by Roger Biermann
This isn't Hyundai's first EV, that honor goes to the Ioniq, but the Kona EV is Hyundai stepping to the front of the EV game in exceptional style. Based upon the standard Kona that launched last year, the Kona Electric lives up to all the hype generated before its release, combining a 201-horsepower electric motor with a class-leading 258-mile range, 100 miles greater than that of the Nissan Leaf. The motor drives the front wheels through a single-speed gearbox that enables hot-hatch goading performance, 80% charge is possible in under an hour, while a typical charge takes nearly ten hours. Priced between $36,450 and $44,650, there are three available trims, but all including the base SEL are extensively equipped with immense safety right from the entry model.
The Hyundai Kona Electric is completely new for the 2019 year, based upon the same architecture as the Kona launched in the US for 2018. Highlights include a 201-hp electric drivetrain with a 64 kWh lithium-ion battery that provides 258-miles worth of range, and an extensive list of safety and technology features.
The non-electric Hyundai Kona has divided some opinions with its outlandish styling, and while the Kona EV is based on that, many of the outlandish traits have been ditched in favor of less divisive styling. The front end still features the slit-like eye LED daytime running lights, but the main headlamp clusters - projector headlights on the SEL and LED on Limited and Ultimate trims - are located beneath the LED DRLs. 17-inch alloy wheels are standard across all trims, while only the Limited and Ultimate rims receive a power sunroof.
The Hyundai Kona Electric boasts similar dimensions to its non-electric sibling, with an overall length of 164.6-inches being slightly longer, while the 102.4-inch wheelbase matches that of the standard Kona. While it matches the regular Kona's 70.9-inch width and 61.2-inch height, at 6.2-inches, the ground clearance is half an inch lower than combustion-powered Konas. The addition of batteries has vastly increased the weight over the regular Kona, with a curb weight ranging from 3,715 to 3,836 lbs, nearly a thousand pounds heavier than the standard Kona.
Hyundai offers the Kona Electric in a color palette of five hues; Phantom Black, Chalk White, Pulse Red, Ceramic Blue, and Galactic Gray. On the SEL, the gray and blue hues are paired with a color-contrasting white roof, while the black paint job gets a gray roof, and the remaining paint colors are paired with a blacked-out roof.
Of course, the Kona Electric's drivetrain is what's stolen headlines since information first arose. Key to the whole setup is a 64-kWh lithium-ion battery that's liquid-cooled and operates at 356 volts. The battery powers a permanent-magnet synchronous electric motor that develops 201 horsepower and an astonishing 291 lb-ft of torque, which drives the front wheels. The battery system weighs less than 1,000 lbs, and the energy density is better than that of the Chevrolet Bolt. That's not the only thing better than the Bolt, as the Kona Electric offers 20 miles more range on a charge than the Bolt does - achieving an EPA-rated range of 258 miles. That equates to 107 miles more than a Nissan Leaf and more than double the range of the VW eGolf, but it rivals the Tesla Model 3's medium-range model, only short by six miles. That range is equivalent to an EPA-rated 120 MPGe combined figure.
With 201 hp and an abundance of torque, the Kona Electric accelerates more like a hot-hatch than a crossover, capable of running the 0-60 mph sprint in under seven seconds.
In place of the combustion engine found in the regular Kona, the Kona Electric features a 201- horsepower, 290 lb-ft of torque synchronous electric motor mated to a single-speed gearbox. The gearbox plays little role in the driving experience, merely acting to adjust outputs from the motor to correlate to wheel speed. The motor itself though has immense outputs, and the resultant performance is more akin to that of a hot-hatch. Instantaneous responses to throttle inputs, and the abundance of torque that comes with those responses yields impressive 0-60 mph sprints of below the seven-second mark, while overtaking, even at highway speeds is dealt with effortlessly. The joys of electric drivetrains can't be extolled enough, and though there isn't the joy of building power as you wring it out, the accelerative forces are addictive.
The hot-hatch acceleration is just the tip of the iceberg as the Kona Electric shows a breadth of driving ability. The steering is direct and precise, but it lacks feedback due to the electric power-assistance which does dull the driver's sense of involvement. However, it's more than easy enough to use and the Kona feels nimble in tight environments, and the weighting is light enough for easy town use. At higher speeds, it remains light, but that can be a little disconcerting.
Surprisingly, the Kona Electric has an abundance of grip, despite the eco-focused fuel-saver tires typically not offering high levels of adhesion. Of course, you'd need to be pushing the limits of the Kona's handling to find the limits of grip, which is something that comes surprisingly easily. It begs to driven swiftly, and when chucked about it responds deftly. It changes direction sharply and feels stable on all surfaces and bends. Multilink rear suspension, the same sort found in the all-wheel drive versions of the standard Kona, deals with all imperfections and mid-corner bumps with alacrity.
The handling prowess doesn't come at the expense of comfort, either. The ride is well composed and the Kona Electric features poise not often associated with a vehicle of this size. A large contributor to this is the battery weight being mounted low in the chassis, dropping the center of gravity substantially and settling things, but the tuning of the suspension can't be lauded enough. A Chevrolet Bolt, for comparison, doesn't handle nor ride this well, and for the same price, it features a less sophisticated suspension setup, too.
