2019 Hyundai Kona Electric review

There are three things to know about the Hyundai Kona Electric: it’s a small SUV, it has a genuine driving range of 450km, and it costs $59,990. What else does it do? We’re glad you asked…

Hyundai is determined to be an early leader in Australia’s EV market, having just added a second car powered by batteries alone. It’s the Kona Electric, and it joins the Ioniq hatch.

The two Hyundai offerings and the soon-to-launch Nissan Leaf are the market’s three most appealing entry-level EVs, though many more will arrive in the next few years. They offer what constitutes affordable pricing for this still emerging technology.

While the Ioniq, Leaf and BMW i3 are designed as urban transport, the Kona’s 450km real-world (WLTP-tested) driving range based on consumption of 14.3kWh per 100km is about double the Ioniq’s 230km, whoops the Leaf’s 270km claim and outguns the BMW i3 120Ah’s 260km range.

It’s actually a superior WLTP range to what the imminent Mercedes-Benz EQC electric SUV is expected to offer (around 400km, Daimler’s chief tester told me), and nudges the 470km range ceiling claimed by the Jaguar I-Pace.

This fact, plus the Kona’s in-vogue crossover SUV body style and ability to handle 100kW DC rapid-charging, to power up that big storage battery faster, means the Hyundai stands a real chance of getting more attention from buyers outside the current clique of EV converts.

Of course, the Kona Electric’s value is graded on a curve, given the expense of sourcing and producing lithium-ion battery packs remains very high. It costs $59,990 before on-road costs for the entry Elite model. By comparison, the Nissan Leaf is $49,990, and the Ioniq is $44,990.

The price of the Kona Electric in the UK is about the same, before subsidies are applied.

This review is based on a one-day drive at the Australian launch, where motoring writers are invited to kick tyres, ask questions, and eat canapés. On this day in South Australia, another writer and I together drove 300km in a Kona Electric, mostly at highway speeds and over winding country roads where EVs are at their least efficient, and still had 130km of range left.

So the real-world claim is gettable, and the outdated NEDC/ADR 81/02-verified claims of more than 550km seem vaguely possible if you drive carefully. If this doesn’t put the concept of on-the-move range anxiety to bed, it should at least place it on the backburner, yes?

The Kona’s lithium-ion pack in the floor drives a 150kW electric motor that powers only the front wheels (this is a front-wheel-drive car despite the SUV look), while it also produces a beefy 395Nm of torque/pulling power from zero RPM. So even though it weighs a porky 1700kg, it silently sprints to 100km/h in 7.6 seconds. That’s zippy enough.

As with any EV, the pace of response is notable, with no waiting required to access the engine’s torque. The single-speed transmission gives you an uninterrupted climb up the tachometer. The paddle shifters on the wheel give you various levels of brake energy regeneration/recuperation, and if you hold the left paddle you can even bring the car to a full stop this way.

What about charging? The Type 2 plug-in point is mounted in a hidden section of the ‘grille’. The Kona Electric’s charging capacity is a high 100kW, and a DC fast-charger running at this output will juice the batteries from functionally empty (all usable charge depleted) to 80 per cent in 54 minutes. The final 20 per cent takes longer, like topping off a glass of water.

Remember also that if time is tight, a 15-minute 100kW DC charge, if you find one, is still going to give you somewhere around 100km of added range to tide you over. You don’t always need to charge it right up, in other words.

We should mention that a commonly used public 50kW-capable fast charger will get you to 80 per cent in 75 minutes instead of 54, according to Hyundai’s data. There are plenty of these chargers in the network, though they’re being scaled up.

You can also buy a Hyundai wall-box charger for $2000 fitted, running off your house’s AC power and stowed in your garage, with a maximum charging rate of 7.2kW. This means you can charge the car overnight with the supplied cable in about 9.5 hours from nil to full. Just don’t forget to plug in when you get home from the office.

