Review: 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric
Selling electric driving to the competitive set.
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Turns zero-emission driving into entertainment. Really.
- What’s Bad: Unfortunately, it doesn’t look especially stylish while doing it.
“All right. Let’s do this.”
As I’m pulling off the highway in the Hyundai Kona Electric, I pop it into Eco+ mode. This ultra-conservative setting softens throttle response, enables a 90 km/h speed limiter, and gives real-time regenerative braking tracking.
I look down the road and prepare to shift my right foot. Timing is critical. It’s taken a few days to get a feel for the EV’s three regen levels and to figure out how much distance each one needs to bring the vehicle to a full stop while recovering energy as efficiently as possible, but I think I’ve worked it out.
I hit the ideal point of the off-ramp, and I let off the throttle and lean into the brakes.
The counter begins.
I tick past 0.25 km, then 0.5, and then a full kilometre before landing at a total single-stop charge regeneration of 1.23 km.
Yes – a new record!
Typically, I’m more of a speed junkie at heart. But the truth is that’s always been borne from my borderline-antisocial competitive streak. Attempting to go faster than other people works for me because it gives me something to win at, but I can turn just about anything into a game if there’s a person or a standard to be beaten.
As far as I know, no one is running a leaderboard for most productive regenerative brake in a Hyundai Kona Electric. But if I owned this car, I’d find one or start one myself, and I’d try to do better on every drive. Not only does the Hyundai Kona Electric give people like me, who might otherwise find low-speed conservative driving to be dull, a place to direct their competitive energy – it also makes conservation efforts rewarding through instant gratification.
I’m convinced that this is how we get the generations that have been raised on Mario and Sonic to get invested in electric driving. And this is just one of many reasons why I think the Kona Electric is a winner.
A Better EV
Efficient electric driving requires a very different mindset versus gas-powered driving, and so electric cars benefit from designers who put those differences front-and-centre in a driver’s mind. That’s clearly the case here. There’s a lot going on in the Kona Electric that makes it one of the most efficient EVs the market has seen yet.
There are the graphs that encourage conservative driving – although it had me rated at 95 percent efficiency at one point, which knowing my typical driving style seems unlikely, but I’ll take it. The aforementioned regenerative braking is a big part of it, too, not only because of the instant gratification factor but also because it helps the Kona Electric go longer than average on a charge.
It boasts some excellent baseline stats: a range of 415 km – which, with some effort, effective use of settings, and avoidance of highways should be possible to extend even further in good conditions – plus a charge time on its 64 kWh battery of 9.5 hours to 100 percent at Level 2 and 75 minutes to 80 percent at a 50 kW Level 3. (These aren’t Tesla Supercharger figures, but they’re better than most mainstream EVs.)
For outright efficiency, since EVs are notoriously variable, let’s turn to Natural Resources Canada’s standardized figures. The Kona Electric is rated by NRCan at 16.2 kWh per 100 km in city driving, 19.3 on the highway, and 17.4 combined, which compares favourably against the Chevrolet Bolt (16.4/19.0/17.6) and the Nissan Leaf Plus (17.8/21.5/19.5), all while delivering a longer range than both (383 km and 363 km respectively).
Add these factors to the instant torque, agile handling, and exceptionally quiet cabin – even after factoring in that this is an EV – and the Kona Electric comes across as the easiest sell yet on a mainstream battery electric vehicle.
But Why Must It Look Like a Spaceship?
Here’s where the Kona Electric starts to drive me crazy. Not everyone wants to scream Look how green I am! from the rooftops, myself included. Why does this need to look so dramatically different from the internal combustion engine Kona? I mean, I’m no great fan of the Kona’s enormous fake hood vent, either, and that clearly would be out of place here. But a substitute grille with similar badging treatment would have done the job nicely. Instead, there’s a repeating etched pattern in coloured plastic and a chrome badging accent that looks like it was ripped off a Honda. A desire for innocuous looks alone might drive potential buyers to the Nissan Leaf Plus.
Speaking of the Leaf Plus, there’s another thing it does better than the Kona Electric, and that’s its one-pedal driving. In a Leaf, using the e-pedal lets you engage regenerative braking and come to a full stop just by letting off the power pedal; the Kona can get most of the way there, but you need to tap the brake to keep it at a standstill. If you spend a lot of time in stop-and-go traffic, give this feature some serious consideration before you decide. It could save your right calf.
A few more quibbles about the Kona Electric: there’s a shiny silver plastic material that’s used throughout the cabin. It’s futuristic-looking and all, but it’s highly reflective in the wrong light and makes certain things very difficult to see, such as which setting the heated front seats are at. Since electric heating is more efficient than HVAC in an EV, this is a more important detail here than it would be elsewhere. And on that same point, I was shocked to find that even the Ultimate trim doesn’t come with heated rear seats. Hyundai is known for packing niceties into top trims. To see this feature missing in the one vehicle where it would be most useful is a genuine shock.
It also needs to be said that the Kona Electric is front-wheel drive only, driven by a single 150 kW motor mounted on the front axle. Many of its contemporaries come in the same configuration because, in most conditions, that’s the most efficient setup. However, this is Canada, and Canadians want all-wheel drive. If you’ve got a lot more budget to play with and you’re truly shopping for your best option, you might consider a Jaguar I-Pace or a Tesla if this concerns you. Both of those also come with a lot more power. But they’re also, with the exception of the Model 3, about twice the price.
And since I was critical of it in the I-Pace recently, I need to call it out here as well: the Kona Electric’s ground clearance – which sits just shy of 16 cm, a tick under the 17 cm offered in the ICE version – isn’t at the level most people hope for when they shop for a utility vehicle.
Does It Qualify for the Federal Government’s iZEV Program?
It didn’t when the program was announced, but it does now. In March, the starting MSRP for a Kona Electric Preferred was $45,599. Within days of the program’s details being announced with a base price cap of $45,000, that same trim was listed on the Hyundai Canada website at $44,999. Isn’t that something?
At any rate, since the base trim is under $45,000 and the Ultimate trim’s $51,999 price falls below the program’s $55,000 cap for a vehicle with options and less than seven seats, both configurations now qualify for a $5,000 rebate on a purchase or a lease of 48 months or more.
If this is the car that convinces you to make the leap into electric driving, don’t forget to factor the purchase and installation cost of a Level 2 charger into your budget – although if it’s a second car and you’re driving it judiciously, you may find that it gets you further between charges than you expect. For my money, as a city dweller who knows that I can deal with most of my worst seasonal problems with winter tires, and as a product of the Nintendo years who can’t resist a challenge delivered by electronics, the Hyundai Kona Electric presents the best battery EV purchase proposition yet.
2019 Hyundai Kona Electric
BODY STYLE: Compact Crossover
CONFIGURATION: Battery electric, front-wheel drive
POWER: 64 kWh battery, one 150 kW electric motor; 201 hp, 290 lb-ft of torque from 0 rpm
TRANSMISSION: Single-speed reduction gear
FUEL ECONOMY: (kWh (Le) /100km) 16.2 (1.8) city/19.3 (2.2) hwy/17.4 (2.0) combined
PRICE: $53,804 as tested, including freight and PDI