectation. But we didn’t expect its weight to be quite so huge. At 2425kg the EQC is as heavy as a GLS, yet only the same size as a GLC.
One of the reasons is that, despite what the new, vaguely Saab-esque nose would have you believe, it is based on the GLC, and not a clean-sheet design like the Tesla or i-Pace. So closely related are the two that the EQC’s front motor even lives in an engine-shaped steel cage. Hardly a prime example of EV technology unshackling car design from the chains placed by fusty old combustion tech.
The benefit of that strategy, aside from slashing Merc’s development budget, is that it results in a car that requires very little re-learning from a driver dipping a first toe in electric waters. No shocks await existing Benz owners making the switch.
Like Audi’s e-Tron, the EQC could easily pass for a new generation of an existing combustion-engined SUV. It looks clean, modern and bigger than it really is. This you realise when you climb inside. There’s plenty of room in the front, and legroom in the back isn’t bad. But the tapering roofline and shallow glass in the rear doors mean there’s slightly less real headroom than the Jag, and much less of the perceived kind.
There’s less of other stuff, too. The Merc never leaves you wanting for performance, but it feels tangibly less rapid than the Jag (5.2sec to 62mph plays 4.8sec), and feels like a 1978 300D next to the Tesla.
What it needs less of is weight. Not once, after the first exploratory attempt, will you push the EQC hard for the hell of it on an A- or B-road. It’s safe, solid and that’s about your lot. But it’s not fun, despite the motor on the rear axle (there’s another on the front) being the one that does most of the heavy lifting during workouts.
Hustle it down a B-road and it feels heavy, not complaining exactly, but never encouraging like the i-Pace does. Hit either of the two pedals and the nose rises or falls like a speedboat. Hit the right one too hard too often and you’ll decimate a driving range that at 259 miles is already the worst here by some margin.
And to cap it all the Merc is the priciest car in the test (before options) if you buy it outright, and much more expensive if you’re looking at leasing. And don’t think you’ll minimise the hurt by skipping the options list. The basic Sport is well equipped but you’ll almost certainly want to find an extra £1695 for the Driving Assistance bundle that brings active cruise, active braking assist and evasive steering assist, or step up to the AMG Line Premium just for the stunning 21-inch rims fitted to our car.
To sum up, then: less affordable than the Jag, massively slower than the Tesla, much less fun to drive than either and offering a poorer range than even the £32k Kia. Game over, surely?
It ought to be, but the EQC does an admirable job of winning you round. How so? Let’s start with the interior, which in typical Mercedes fashion features more piano black than the Steinway factory. It’s gorgeous.
The wide, slim TFT display now features both touch and trackpad control, the seats are as easy on the arse as the eye, and the whole cabin is almost whisper-quiet, making this an incredibly relaxing place to pass time. And let’s face it, that’s what we’re often doing in cars, not door-handling down B-roads.
The EQC also has a huge boot, and while its range looks weak, and Mercedes doesn’t have its own Tesla-style charging network, Merc has done its best to mitigate that by linking with 80 per cent of public charge providers, whose electricity you can pay for via a card or phone app. There’s also the option of fitting a massively subsidised Chargemaster fast-charge wallbox at your home for £275, which can top up your battery in 11 hours.
Somewhat speedier, a 110kW public rapid charger could theoretically give you 80 per cent charge in 40 minutes. Why theoretically? Because there are hardly any around. Not yet, at least, though that will change soon.
Still, the expanding charger network and the EQC’s charm offensive can’t completely paper over the cracks. Impressive as the interior ambience and refinement is, in key areas the EQC is simply not as good as it could or should be, or as good as the next-generation ground-up version will likely be. The question you need to ask is whether you make do, or shop elsewhere while Merc comes up with something better.
Concept-worthy wheels make EQC look like it’s from the future but beneath it’s an adapted GLC. More conventional than the Tesla but the EQC’s cabin still wows
Hit either of the two pedals and the Merc’s nose rises or falls like a speedboat
PRE-FLIGHT BRIEFING MERCEDES EQC
Why is it here?
This is the first of a wave of electric Mercs heading our way that will be sold under the EQ sub brand, Benz’s answer to BMW’s ‘i’ badge (i3/i8). Other cars, including a compact EQA, EQ Smart and even an EQV van will follow.
Any clever stuff?
Less than in the Jag or Tesla. Why? Because the EQC wasn’t a clean-sheet design, it was adapted from the existing GLC SUV. That means it’s heavier, slower, less roomy and offers less range than it should.
