Hyundai zaps the funky Kona, creating an electric car with segment leading range

General Motors hyped the Chevrolet Bolt EV for years, promising (and delivering) an affordable long-range electric vehicle made for the masses. By contrast, Hyundai’s muted debut of the superior 2019 Kona Electric allowed this impressive electric vehicle to sneak up on everybody.
Why use superlatives to describe the Kona Electric? How does 258 miles of range sound?
That’s more than the Chevy Bolt EV, and lots more than the Nissan Leaf, even the one with the optional battery. But, you’re going to need to live in a place where EVs are popular and where zero-emission vehicle mandates are in place, because the Kona Electric is not a 50-state vehicle. At least, not yet.
Unfortunately for many Americans interested in owning a long-range electric car, global demand for this little guy is hot, and Hyundai can only send so many of them to the U.S. market. They start arriving early in 2019, with pricing to be set closer to their arrival.
It has no grille, for example. Instead, a subtle mesh graphic gives the car’s body-color face some texture. Designers also added lower body and lighting detail inspired by electrical circuitry. And, of course, aerodynamic wheel designs are present and accounted for. The aim was to give the Kona Electric a ‘solid-state’ look and feel, according to Hyundai.
Inside, the Kona’s shifter and console are gone, replaced by a bridge console design with electronic shift-by-wire transmission controls. I wasn’t a fan of the transmission buttons, but I also spent no more than an hour driving the Kona Electric. Perhaps owners will acclimate and, ultimately, have no trouble with the design.
Unique instrumentation conveys data about the electric drivetrain, and the Kona Electric comes with special Blue Link services related to vehicle charging, cabin pre-conditioning, finding charging stations, and more. Impressively, Blue Link services are free for three years, and the Kona Electric in Limited or Ultimate trim comes with an 8-speaker Infinity premium sound system with Clari-Fi music restoration technology.
Three trim levels are available: SEL, Limited, and Ultimate. The test vehicle had Ultimate trim, including leather-wrapped, heated and ventilated front seats as well as a heated steering wheel. Front seat comfort was good, but as is true of the standard Kona, the rear seat is tight for adults.
Cargo space measures 19.2 cubic feet behind the rear seat, more than any vehicle in the segment except for the Nissan Leaf. The Kona’s rear seat folds flat in order to expand utility.
What differentiates the Kona Electric is its engineering. This is a long-range electric vehicle, built to travel 258 miles on a full battery charge. By eliminating the phenomenon known as “range anxiety,” which is that sense of dread EV owners feel when their battery is running low on juice and it’s not a certainty that they’ll make it home, Hyundai makes the Kona Electric mighty appealing.
A liquid-cooled, 64 kWh lithium-ion battery with a lifetime warranty powers a 150 kW electric motor. Total system output measures 201 horsepower and 291 lb.-ft. of torque, which is plenty to motivate the Kona Electric’s 3,800-pound curb weight. Acceleration to 60 mph takes 7.6 seconds, the car can achieve a top speed of 104 mph, and the EPA estimates it will get 120 MPGe in combined driving.
One pedal driving is possible using the left steering wheel paddle. Pull and hold, and the car generates 0.25g of regenerative deceleration force, activating the brake lights and bringing the Kona Electric to a stop. An Auto Hold button on the center console will then keep the car still until it’s time to go again.
FOLLOW DAILY NEWS AUTOS ON FACEBOOK. "LIKE" US HThree Drive Mode Select settings are available: Eco, Normal, and Sport. Eco maximizes regenerative coasting, while Sport emphasizes speedy acceleration. If you press and hold the Drive Mode Select button, you can activate the Eco+ setting, which is designed to maximize range for those times when you may be fretting about how much juice is left in the battery.
When the time comes to recharge the car, pop open the SAE combination port on the Kona Electric’s grille and plug it in. Fast-charging compatibility is standard for this car, allowing it to soak up an 80% battery charge in less than an hour. If the car is programmed to charge only when electricity rates are lower, you can quickly and easily override this using a button on the port.
Charging overnight using a 240-volt home charging station, the Kona Electric goes from no charge to full charge in less than 10 hours. You can also plug the car into a standard household electrical outlet, but that will naturally take much longer in terms of recharging time.
Stomp on the Kona Electric’s accelerator pedal, and this EV gleefully spins its front tires. Even when dipping less aggressively into the power, I still had trouble maximizing traction. No doubt, this car’s owners are going to have a blast surprising their fair share of fellow drivers with the EV’s impressive acceleration, but the Kona Electric would be even more fun if it had all-wheel drive.
With nearly 1,000 pounds of battery nestled within the Kona Electric’s chassis, and the necessary structural and safety upgrades required for it, it should come as no surprise to learn that this EV drives like a slot car, as though it is magnetized to the road. Standard 17-inch wheels with 215/55 tires help, but the main contributor to this sensation is the car’s dense mass for its size coupled with its low center of gravity.
Choppy best describes the Kona Electric’s ride and handling, though, even with its sophisticated MacPherson strut front and multi-link independent rear suspension. Hyundai says it tuned the car’s components specifically for “refined body movement on a variety of surfaces,” but on anything but smooth pavement the car rocked and rolled.
Switching from Hyundai’s Nexo fuel-cell electric vehicle into the Kona Electric, I found the steering to be a little rubbery. Torque steer under acceleration, combined with an eagerness to return to center, helped to magnify this impression. However, with more time at the helm I’d bet this sensation would fade.
Driven in Eco mode, the regenerative coasting is rather aggressive. Driven in Sport mode, the Kona Electric’s accelerator pedal is almost too responsive. That’s why I preferred Normal mode.
I also preferred using the one-pedal driving function. In my opinion, it adds greater driver involvement in the act of driving, in the same way a manual gearbox does in a gasoline car. You need to learn when to use it by knowing your speed and gauging distances, and it’s an enjoyable challenge to bring the Kona Electric to a stop without leaving a big gap or needing to use the brake pedal.
A Chevrolet Bolt EV in LT trim and equipped with DC Fast Charging and both Driver Confidence Packages (all of the driver assistance and collision avoidance technology that comes standard on the Kona Electric) is priced at $39,790.
A Nissan Leaf in SV 40 kWh trim with a Technology Package (safety tech) runs $35,575 – and that’s the price with the standard battery and 108 fewer miles of range in comparison to the Kona Electric.
Let’s not forget the Tesla Model 3, promised to start at around $35,000 and still unavailable in bare bones, standard-battery specification. Considering that Tesla must start winding down the federal tax credits that help to make EVs more affordable, the shapely Model 3 isn’t quite as competitive as it might have been.
My guess is that the Kona Electric will start at around $38,000 in SEL trim, rising to $44,000 in Ultimate trim. Hyundai will want the car to remain competitive with the more powerful version of the Leaf that’s coming soon, while delivering a clear value proposal in comparison to the well-known Chevrolet.
Having driven all three of these vehicles, that guesstimated strategy would work well. The Nissan Leaf is OK, amounting to a half-hearted upgrade to an older and rather awkward design. The Chevy Bolt EV looks and feels futuristic, clearly different from any other car in the company’s lineup – and in a good way.
Hyundai’s scrappy new Kona Electric is a clean and green version of an existing car, but it delivers the best driving range and potentially the best value in what many people might consider to be the best-looking package.

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