by Morgan Carter
The Hyundai Kona EV acquitted itself extremely well in its debut year, launching into a commanding position within the segment. While the electric motor already impresses with 201 horsepower and 291 lb-ft of torque, it's the powertrain's 258-mile combined range that puts it firmly ahead of its closest rivals like the Chevrolet Bolt and Nissan Leaf. The motor's power is directed to the front wheels via a single-speed automatic gearbox, giving the bulky electric vehicle impressive performance dynamics. The battery can be charged in under ten hours, although it can be fast-charged to 80% in less than an hour. Every model comes well-equipped with tech and safety features, so the high starting price of $37,190 isn't that much of a deterrent.
With only a year under its belt, the Kona EV isn't ready for a full, or even moderate, overhaul just yet. Instead, it gets a larger 10.25-inch touchscreen for the infotainment on the top trim level, while both the top trim and the penultimate trim get a battery warmer system to help the Kona perform better in cold-weather areas.
Unlike the standard gasoline Kona, the EV model does away with the grille altogether, instead opting for a solid plate of sheet metal sporting a grille-like pattern. It gets the same thin-slit LED daytime running lights, with standard blockier headlights below. The SEL gets standard automatic projector headlights, while the upper trims get LED clusters. The taillights are LED clusters as standard, and 17-inch alloy wheels are equipped at every trim level. The Limited and Ultimate models get a power tilt-and-slide sunroof.
The Electric Kona is a city car in every sense of the word. It is slightly longer than the standard Kona at 164.6 inches, with the same 102.4-inch wheelbase. But, coupled with the SUV's relatively slim 70.9-inch width, there are few places that the EV can't fit. It stands 61.2 inches tall, giving drivers a good view of the road ahead, while it rides only 6.2 inches above the ground. The full complement of electrical components adds significant weight over the gasoline Kona, with a starting curb weight of 3,715 lbs that maxes out at 3,836 lbs. A gas-powered Kona is just 3,276 lbs in its heaviest AWD Ultimate trim.
The Kona Electric ditches the standard gasoline engine in favor of an electric motor paired to a 356-volt lithium-ion polymer battery with a 64-kWh capacity. Mated to a single-speed automatic gearbox, this powertrain directs 201 hp and 291 lb-ft to the front wheels. These figures are impressive for the EV segment, allowing the Kona to compete on almost even footing with more athletic hot hatches. The easy access to high torque outputs gives the Hyundai a 0-60 mph sprint time of under seven seconds. But this isn't just low-end power, as the EV is able to overtake effortlessly even at highway speeds. The little SUV excels around town, where intersections are little more than minor annoyances as you jet around taking care of your daily errands before plugging in at home to charge your Kona back up to full capacity overnight.
If you expect an electric car to be a plodding, boring driver, then the Kona Electric will disappoint you. The electric SUV is as high-tech on the road as it is under the hood, with driving dynamics that rival those of the most modern hot hatches out there. The steering is super electric, too, so don't expect much feedback, but it is light and precise. This makes the Hyundai extremely maneuverable around town, where it excels at weaving through traffic or finding that elusive parking spot in a packed lot. However, the steering never really gains any heft, even at higher speeds, which can make less experienced drivers feel uneasy. But, once you get the hang of it, the Kona offers a fun driving experience, with an impressive level of grip that allows drivers to push the EV to its limits. And with all that power under the hood, it's goading you to do just that. The steering combines with the well-tuned suspension to take corners with ease, even when you throw the hefty SUV into them. Mid-corner bumps are felt, but they aren't disconcerting.
Similarly, ride comfort is just as composed. In this regard, the Kona's extra junk in the trunk may be a boon, as it has a strong center of gravity that keeps the body settled even over harsh road imperfections. One aspect of EVs that usually negatively impacts comfort is the shift from regenerative brakes to standard, but the Kona Electric has refined this process well. The brakes come with three levels of power, with even the strongest setting not upsetting the vehicle much during the shift.
It can be hard to convey the fuel economy figures of electric vehicles, but the EPA has rated the Kona's mileage at 132/108/120 MPGe across the city/highway/combined cycles. But what really matters on an electric car is its overall combined range on one battery charge. In this regard, the Kona EV is brilliant and can cover up to 258 miles, which is 20 miles more than its closest segment competitor, the Chevy Bolt. Charging the 64 kWh battery with a standard Level II charging system takes nine and a half hours, although this can be accelerated to 54 minutes if you're using a Level III fast-charging and are happy with just 80% battery.
There isn't an abundance of space inside the small SUV, but there's more than enough for the average family. There are seating appointments for up to five passengers, although the rear seats are not well-suited to larger adults thanks to the reduction in legroom to make space for the battery. The front seats are far more generous, with plenty of head- and legroom to spare. The driver's seat comes standard with six-way manual adjustment, while the upper trim levels get eight-way power adjustment, making it even easier to find a comfortable driving position. Visibility is good all-round, with the standard blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert covering any gaps. The entry-level SEL comes with the more basic cloth upholstery, while the Limited and Ultimate both get the plusher leather interior. The upper trims also come with a power sunroof, which steals an inch or two of headroom to lighten up the cabin and give it a more airy feel.
It is often the case that hybrid and electric cars lose some cargo space over their gasoline variants because the electrical components take up so much space. However, the Kona EV boasts the same 19.2-cubic-foot trunk as the standard Kona. That's more than the Chevrolet Bolt, by more than two cubic feet, although space is a bit more cramped than you might think. The dual-level cargo floor opens up space beneath the trunk for smaller items, too. While the standard trunk supplies enough room for most daily tasks, it can be expanded by folding down the rear seats. With a 60/40 split, the lowered seats free up a total of 45.8 cubic feet, which is more than ten cubic feet less than the Bolt's maximum capacity.