Which version is this?
EQC prices start at £65k for the Sport, but our AMG Line car costs a further £3k before options, of which there are many, including £4645 for a pack that includes a Burmester hi-fi, glass roof and those stunning 21-inch multispoke rims.
JAGUAR i - PACE
Imagine being cryogenically frozen in 2009, only to be woken a decade a later to find that Jaguar, of all people, has beaten the Germans down to the charging pool where it’s chilling to Tubeway Army and posting #EVLife selfies. Yes, that Jag, the one that’s been struggling for generations to escape the shadow cast by its crusty back catalogue.
The i-Pace made that happen. It arrives at this test as my current favourite EV and favourite Jag by miles. And it can do miles. A 292-mile range means the i-Pace isn’t merely some trinket confined to creeping round Mayfair. It’s a genuinely practical proposition in every sense. Though it can’t use Tesla’s Supercharger network, and the UK’s network of fast chargers, while growing, is still too small to rely on for cross-country journeys, that near-300-mile range is a real confidence boost.
So is the available push. Like the EQC and Model 3 Performance, the i-Pace employs two electric motors: one front, one rear. Their combined 395bhp is fractionally less than the Merc’s, but that’s more than offset by the 200kg lighter kerbweight. Punch the right pedal and the i-Pace leaps forward like an electrocuted cat, reaching 62mph in 4.8sec, almost half a second quicker than the Benz.
And unlike the Kia, it keeps on pulling hard long after you’ve passed that 62mph mark and on to an (ample for UK use) electronically limited top speed of 124mph. Only now, in the company of the monstrously rapid Model 3 does that kind of performance look or feel anything less than epic. And only now, in the company of that same Tesla, does any doubt creep in about the Jag having the best chassis in the EV world.
On a straight motorway the Jag doesn’t isolate you from every bump but rides well, and feels happily planted. Almost too planted. The steering feels so weighty around the straight-ahead you wonder if it’s going to feel stodgy in the bends. Your first slip-road exit reassures you it doesn’t. Because as soon as you start to carve left or right that weighting melts away. So does the weight of the EV battery pack, or at least that’s your impression. The Jag weighs 2208kg, but manages to feel at least 200kg lighter, and because that mass is balanced evenly end to end and mounted low in the car, it turns in to corners smartly and resists lurch through direction changes well by EV standards. It beats the Merc black and blue.
But the lighter, faster Tesla feels more nimble still. And the Model 3’s minimalist interior and stunning high-resolution screen make the Jag’s look far less glamorous than it really is. While the Tesla houses every control and display in one giant digital rectangle, the Jag is more conventional. There’s a digital instrument pack, a second screen on the top half of the centre console and a third below it. Touchscreen naysayers will be glad to see traditional rotary controls for the heating functions.
Big windows mean rear passengers will feel less claustrophobic than in the EQC and the lower floor means better thigh support than in the Tesla, though wheelarch intrusion makes getting in and out of the back more awkward than it ought to be. There’s nothing awkward about the boot. Although its ‘frunk’ is minuscule compared with the Model 3’s, the boot proper is vast and accessed by a practical tailgate.
Jag’s price list tells us that you can get into an i-Pace for just over £60k including the £3500 government grant, though a trip to the configurator highlights why you ought to spend a bit more. As with every base-model Jag, the i-Pace’s standard wheels are so revolting you’d probably ask the dealer if you could hang on to those protective disc covers it was wearing when it arrived on the transporter.
Along with awful rims, the basic S model gets keyless entry and dual- zone climate, while SE adds the must-have larger wheels and adaptive cruise, and HSE goes further with Matrix LED lights. Fortunately, the Jag’s excellent lease and finance rates mean you can probably afford to go large and still come out ahead of someone buying the Mercedes EQC. All of which would have helped the Jag cruise to victory if we’d run this test last month. But on price, performance and feelgood factor, the Model 3 has the measure of it. The i-Pace feels exotically futuristic for a Jaguar, but it’s the Tesla that gives us a real taste of tomorrow.
The Jag feels 200kg lighter than it really is; it beats the Merc black and blue
i-Pace feels just as mindscramblingly quick as Tesla. Are you not entertained? Not quite drifting in a D-type but i-Pace still addictive.
PRE-FLIGHT BRIEFING JAGUAR i-PACE
Why is it here?
It’s the most exciting car to come from Jag since the XJ220, and it feels almost as fast when you stomp the right pedal. The i-Pace looks great, is fun to drive and is our current favourite electric SUV.