The Kona Electric also seems to correct one of the faux pas of the standard Kona: braking. The regenerative braking has three levels of aggression, which allows for almost complete one pedal operation when set to their most vigorous state of regen. We say 'almost', as the regeneration fades off at five mph, necessitating the use of the brake pedal. Admittedly this isn't a problem, and even when using it regularly the pedal feels firm and modulation is easy - integration between the regeneration and friction braking is far superior to the messy affair of some other EVs.
To put the Kona Electric's economy into a format to compare its efficiency to regular combustion-powered vehicles, the EPA gives the Kona Electric a combined estimate of 120 MPG-equivalent. But the magic figure that tells you all you need to know is that there's a 258-mile range on a full charge of the 64 kWh lithium-ion battery, 20-miles more than a Chevrolet Bolt and just eight less than Tesla's entry-level Model 3. A full charge on a Level-II system takes nine hours 35 minutes, but DC fast charging enables an 80% charge in just 54 minutes.
Despite sharing a name and exterior styling with the combustion Kona, the interior is subtly different, particularly the dash and center console design and layout. Still, cabin quality is exceptional, the build feels solid, and the layout is intuitive. The front seats are comfortable, and the various levels of seat height adjustment and steering wheel tilt and telescope adjustment result in a comfortable driving position with commanding levels of visibility. Even rearward visibility is impressive, with the chunky rear pillars positioned perfectly to avoid large rear blind spots. Where the Kona Electric's interior falters is the rear cabin space. Headroom is decent, even for taller occupants, but legroom is somewhat cramped, with a car of this size focused more on those occupying the front seats. There's seating for five inside the Kona Electric, but those in the back best be on the smaller side. The rear seat features two full sets of LATCH anchors, but limited space means many a child seat won't fit inside in a rear-facing manner.
The Kona Electric seats five occupants in relative comfort for the segment. There aren't many vehicles of this size that will genuinely accommodate adults front and rear, and the Kona Electric is no exception, with the rear seats suited best for children or small adults. Headroom is surprisingly generous, but the rear legroom is cramped, particularly behind taller front occupants. The front seats are truly capacious though, with both front occupants having loads of head- and leg room. Standard six-way adjustment ensures it's easy to find a comfortable driving perch, while the power adjustment with lumbar support on higher trims makes the seats more comfortable still. Narrow front roof pillars are positioned well, and the rear windows and pillars are positioned in such a manner that rearward visibility is impressive, too.
The Kona Electric SEL is the only one of the three trims to feature cloth upholstery, with a default stain resistant black cloth with gray trimmings. By default, the rest of the interior is light in color, with varying gray tones on the dash and doors. Upgrading from SEL to Limited and Ultimate swaps upholstery from cloth to leather, and in doing so there's now a choice of two colors. The default color is black leather, with panels split between solid and perforated, but an available pale Pebble Blue leather brightens the interior and features dark blue piping.
The Hyundai Kona Electric boasts the same cargo volume as its combustion-powered sibling with 19.2 cubic feet of space available behind the rear seats. That's more than the Chevy Bolt, which only has 16.9 cubic feet, but lags marginally behind the Nissan Leaf, and is a relatively compact space when it comes to loading large items. There's a split-level cargo floor, though, which does enable smaller item storage beneath the floor. For additional storage, the rear seats fold nearly completely flat in a 60/40 split, which enlarges available storage volumes to 45.8 cubic feet. While the initial storage space might be larger than rivals, the enlarged volume falls short of the Chevrolet Bolt's 56.6 cubic feet maximum volume.
Around the cabin the storage binnacles are numerous and relatively well sized. The center console design has been revised compared to the combustion-powered Kona and features a pair of cupholders, an open shelf for a handbag underneath, a deep console box beneath the armrest, and on the higher trims, a hidden wireless charging pad. The door pockets are relatively large as well and each of the four will house a large water bottle.
Three trims are all highly equipped, and while seating adjustment may be manual on the SEL, eight-way power adjustment is equipped on higher trims. Heated front seats are equipped across the range, as is a rearview camera, automatic temperature control, a proximity key, and cruise control. Higher trims receive an auto-dimming mirror, wireless device charging, and a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, while only the Ultimate receives a driver's heads-up display, smart cruise control, and ventilated seats. Driver aids include lane keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, and forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, the latter only available on the Ultimate trim.
As has become the standard for Hyundai, the Kona Electric features a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system from the base SEL model. The system is equipped with AM/FM/SiriusXM/HD Radio functionality and is also fully Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible. Dual front USB ports are standard, and on the SEL the system is paired to six speakers. On the Limited model, six speakers are swapped out for an eight-speaker Infinity audio system with a subwoofer and external amplifier, as well as a wireless charging pad. The Infinity system also includes Clari-Fi music restoration technology for a crisper audio experience. The Ultimate trim gets an enhanced touchscreen system, now eight inches in size and featuring built-in navigation. All models feature Blue Link connected car services to monitor charging remotely via a mobile app.
