It's the little electric city car with a big personality.
The electric version of Hyundai's sub-compact Kona crossover appeared in 2019, making it due for an update here in 2022. The good news for existing owners is that the refresh is mainly applied to the exterior and interior but not the drivetrain. That still sends 201 horsepower and 291 lb-ft torque to the front wheels and is good for up to 258 miles of range.
For 2022, Hyundai dropped the Ultimate trim level, so the choice now is between the SEL and Limited trims. Inside, the Kona Electric now has a 10.25-inch digital gauge display as standard along with a full suite of safety tech, which only adds to the value proposition. With a starting price of $34,000 for the base model, Hyundai wants to wedge itself firmly into the entry-level and city EV market from the start. Our week with the refreshed Kona Electric reminded us that the South Korean brand isn't missing a trick. It also reminded us that it's a fun car to drive.
The Kona's styling was already unique and, without a grille, the electric version even more so. New bumpers adorn the 2022 model to give the front end a sleeker look. Overall and aesthetically, the front tends to grow on people as a mixture of cute and elegant. The split front headlights are something that may not, ultimately, age well, but Hyundai has gone for a futuristic look without over-egging the pudding.
The base SEL model gets old-fashioned halogen headlights, while the Limited model we tested has LED headlights with high-beam assist. Both trims come with LED daytime running lights and 18-inch wheels, while the Limited gets a power tilt-and-slide sunroof which can be optioned onto the SEL.
The Kona Electric is a small car, and while the front has room for adults with elbows, the back is a little cramped and best used for kids, laptop bags, or purses. The seating positioning is high even in its lowest position, and the Limited trim gets power adjustments in eight directions for the driver and leather-trimmed seats for everyone compared to the cloth items on the base trim.
Hyundai's infotainment system is intuitive to navigate, particularly in 10.25-inch size as standard on the Limited trim, and the buttons surrounding it are well marked, something we've missed during recent Volkswagen reviews. Both models now get a 10.25-inch digital cluster, which looks good and responds well. The seats are comfortable, something we've also stopped taking for granted in entry-level models since driving the Chevrolet Bolt EUV.
Cargo space is another consideration, and its 19.2 cubic feet is par for the sub-compact crossover course. That's enough cargo space with the seats up for a weekend away for a couple and not much more. The Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf offer better rear passenger legroom and more cargo space, but it's not a night and day difference.
The Kona Electric is powered by a 150-kW electric motor and a 64-kWh lithium-ion polymer battery via a single-speed transmission. The electric motor delivers up to 201 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque which is fed to the crossover's front wheels. With all that torque being available from a standing start, 0-60 mph comes in 6.4 seconds, and with an entertaining amount of torque steer as the low-rolling-resistance tires scrabble for grip. Acceleration is still strong at higher speeds and suitable for efficient overtaking on the freeway.
Around town, the Kona electric can hustle, but not in Eco mode. It deadens the throttle pedal's response to the point that you become that slow person from the lights unless you give it a good stamp. While that will preserve those miles between charges, Normal mode is where to be for those that like to hustle. Sport mode is genuinely entertaining, but we'll get to that.
Ride comfort in the Kona Electric is typical of a small economy car. You can feel some springiness, but lumps and bumps are absorbed effectively. The steering is as eager and direct as the powertrain, and hustling through tight roads is a breeze when you add the Kona's size to the equation. Four levels of regenerative braking are available from the paddles behind the steering wheel. On the strongest level, it's close - but not quite - to one-pedal driving once you get used to it, requiring the use of the brake pedal only when coming to a dead halt.
While it's raised and the suspension feels old school, there's no excessive lean. On a backroad and with the power added, that makes the Kona feel like a 1990s hot hatch, complete with the understeer and torquesteer - the fun things that have been beaten out of modern performance cars for the sake of 'refinement' - when you whip it into Sport mode.
That doesn't mean the Kona Electric will keep pace with modern performance cars, but it's fun to toss about if you're into that. The bottom line is that the Kona Electric is comfortable and fun to zip around in, and Sport mode is there if you want silly grins on a backroad.
The more we drive the Kona Electric, the more we like it. While not as roomy and, by extension, as practical as the Chevrolet Bolt or Nissan Leaf, it beats them both hands down on the driving experience and the Chevy Bolt because it has comfortable seats. To us, that makes the leader of the pack the Kona Electric and the Leaf.
Boiling it down, the Leaf has more legroom and cargo space. Nissan advertises the 2023 Leaf with an EPA estimated range of 212 miles in base form, considerably less than the Kona Electric's 258 miles. For someone not expecting rear-seat passengers, the Kona Electric is the obvious choice and one we wholeheartedly recommend. But if you're a buyer who needs practicality, the Kona's fun nature may fall short of the Leaf's family-oriented nature in the long run.