2019 Hyundai Kona Electric Review
Paul Horrell’s 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric review with price, specs, performance, ride and handling, ownership, safety, verdict and score.
IN A NUTSHELL Game-changer: an EV that manages to combine ample battery endowment, a fashionable body style and an affordable sticker.
2019 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric Specifications (Global spec)
Price N/A Warranty 5 years/unlimited km (expected) Engine Permanent-magnet synchronous electric Power 150kW Torque 395Nm Transmission single-speed Drive front-wheel drive Body 4180mm (l); 1800mm (w exc mirrors); 2050mm (w inc mirrors); 1570mm (h) Turning circle 10.6m Towing weight NAkg (braked), NAkg (unbraked) Kerb weight 1685kg Seats 5 Battery 64kWh Spare Opt Energy consumption 14.3kWh/100km Range 482km WLTP
If Australia takes to electric vehicles, Hyundai will be ready. It will shortly launch an efficient hatchback called the Ioniq, as a pure-electric car, as well as simple hybrid and plug-in hybrid.
Then next year in Oz this more revolutionary electric proposition, the Kona Electric: the first affordable electric vehicle to get close to the 500km range threshold will arrive. OK if you live in America there’s the Chevrolet Bolt, but GM can barely be bothered with us foreigners these days so the Bolt isn’t built in RHD. And the Tesla Model 3 for Australia is late-2019 or early 2020.
What is the Hyundai Kona Electric?
The Kona Electric has just gone on sale in other parts of the world, and in the UK where we’ve been doing the review, it comes in two versions. One has a 39kWh battery, which is similar to the new-generation Nissan Leaf, providing (slightly more-than-Leaf) 312km range on the new WLTP test.
But the headline version of the Kona Electric has a 64kWh battery for a 482km range, and that’s the one that’ll be brought into Australia next year.
That’s very similar to the electric range of the Jaguar I-Pace on the same test, and the Jag is over $140k. Teslas aren’t cheap either. In Europe, Hyundai’s pricing for the 64kWh Kona is only about half the price of a Jaguar or Tesla Model S with equivalent range. Roughly the same price ratio will apply here.
In its regular piston-engined form, Hyundai’s Kona follows the standard template for a compact crossover: slightly chunky-looking body, room for a small family, compact enough on the outside that it’s at home in cities as well as out on the road. Four-wheel-drive versions of the piston-engined version can be had, but the electric one is front-drive only.
You can spot the electric version. It’s got a smoothed-off front and mostly-fake radiator grille. You might think it looks a little piscine. But the petrol version is a mess to my eyes: contrasting grey plastic splattered all over the place, and three levels of lights and grilles that don’t match up at all. The Electric looks tidier.
What’s the interior and practicality like?
The Kona’s platform is new and was designed from the outset for the EV version as well as 2WD and AWD petrol and diesel. So the battery fits neatly under the floor and rear seat, and doesn’t burgle any space. The high-voltage electronics and the motor and cooling system all fit under the bonnet.
That said, the Kona is very much a baby crossover. So rear seat room is tight for adults. The issue is foot room, because the front seats are too close to the floor. It’s better if the people in the front adjust their backsides upwards but if you’re taller this will put you too close to the roof.
For the same reason, the boot’s a tight 332 litres with the seats up, and remember if you’re off on a trip you’ll be carrying a bulky bag of coiled-up charge cable with you.
The facia and console are unique to the Electric version of the Kona. The matt-metallic finish on the control panels is no doubt a designer’s attempt to make it look high-tech. Sadly it just calls to mind a cheap microwave oven.
Never mind, the actual arrangement is sensible. With no need for a gear linkage, Hyundai carved out a two-storey centre console. The lower level has a large tray with a rubberised non-slip base, useful as home to your snacks and devices, and equipped with sockets and inductive charger.
Above that a balcony-level console has the forward/reverse/park switches, electric park brake, a couple of cupholders, and other controls. They include heated and fan-cooled seats, and heated steering wheel. That’s useful on an EV because it takes far less power to directly cool or heat your bum and back and hands, than it is to warm or cool the cabin air via the climate control.
On that subject, the climate-control switchgear includes a button to set a blower on the driver only, not all occupants. Another energy-saving measure.
The instruments are a TFT screen, with plenty of choices for bring up navigation or infotainment info. But their main emphasis is on energy flow, so you know enough to be confident you’ll reach home or the next charging station before the electrons expire. The biggest display shows power use – between the extremes of hooning consumption or recuperating energy into the battery as you coast down. It’s a good feeling to be doing that, rather than wasting energy with the brakes.
What are the infotainment and controls like?
Anyone who’s driven a recent well-equipped Hyundai or Kia will find this unit familiar. I got into the Kona from a top-spec Kia Stinger, and it had the same thing. The graphics aren’t super-stylish nor the resolution pin-sharp, but the main thing is it’s easy to use.
That said, the system does have a couple of extra apps unique to this vehicle. They give detailed energy consumption data, and allow precise control of charging. For instance you can plug in now but set the vehicle to charge at some other time, to get advantage of cheap nighttime electricity.
Switching between major functions is either by hard keys or a ‘my menu’ you can customise. Navigation is built-in.
Or if you’re more comfortable with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, they too are very neatly integrated. That means you can toggle easily between the car’s native screens and the mirroring, and you can opt for a slit screen with the music track off your phone on the right and the car’s native navigation on the left.