Any clever stuff?
We could prattle on about the platform and the powertrain but frankly the cleverest bit of the Jag is how practical it is. It’ll do almost 300 miles on a charge, there’s plenty of room in the back and the boot is colossal.
Which version is this?
We’ve got the basic £61k S model (but fitted with £16.5k of options that make it more expensive than the HSE range topper). Regardless of trim, all versions come with the same powertrain.
THE BIG QUESTIONS
EVs for petrolheads
Should I wait a bit longer?
Battery technology is improving all the time, so it may be prudent to hang on. Ranges are improving, but the inconvenience of being caught short mid-journey is far greater than having to stop for fuel. The ennui of buying coffees you don’t really want while you wait for your car to charge in the corner of a nondescript service station (or worse still, waiting for a space to become available if all the charge-points are occupied) is anything but liberating. Charging on the street is currently impractical for those without off-street parking. Organised installation of street-side charge-points may be the eventual answer, but it’s some way away. If you need to replace a battery pack out of warranty, the cost could be horrific. And don’t forget ye olde combustion engine is far from done; it’s still making remarkable strides in efficiency.
THE BATTERY-HALF-FULL VIEWPOINT
A 300-mile-plus range is now becoming an established benchmark for EVs. Mileage equivalent to that of a fossil fuel-filled tank – the ultimate tipping point – is now a reality. Overnight charging means you’ll rarely start a journey on empty, and there are more than 7000 charging points around the country, and counting, for when you do need to pitstop.
The concept of returning energy from your vehicle to the grid is becoming real too. In Denmark, for example, EVs have been using bi-directional chargers to earn money by selling surplus energy back to the grid when not in use.
Should you buy a used EV that does eventually need a replacement battery pack, affordable aftermarket replacements will soon be available, and the depleted battery may go on to live a worthwhile ‘second life’ – used Nissan Leaf batteries feed energy to the Amsterdam Arena, for example.
1st Tesla Model 3
Takes the rulebook, turns it into a touchscreen, and deletes it. The car to sway Tesla – and EV – sceptics
2nd Jaguar i-Pace
Beautifully balanced ride and handling, and eye-widening performance. Mightily desirable
3rd Kia E-Niro
The cheapest car here but nails its brief. Eminently practical and easy to live with, its appeal is clear
4th Mercedes-Benz Eqc
There’s a great deal to like about the EQC, believe us, but right now it’s not the complete package
THE NEW WORLD’S NEW ORDER
We’re the first to admit you probably aren’t cross-shopping between these four cars. But we pulled them together to answer a simple question: what is the best of the new generation of premium electric cars? That’s a question our curious minds made slightly less simple when we wondered if the best of the class below can do the same job for half as much money. Let’s deal with the Mercedes first. The newest car, the most expensive car. The one from the people who invented the car. Mercedes has been firing on all cylinders lately so we expected great things. We didn’t find enough.
Don’t get us wrong, there’s plenty to like about Merc’s eSUV. It’s handsome, beautifully put together, has the best cabin, the biggest boot and the lowest noise levels. That stuff matters, especially if most of your miles will be spent crawling through traffic rather than pounding motorways or racing down B-roads.
But the Jaguar i-Pace bests it in too many areas. Not refinement, maybe, or interior ambience. But it’s not far away. Where it is far away is in terms of everything else. It looks exciting. It feels exciting, both to drive and merely sit inside. Faster, more fun and with a usefully longer range, the i-Pace is also significantly cheaper than the EQC whether you’re buying outright, leasing, or signing up for a PCP. The Jag has too many bases covered.
But not as many as the Tesla. The trade-offs are hard to spot. It offers the best performance and the best range. The best handling, yet decent ride comfort. The coolest-looking interior, but plenty of space in which to enjoy it. But more than that, there’s a sense of fun about the Tesla that’s rare in cars at any price. Yes, it looks slightly bland and is hamstrung by an old-fashioned saloon boot (ironic, huh?), and sparse dealer network. But it wins comfortably.
Where does that leave the Kia? Cost no object you’d never pick it over the other three. It doesn’t do desirability. Or B-road laughs. But it does plenty of other stuff brilliantly, delivering brisk performance, a motorway- friendly range, acres of space and mountains of kit. You can see why it’s in demand.
But here’s the thing: the Model 3 doesn’t only eat into cars above it, the Standard version is going to look very tempting to buyers looking at cars like the e-Niro priced just below, but wanting more fun. With the Tesla Model 3, every scalp is fair game.
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