2019 Hyundai Kona Electric road test review

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The 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric isn’t Hyundai’s first production EV, but it’s the first with truly usable range at 258 miles. It even beats the benchmark Chevy Bolt EV in that regard. Add to that 201 horsepower, 290 pound-feet of torque, a popular crossover wrapper and seating position, and the little EV is seemingly poised for success. Of course, success is contingent on the Kona being a good car to drive, so we brought one to the office and even tried it out in snow and bitter cold. Overall, the left our spirits high. Read on.

Editor-in-Chief Greg Migliore: The Hyundai Kona is cute, efficient and a smart play for , which is increasingly offering a wide range of electric choices for consumers. The plug-in has a better range than the Chevy Bolt, and the price is reasonable. The Kona is a little small for family use, but it’s excellent as the second car or commuter. EVs are fun to drive, and this one served up a torquey yet still smooth experience. I really enjoyed running around town in this thing. Only complaint: the interior felt a bit cheap. This one was gray and the materials were plasticky, which isn’t the right vibe. But overall, I’m impressed with the new wave of more accessible EVs with strong range, and Hyundai is at the forefront.

Senior Editor, Green, John Beltz Snyder: I love this car. The gas-powered Kona didn’t strike me as anything special: It looked cool, was easy to drive, and I recalled the back seat being a little small. The EV, though, is a car I won’t soon forget.

I put a lot of miles on the Kona EV over the weekend, driving from Birmingham, Mich., to Detroit, from Ann Arbor to East Lansing and back, and running a number of errands around town. With only the Level 1 mobile charger to refuel at home, I couldn’t add a ton of miles to the car between drives. With temperatures in the teens and a heavy right foot, I can’t tell you how much real-world range I got, because I never drove the car from 100 to zero percent battery. I’m sure it wasn’t anything like its 258-mile rating, but it didn’t matter. I had more than enough range at about a three-quarter charge to drive 65 miles to my grandma’s and back.

My first night in the car, I diced it up in Woodward traffic before setting a brisk pace on the highway to meet my wife and son in Detroit. I started with the car in Eco mode, which felt amply quick and responsive to accelerator input. I dialed in full regen with the left paddle on the back of the steering wheel. I only had to use the brake when coming to a complete stop.

A little later I put it in Sport, turned down the regen feel, and took full advantage of the low-end torque and quick, linear acceleration. I was having some serious fun in the Kona — there’s something about the quietness that makes an EV like this satisfying to drive fast. My fast clip home from Detroit saw me pulling into the driveway at the same time as my wife, despite that I had stopped to pick up dinner.

I was a little concerned about stuffing my son in the back of the Kona EV. Opening the back door, though, there appeared to be more room behind the front row than I remembered in the Kona. It was a little tricky getting the tall car seat through the door opening, but once I had the seat installed and my boy strapped in, he had plenty of room to swing his long legs around. With 140-ish miles of stated range in the battery, we headed off on the 65 miles of mostly highway driving to East Lansing. I kept the car in Eco mode, put on adaptive cruise control at the speed limit, and took it easy. I got a little concerned about cutting it close, so I put the car in Eco+, but quickly got cold without the heat on. On my way home, it was clear I had plenty of range, so I cranked the heat, and put the car into Sport mode again as I approached Ann Arbor.

If I had a Level 2 charger at home, I could very easily live with the Kona EV, even in the dead of winter. It’s got everything I need: more than enough range, adaptive cruise control, a good infotainment system, enough room for a forward-facing car seat and fun, guilt-free driving. It would be a tough choice between this and the Nissan Leaf for me. We’ll see if I change my tune further after driving the Kia Niro EV.

Assistant Editor Zac Palmer: The night I got to drive our Kona Electric tester was the same night we got about 5-6 inches of snow dumped on us here in Michigan. I took it as a great opportunity to out the snow-worthiness of Hyundai’s little electric ute.

Front-wheel drive puts the onus on the tires more times than not, and the little Kona was able to scratch and claw its way through all the snow I threw at it with the stock all seasons. In a bout of confidence, I even charged into an unplowed parking lot with about six inches of fresh powder everywhere. There were a few seconds of uncertainty as I mushed about the wide open lot, but I made it out without too much of a scare. The Kona feels nimble on snow, which inspired me to toss it about in a way similar to the way I would a compact hatchback or small sedan. If a manual handbrake were used instead of the electric unit, I really would have been grinning.

The instantaneous torque delivery in the snow take a second of getting used to with traction control off, but upon learning the throttle sensitivity, the instant power becomes a real boon for snow fun. All the power you’d want to pull yourself through a corner is on demand. The challenge becomes doling out that power in a way that provides forward momentum, rather than shooting up giant rooster tails of snow with the front tires spinning like mad.

Don’t be afraid to grab a Kona Electric if you live in a place with heavy snow. Fresh all seasons did the job for me, but I can already tell this thing would be an electric monster with winter tires fitted.

Associate Editor Joel Stocksdale: I too, adore this little electric car. And what really won me over was how fun it is. The steering is very sharp and the car dives for turns. The torque is giggle-inducing, particularly when spinning out the skinny economy tires. The throttle response is excellent, and with full regen, it’s really easy to balance the car through corners, getting the tail a little farther out off-throttle, and straightening it back out on-throttle. Oh, and it corners quite flatly. It’s just a really entertaining little car. Having a limited slip differential of some sort would be appreciated, though, since it’s really easy to roast the inside tire. Combine all this with great range, a stylish, easy-to-use interior and a funky exterior, and this is probably the EV I would buy.

I also spent time with the Kona Electric during the polar-vortex driven cold snap, so discovered some interesting things about winter EV life. Cold definitely effects range. Without running any sort of climate control, and having the car in normal mode, it showed about a 211-mile range on what appeared to be a full charge. Considering the bitter cold, that actually wasn’t too bad. What also affects range is the climate control, and the effects can be substantial. When I turned on the heat, and kept it on the more economical “Driver Only” setting, the range would drop roughly 20 miles from before switching on the heater. I noticed something similar when I took a Chevy Bolt EV on a long trip, and kept having to keep the defogger on to keep the windows clear in the rain, though not to the same extreme. The weather at the time was far less brutal, too. What doesn’t make a big difference to range is heated seats and steering wheels. So if you’re going to have an EV in a cold climate, definitely option those heated parts, because they could help keep you comfortable and maintain a little more of your range.



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