The top-spec Kona Electric comes with a hi-fi by Krell. Given that the intrinsically quiet powertrain isn’t competing against the music, you’ve got yourself a bit of a concert hall.
What’s it like on the road?
As with any decent EV, it’s acceleration that strikes you the moment you stand at the crease. The instant, silent force of it. The moment you tickle the pedal you’re off, and it carries on that way without let up or hindrance. It’s not like having an auto transmission where each change of ratio brings a small but definite step-change in acceleration. Instead, it’s just one gear, and the acceleration simply tails off towards the maximum speed, a speed too high for you to reach on the road anyway.
In fact on most roads the issue is too much performance not too little. Lively EVs so far have been AWD or RWD. The front-drive Kona has trouble laying down the torque. Too much of a brush with the right foot has the tyres chirping, writhing and struggling for traction. I very soon switched to ‘comfort’ or indeed ‘eco’ mode from ‘sport’, not because I wanted to save the battery but because I wanted a more progressive and gentle pedal action.
Anyway, if you need to scoot down a country road with a grippy surface, or sharply gain speed for a highway overtake, the Kona’s up for it.
The shortage of traction tells you the tyres are specced for low resistance rather than grip, but the Kona’s cornering is no disgrace. The low centre of gravity – heavy battery is under the floor remember – means little body roll, and the firmish springs and decent dampers keep things tidy. There’s no road feel in the steering mind.
The eco mode is especially good for smooth and gentle urban trickling. Via steering column paddles you can alter the degree of regeneration, and hence deceleration, brought on by a lift-off of the accelerator pedal. In the most aggressive setting, you hardly need touch the brakes at all. But the calibration of this slowdown is a bit odd at first: the effect doesn’t tail away once you coast down to walking speed, so it takes practice to be entirely smooth approaching junctions.
The ride is what the handling leads you to expect it’ll be: a bit turbulent over lumpy surfaces but generally tolerable. Not much different to the majority of compact crossovers.
It’s quiet though, lending an air of class. Not silent mind. Below 30km/h you hear a strange hum like a jet passing a very long way overhead. It’s an artificially generated tone designed to get the attention of pedestrians who might otherwise walk a out in front of a silent EV.
With bigger speed, you hear wind and tyre noise. They’re not louder than in other crossovers this size, but you’re more aware of them because there’s no engine noise, just a polite high-pitched hum under full acceleration.
Why does range matter?
Most people charge up their electric cars at home overnight, and most people don’t commute more than 100km each way. So why the obsession with 400-plus kms of real-world range? Because if it’s to be more than a second car, you’ll do the occasional long journey. Around the East Coast, there’s now a useable network of rapid chargers. The Kona, on a CCS rapid charger, can take on 400km’s worth in little over an hour.
Imagine you have a car like the new Nissan Leaf which has around 250km real-world range. You charge at home and set off. If quick chargers are 100km apart, you’ll stop after 150km because you can’t be sure of making it to the next one, or of finding it vacant.
Now rapid-charging works best in taking the battery up to 80-percent. So you do that and the range is now just 0.8x250km or just over 200km. If that doesn’t get you where you’re going, you’ll have to stop again, and again you might do it with 100km to spare. That hop you’ve done only 100km.
With a 400km safe range, you’ll stop after 300km, and charge to 0.8x400km equals 320km range. Again, stop with 100km remaining and you’ll have done a 220km hop.
What about ownership?
It’s a sensible and fun little thing to use. That’s the key takeaway. It might be a bit cramped in the back, and there are times when the power overflows the ability of the front tyres.
But heck you can’t get too picky when for the moment it’s in a class of one. Nothing else ticks the big three boxes. Electric, tick. Long-range, tick. Affordable, tick.
Moderately quick AC charging spots are becoming pretty common, and the Kona can also use the far more rapid DC chargers, making long coastal drives a possibility even today.
Even so, an EV isn’t a no-thought vehicle. Before getting one, look carefully at your driving habits and locations. Then consult a charger map. Only if the latter fully covers the former should you go ahead. At least unless you can borrow or hire a combustion car for the occasional trip outside charger-land.
Hyundai offers an eight-year warranty on the battery and in other markets where it has already launched is offering a unlimited kilometre warranty that matches its regular range. We would expect this vehicle to launch in Australia with a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty.
What about safety features?
People worry about battery packs catching fire. But it has happened in vanishingly few real-life instances. The cells are very well cooled and the electrics will shut off if there’s trouble. Besides, how about driving around with a 50-litre can of explosive liquid strapped under your backside, like you do at the moment?
The petrol-engined Kona did well in the crash-test for ANCAP, scoring five stars. Of course the Electric one carries its weight differently and has a different under-bonnet layout, so you can’t read across directly. But encouragingly it uses much of the same structure.
The Kona Electric is offered with a huge suite of driver assistance features, which Hyundai calls SmartSense. Here’s the list: forward collision avoidance assist (autonomous braking) with pedestrian detection; blind-spot warning for lane changing, and the same systems’ sensors also give you cross-traffic warning when reversing.
Then there’s lane departure warning, and, optionally, a system that nudges you to following the centre of the lane, so that paired with the active cruise control the car can often do most of the highway driving itself, under your oversight. There’s also a head-up display. Especially handy as it’s harder than usual to judge speed in a car with no engine noise and no gears.