Dynamically speaking, all that weight mounted down low helps body control and tempers the higher roll axis, while the brake-regeneration system helps transfer weight over the front when you lift off, really adding some agility to the equation. It also irons out sharp inputs and corrugations pretty well, too. Comfortable yet nimble.

As with every other Hyundai passenger car and SUV, the Kona Electric received a number of Australia-specific suspension changes based on local engineering tests. The group claims to have cycled through 37 damper designs and six different spring/anti-roll bar combos.

There are questions over the Nexen low-rolling-resistance tyres, though, in terms of both road noise suppression and grip. Granted, we were on coarse-chip surfaces, and the lack of any engine noise obviously amplifies other sounds, but there was clearly some intrusion there.

Stylistically, well that’s subjective. To stand apart from its petrol-fired siblings, the Kona Electric has a closed grille incorporating the charge point, active air flaps in the front bumper, a more aero-friendly rear bumper, 17-inch alloy wheels, more cladding and standard roof rails.

Though it offers the marketing allure of a small crossover body style, at just 4180mm long it's shorter than either the Leaf or Ioniq, and its 332L boot is smaller than both as well.

Inside, compared to the regular Kona, the Electric has a new digital instrument cluster and centre screen surround, a slicker climate-control panel and a reworked area where the transmission tunnel would usually reside, incorporating buttons controlling the shift-by-wire set-up, and more storage. The Nexo hydrogen fuel-cell crossover inspired the look.

It still feels built to a price, though, because while the build quality is good, some of the plastic trims feel a little… Mainstream. In fairness, most of the extra cost went to the battery pack, which based on standard $250 per kWh industry pricing data costs about $16,000. Hyundai had to save its pennies somewhere, in other words.

Befitting the Kona Electric's status as range flagship, both versions are equipped with Hyundai's full range of SmartSense active safety tech including: camera/radar collision alert and AEB, blind-spot monitoring, driver-attention alert, lane-keeping/centring assist, active cruise control and rear cross-traffic alert. Naturally, it has a five-star ANCAP crash rating (2017).

Other standard fare on the Elite includes: an 8.0-inch screen with sat-nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, leather seats, proximity key with button start, climate control, rain-sensing wipers, an Infinity premium audio and digital radio.

The $4500 pricier Kona Electric Highlander grade adds: front parking sensors, LED headlights/tail-lights (how isn't this a standard feature?), high-beam assist, a sunroof, heated/ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a dinky flip-up glass head-up display and a Qi standard wireless phone charging pad.

There are six colours (Galactic Grey, Phantom Black, Ceramic Blue, Pulse Red, Lake Silver and Chalk White), and you can ditch the glass sunroof in favour of a two-tone roof colour on the Highlander models, though headroom with it is actually decent enough.

The Kona Electric also comes with Hyundai Auto Link Premium SIM, a smartphone app that integrates with the car's ECU.

You can look at basic vehicle data like efficiency, driving history, vehicle health, weather and battery status etc. You can also locate your car, log your trips and book a service through the interface, and remotely lock or unlock the car and turn on the hazard lights, horn and climate control.

In terms of running costs, the Kona Electric's servicing intervals are 12 months or 15,000km (whichever comes first), and each of the first five visits is currently capped at $165 a pop. The regular Hyundai warranty is five years, but the battery-pack warranty is eight years/160,000km.

So, to conclude. It's inescapable that the barrier to entry remains steep. The Kona Electric's price is $21,000 more than the Kona Highlander petrol and the price of a fully specified diesel Santa Fe seven-seater.

Anyone making a purely economic argument for EV in Australia at this early stage, without transitional subsidies, has a battle on their hands…

But in a world where people purchased the first plasma-screen TVs for $10,000 and line up all night for the latest iPhone, there will be scope for anything that does something better. Tesla's marketing (for all its production flaws) has proven this point.

So, consider the Kona Electric as the fledgling EV market's proverbial 'clubhouse leader' at the segment's more affordable end, even if that only equates to a few hundred buyers this year.

Hyundai is overall to be commended for being at the leading edge, and should benefit from this position in the years ahead.

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