There is a fair amount of small-item storage around the cabin, with a standard glove compartment and large door pockets on every door. There are two cupholders up front, with a small shelf below the center console. The center armrest offers a large cubby and houses the available wireless charging pad.
The Kona EV may not be a luxury SUV, but it comes with more than enough features to keep even discerning buyers happy. The SEL comes upholstered in cloth with only six-way manual front seats, but they are heated, and it also gets automatic climate control, cruise control, keyless entry and ignition and a seven-inch LCD gauge cluster. Standard safety features include a rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane keeping assist and forward collision avoidance. The upper trims come upholstered in leather and provide an eight-way power driver's seat with lumbar, along with a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a battery warming system. The top-tier Ultimate gets exclusive access to the head-up display, adaptive cruise control and ventilated front seats. It also gets the last of the safety features, including rear sonar and pedestrian detection for the forward collision avoidance system.
The infotainment is controlled via a seven-inch touchscreen interface, which grants access to the AM/FM Radio, MP3 playback, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, HD Radio and SiriusXM. Audio is pumped through the standard six-speaker sound system. Dual USB ports are available up front to charge smart devices, while a wireless charging pad is added to the upper trims. Reserved for the top-most Ultimate trim is the 10.25-inch touchscreen interface, which comes with built-in navigation, paired with an eight-speaker Infinity premium sound system. Blue Link connected car service is available to every trim, allowing users to keep track of battery charging via their mobile phones.
While it hasn't received an updated rating for 2020, the Kona EV received a respectable reliability score of 77 out of 100 from J.D. Power in its first year. The vehicle has also not been subject to any recalls since its introduction. Hyundai offers an impressive array of warranties, starting with a 60,000-mile/60-month limited warranty, while the powertrain and electrical components are covered for 100,000 miles/120 months. Unlimited roadside assistance is offered for the first 60 months.
The Kona has not been subjected to crash-testing by the NHTSA nor the IIHS. However, the standard gasoline variant received the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award in 2019 thanks to its impressive suite of safety features, which are available on the EV, too. Standard features include ABS, traction and stability control, and six airbags: dual front, front side, and side curtain. The base model also comes with blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision avoidance, lane keeping assist, and driver attention assist. The Limited gets high beam assist, while the Ultimate gets pedestrian detection and rear sonar.
The Hyundai Kona EV proved itself as a viable alternative to the pricey Tesla models in its first year, and now it's back to defend its title as a segment-leader. With 201 hp, 291 lb-ft, and an impressive 258-mile range, the Kona is well ahead of segment rivals like the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf. Its utility may be a bit lacking, with less overall cargo capacity than the Bolt, but the Hyundai SUV makes up for this in its fun factor.
None of its competitors can match the impressive power and handling dynamics offered by the Kona. Enjoyable driving may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of an EV, but after a day behind the wheel of the Hyundai Kona Electric, that will quickly change. Naturally, this is not a car designed for cruising or traveling cross-country, but it is an affordable and reliable daily driver for city dwellers who value their hard-earned cash, but also want a bit of fun from their vehicle.
The Kona Electric costs about $15k more than the standard gas-powered SUV, with a starting MSRP of $37,190 on the SEL. This is on par with the entry-level Chevy Bolt, even if it sounds a bit pricey. Getting behind the wheel of the mid-tier Limited will set you back $41,800, while the top tier Ultimate costs a hefty $45,400. However, these prices don't take into account the tax incentives available on electric vehicles. They also don't account for registration, licensing, or Hyundai's $1,095 destination fee.
The Hyundai Kona is a pricey investment, make no mistake, so choosing the correct model is important. Also, there is little to no customization offered, so you need to choose the trim level that suits your personal needs. In our opinion, the base-model SEL should offer everything a discerning buyer really needs. The cloth upholstery may not be amazing, and the six-way manual driver's seat may seem like a low-tech pain, but even this trim gets cruise control, heated front seats, automatic climate control, keyless entry and ignition. It also gets the standard safety suite, which comprises forward collision alert, lane keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert, along with the full infotainment offering minus navigation. If you live in a cold-climate area, you may want to consider upgrading to the Unlimited, as it gets a battery warming function, but the power sunroof may go to waste.
Bearing an almost identical price tag as the Hyundai Kona, the $38,500 Kia Niro EV delivers equal power outputs of 201 hp and 291 lb-ft. However, it's a bit bigger and heavier than the Kona, which negatively impacts its maximum range, with 19 miles less at 239 miles on a single charge. The extra size means that the Niro offers more passenger and cargo space, if only marginally. It also gets a similar suite of comfort and safety features with standard blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane keeping assist systems. The Kona gets a larger infotainment interface on its top trim, but in every other regard, the two EVs are basically on par. They even drive similarly, although the smaller, lighter Kona is a little easier to have fun with. Overall, the best pick here will come down to buyer-specific needs and tastes, since both are excellent choices.
Within its class and price bracket, the Chevrolet Bolt is the most direct competitor to the Hyundai Kona Electric. The Bolt is also the Kona's closest rival when it comes to overall range, covering just 20 miles less on a full battery. The Chevy gets a capable powertrain, too, developing 200 hp and 266 lb-ft, while also delivering a surprisingly engaging driving experience. It comes with less standard cargo capacity than the Hyundai, but once the seats are folded down, the Bolt has the last laugh. Each SUV offers a similar list of comfort and safety features, with only a few hundred dollars price difference, so which one you buy will likely come down to personal taste or brand loyalty. Either way, you can't really go wrong.