Tesla broke the long-range electric vehicle ceiling with the Model S, and Chevrolet made them affordable to more people with the Bolt EV. Now, in 2019, each of these EV pioneers is set to face new competition as other car companies start offering long-range electrics of their own.
One of the latest is the 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric. Based on the funky little Kona subcompact SUV, an impressive vehicle in its own right, the Kona Electric swaps a gasoline drivetrain for an electric one. The result? A fresh face and 258 miles of pure electric driving bliss.
For comparison, the Chevy Bolt EV supplies 238 miles of range, and the new 2019 Nissan Leaf e+ offers 226 miles. Meanwhile, the least expensive Tesla Model 3 with a mid-range battery travels 264 miles between visits to the ‘ol supercharger station.
To sample the new Kona Electric first-hand, Hyundai invited me to drive the car in Los Angeles, where EVs are more popular than just about anyplace else in the country. California is also the first state that will offer the Kona EV as Hyundai ramps up production to meet global demand for this cute little bugger.
The Zapped Kona Electric is Downright Zippy
The new 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric looks similar to the standard Hyundai Kona, except up front where a textured, body-color panel and a charging port cover replace the standard model’s grille. (Christian Wardlaw)
Park a Kona Electric next to a standard Kona, and the difference is immediately clear. Where the gas-fueled Kona has a big grille, the zapped Kona has none. Instead, a textured panel presents a clean, aerodynamic face to the wind, punctuated by a panel that opens to reveal the car’s charging port.
Personally, I think the Kona looks best in bright, vibrant colors, and the electric version is available in red, an icy Ceramic Blue, and the usual white, black, and gray paint colors. Aerodynamic 17-inch aluminum wheels are standard.
Hyundai equips the Kona Electric with a 150 kW motor juiced by a 64 kWh Li-ion battery pack. Power measures 201 horses and 291 lb.-ft. of torque, the latter available the moment you step on the accelerator pedal, making it easy to spin this little guy’s front wheels. Maybe you should keep it in Eco or Normal instead of Sport driving mode.
Kona Electric owners can expect 120 MPGe in combined driving, according to the EPA. Level III fast-charging capability is standard, and Hyundai says the car gets charged to 80% capacity in 54 minutes. The company also says that a Kona Electric will recharge using a Level II home charging station in 9 hours and 35 minutes.
Driving the Kona Electric is fun. Thanks to all the motor’s torque, this little crossover is downright fast, even though top speed is just 104 mph. Ground clearance is good for an electric car, too, at 6.2 inches, but since it hasn’t got all-wheel drive it’s best to stay on paved and well-traveled gravel or dirt roads.
The battery pack weighs nearly 1,000 pounds, and you can definitely feel all of that mass nestled beneath the cabin. Hyundai does its best to tune the 4-wheel-independent suspension to account for it, but the Kona Electric provides a choppy ride on anything but smooth pavement.
Handling on the canyon roads near Malibu proved impressive, the car’s super-low center of gravity making the Kona Electric feel magnetized to the surface. Torque steer during acceleration, combined with the wheel’s tendency to want to return to center, made the steering less satisfying in this environment, but it’s not much trouble around town.
My favorite driving mode was Normal. In Eco mode, the regenerative braking system is too aggressive, and in Sport mode accelerator response is too eager. The Kona Electric supplies one-pedal driving capability, meaning that with careful planning you can bring the car to a stop without using the brake pedal.
While I think using one-pedal mode is fun, that level of driver-involvement isn’t for everyone.
Same Size Inside, Impressive Load of Tech
In spite of its electric drivetrain, the Kona Electric is the same size inside as the standard gas-fed Kona. The only differences are a smidge less rear legroom and an almost indiscernible reduction in rear headroom. Cargo space is identical, too, at 19.2 cu.-ft. behind the rear seat and 45.8 cu.-ft. with the rear seat folded down.
In standard SEL trim, the Kona Electric features stain-resistant, heated black cloth seats. Leather, in gray or a two-tone gray and blue, is standard in Limited and Ultimate trim levels. Limited trim adds an 8-way power driver’s seat, and Ultimate trim equips the car with a heated steering wheel and ventilated front seats.
Comfort levels are good up front, though a seat height adjuster for the front passenger sure would be nice. The back seat is cramped for adults unless the people in front are shorter and can slide the seats up. Hyundai says five people can squeeze into a Kona Electric, but I’d say that’s true only if everyone in the back is a child.
Automatic climate control is standard and offers a Driver Only mode to help conserve energy. A 7-inch touchscreen infotainment display “floats” above the dashboard’s center air vents, equipping the car with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, HD Radio, and next-generation Blue Link connected services.
Blue Link is free for the first three years of Kona Electric ownership. The system is Amazon Alexa compatible and Google Home-enabled and provides specific EV-related functions such as remote charge management and scheduling. You can even check to see your remaining range or how much time is left before the car is fully charged, right from your smartphone or smartwatch.
Upgrade to Limited trim for an Infinity premium sound system with Clari-Fi music restoration technology, which is designed to improve the quality of digitally compressed music files. A Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charger is included with Limited trim, too, along with a power sunroof.
Ultimate trim installs a larger 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with an exclusive EV Technology display and a navigation system. This version of the Kona Electric also includes a head-up display, a stop-and-go function for the adaptive cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, rear parking sensors, and LED headlights with automatic high beam assist.
Safety comes standard on the new Kona Electric. In addition to structural enhancements related to the electric drivetrain, this car is equipped with Hyundai Smart Sense, the automaker’s suite of driving assistance and collision avoidance technologies.
Smart Sense includes a driver attention monitoring system, which can warn you when it appears that you’re sleepy or distracted. Adaptive cruise control maintains safe following distance to traffic ahead, but only brings the Kona Electric to a full stop if you’ve got the Ultimate trim level.
Forward collision warning with pedestrian detection will warn you when a collision might occur, while automatic emergency braking can bring the Kona to a stop in order to avoid a crash. Other standard features include blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert with automatic braking, lane departure warning, and lane keeping assist.
Does all this stuff mean the Kona Electric drives by itself? No. You’re still in charge at all times. But these systems can assist you and help to prevent an accident.
The Bottom Line
Clever packaging means the Kona Electric has the same cargo space measurements as a standard Kona, at 19.2 cu.-ft. behind the rear seat and a maximum of 45.8 cu.-ft. with the rear seat folded down. (Christian Wardlaw)
Based on a short drive over the mountains and through the San Fernando Valley, the Kona Electric impresses. Tesla fans will point out that it isn’t nearly as attractive as a Model 3, and that’s true. But it won’t cost nearly as much, either, especially after Tesla’s federal tax credits expire in 2020.
That means the Kona Electric’s main competitors include the Chevrolet Bolt EV, the Kia Niro EV, and the Nissan Leaf e+. Each one uses the same basic recipe, to varying degrees of success. But none of them beats the Kona Electric for maximum driving range.