The Kona Electric launches in 2019, and the combustion model has only been on sale for a year now, so it's difficult to glean details as to its reliability. The battery tech is new, but Hyundai seems to have done its research, and the Ioniq has already done the grunt work as a first step into the EV world, so we hope for good things from the Kona Electric. There's a lifetime battery warranty as standard, and Hyundai's penchant for class-leading warranties is likely to continue here.
Neither the IIHS nor the NHTSA has tested the 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric. The combustion-powered Kona has however been endorsed by the IIHS as a 2019 Top Safety Pick+ for the extensive safety features, most of which are standard on the Kona Electric. The low center of gravity due to the battery should also aid crash test results.
The Hyundai Kona is extremely well equipped in terms of safety with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and driver attention warning standard from the base model. The Ultimate model upgrades safety with adaptive cruise control featuring stop-and-go capabilities, as well as pedestrian detection for the forward collision avoidance system, and reverse parking sensors.
No longer is Tesla the only EV manufacturer capable of ridding drivers of range-anxiety that plagues the EV market. It's remarkable that Hyundai's second electric effort has taken such a great leap forward, but here it is, rivaling the Chevrolet Bolt. Its 258-mile range and 201 hp outputs are simply brilliant, while the handling makes the Kona an EV you can enjoy tossing about. Cargo volumes may be a little subpar, but then again, they aren't entirely unusable, and they sacrifice nothing to the standard Kona. Truth be told, the Kona Electric is everything we've become accustomed to from the Chevrolet Bolt, but with higher levels of performance, comfort, ability, and range. The Kona Electric is a phenomenal progression of EV technology that finally makes the changeover from fossil fuels viable for the masses.
The entry-level Kona Electric SEL has a base MSRP of $36,950. While that may seem expensive, given the range and capabilities it actually represents huge value for money. It also undercuts the base price of the Chevrolet Bolt by $150 despite its 20-mile range advantage. The Limited is priced from $41,400 while the range-topping Ultimate costs a whopping $44,650. It's worth noting that these figures are all before tax incentives available on EVs, which, when combined with fuel savings costs make the Kona Electric a vastly more appealing proposition. But, the prices mentioned above also don't include freight charges, which are pegged at $1,045 for the Kona Electric.
The Hyundai Kona Electric is available in three trims: SEL, Limited, and Ultimate. All three models feature the same battery and electric motor combination, so there's no range or performance difference between them.
The SEL is equipped with cloth seating surfaces and a six-way manually adjustable driver's seat, along with automatic temperature control, heated front seats, cruise control, Bluetooth, and a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality. Standard safety on the SEL includes forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and a driver attention warning.
The Limited gets LED headlights with automatic high beams and a power tilt-and-slide sunroof outside, while inside there's leather upholstery, power adjustment for the driver's seat, an eight-speaker Infinity premium audio system, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and wireless device charging.
The Ultimate rounds out the range and loads the Kona Electric with automatic wipers, parking sensors, stop-and-go functionality for the cruise control, pedestrian detection for the forward collision warning, a heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, a head-up display, and an eight-inch touchscreen system with integrated navigation.
Unlike other models in the Hyundai range, including the gasoline-powered Kona, the Kona Electric features no available options packages or standalone options. But the three trims do offer a good range of standard features, and safety isn't compromised by opting for a cheaper trim line. Naturally the Ultimate, as the most expensive trim of the trio, is the most extensively equipped.
While all Kona Electric derivatives are extensively equipped, it's the entry-level SEL we recommend. Not only is it the cheapest way of getting behind the wheel of a Kona Electric, but it boasts a wide array of standard specification including automatic temperature control, heated front seats, cruise control, and a seven-inch touchscreen with Android Auto/Apple CarPlay functionality. It's also well equipped when it comes to safety features, boasting forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and a driver attention warning. The only real features it's missing is leather seating, power seat adjustment, a sunroof, and wireless charging, but considering the rest of the package, we'd happily forgo these items.
The Tesla Model 3 is blatantly a better car than the Kona Electric, with a further available range with the larger battery, higher levels of comfort, refinement, and space, and of course, access to the Tesla Supercharger network. But the Model 3 is also heavier, making it less lithe and nimble than the Kona, and the Kona has the allure of crossover body styling with the practical trunk volume that entails. But while the Model 3 is generally the better vehicle, it's expensive, and when fully kitted, the Model 3 costs nearly as much as two Kona Electrics. If you're after an affordable everyday EV, look no further than the Kona Electric.
When it comes to affordable, high-range EVs, only the Chevrolet Bolt can truly rival the Kona Electric. Both provide more than 200 miles of range, but the Kona offers 20 miles more than the Bolt. Both are fun to drive and offer potent performance, but the Kona feels more composed, and the crossover body style may be more appealing to a crossover-centric youth. Both are practical and cater to the same interior spaciousness for passengers. Both are well equipped and feature numerous safety and driver assistance features while offering high levels of connectivity. Both are great, and either one will suffice for an affordable means of getting behind the wheel of an EV.