2019 Hyundai Kona Electric – Road Test Review – By Ben Lewis

We just spent another week in Kona, and although we’re not tan, we can’t wait to go back.

This is our second visit – after our first trip, we came back singing praises for its Island Style, the strong performance, and loads of equipment for the buck. And in many ways the Kona EV is even better.

Slicker and Sleeker

We loved the regular Kona’s style, and it had a tough, aggressive vibe to it. For the EV, Hyundai has decided to go a little more futuristic, a little more upscale. It starts with the grille. Well, it’s a grille imposter, since you don’t really need one. It has a cool cross-hatched pattern, and is home to the flip-out panel that houses the charging points. It’s a sleek front end, and the macho-looking cladding around the lights goes away. This really accentuates the LED daytime running lights, and creates a graceful sweep across the front end.

While the profile looks similar, our tester’s Galactic Grey exterior folds into the fender flares, giving the EV a more upscale look than gas model. While that may be subtle enough for the casual observer to miss, the unique eco-spoke aero-design wheels add an unmistakable futuristic vibe. Out back, the rear features a unique aero-inspired garnish, while the slim LED brake lights look modern and crisp. All in all, Hyundai says the Kona EV has a 0.29 CD, which proves that it’s as sleek to the air as it is to the eye.

Dude, where’s my shift lever?

Inside, the Kona EV will be familiar to those recently in another Kona, or other Hyundai model. While the Kia Soul EV we recently tested made a big effort to look futuristic, with Apple Store white everywhere and fun glowy bits, the Kona is more subdued. The message here is “just like driving any other car”. With its longer range, and desire to lure away drivers of gas-powered vehicles, that makes sense.

The biggest change you’ll notice is the shift lever has been replaced with a quadrant of pushbuttons to punch in the gear. Not only hi-tech, it opens up the center console, making for easier access of everything from the climate controls to cupholders.

In front of the driver is a 7-inch gauge cluster with EV display. It changes with drive mode – we especially liked the Sport mode display, that kind of looks like a tachometer – sporty! Our tester also had a HUD display, and like the Mazda CX-3 we tested it’s a little pop-up plastic screen that serves up useful info, but looks a little gimmicky.

Our appropriately-named Ultimate model, gets the top of the line info-tainment, with an 8-inch color touchscreen, 8-speaker, 315-watt Infinity Premium audio system, navigation, and host of handy EV-related screens for range, charger locations and more. The larger screen works great with the rearview monitor, too.  You also get 3-years of Blue Link Remote, so you can cool or warm you Kona with your smartphone before you get in. Nice.

Like other Kona’s, space is surprisingly good for such a small vehicle – Hyundai made sure the cabin and cargo room stay the same in the conversion to EV. The front seats are notable for their good support. The rear seats will hold 2 adults, and cargo space is reasonable for this size vehicle.

Awesome to Drive

Okay, so far, the EV is a lot like most Kona’s – good design, modern, fresh, lots of goodies. But you’re probably wondering what it’s like to drive. Well, it’s awesome.

Let’s start with the big story – range. Hyundai says the Kona EV has a 258-mile all-electric range, a healthy 20 miles more than the Chevy Bolt. You’ll have to go for a Tesla to get a longer range. Our fully-juiced tester often said an even higher number – once 301 miles! – but that is only an estimate. 258 is safe.

This is an advanced EV system, too. You have both regular and DC fast-charging plugs in the Kona’s nose. Figure a little over 9 hours for a full-charge at home – where an 80% charge at most Chargepoint systems will be only a 1 hour and 15 minutes. With liquid heating and cooling of the battery, Hyundai is so confident of the system it gives it a lifetime warranty.

That great range is due in part to great braking. You have choices of three levels of braking regeneration – accessible through the Kona’s paddle shifters, and the default is at the most aggressive, level 3. At this setting, you enjoy true “one-pedal” driving; ease off the accelerator and the Kona vigorously slows down. It also throws a lot of energy back into the system – in stop and go traffic, you barely see the battery range diminish.

While braking is fun, going is better, and the Kona EV is a rocket. A 201-hp electric motor driving the front wheels is nice, but 291 lb.-ft. of instantaneous torque is terrific. The Kona jumps off the line, and if you’re in Sport mode the little EV is startlingly quick up to and beyond freeway speeds – and yet oh, so quiet.

So quiet in fact, that Hyundai has a cool little party trick – a futuristic-sounding space-ship tone that raises and lowers in pitch with speed emanates inside and out of the vehicle up to about 15 mph. A good idea, as it warns pedestrians, and also sounds very cool from inside the cabin.

The big 64 kwH battery pack sits low in the chassis, and that also makes the Kona a fun handler. While other EV’s make sense to us a good day-to-day choice so you can have some gas-burning monster for the weekends, the Kona EV gave us sports-sedan grins on a daily basis. It’s a win-win.

Another thing we loved; in traffic, the Smart Cruise Control with Stop and Go is perfect for taking the tedium out of the daily commute. Combined with the excellent low-end torque and whisper quiet performance, it’s a relaxing – dare we say Zen? – way to get around. Just dial up your favorite music, and enjoy the drive.

Will I Be Shocked by the Price?

Well, like all EVs, the sticker appears high. But once you add in Federal and State rebates, it gets much better. The Kona EV SEL starts out at $36,450, and that includes the 258-mile range, 17-inch alloy wheels, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and advanced safety tech including Blind Spot Collision Warning, Forward Collision Avoidance Assist, Lane Keeping Assist and Driver Attention Warning.

Step up the Limited trim, and you add goodies including leather seats, sunroof, LED headlight, High Beam Assist and Wireless Device charging. Yours for $41,150.

Out Ultimate tester adds the larger 8-inch touchscreen, heads-up display, heated and cooled front seats, pedestrian detection smart cruise control, and more and rings the bell at $44,650. Add in $1,045 delivery, and we totaled at $45,830.

Currently, you can get up to $7,500 in a Federal EV tax credit, here in California, there’s also up to a $2,500 state credit, so you could knock as much as $10,000 off the sticker.

Range-wise, your choice in competitors are limited. Loading up a Chevy Bolt we were at $44,270. If you want a longer range, that will be a Tesla, but be warned, because of the number of vehicles sold, the rebates are significantly smaller.

If you’re willing to go for less range, there are plenty of choices like the Nissan LEAF 

we tested, and the Kia Soul EV.

In the past, we’ve recommended leasing your EV – there seems to be poor resale as the vehicles get older – partially due to batteries losing range as they get older, and also the fear of having to replace one.  Also, often to meet mandated emission compliance, the manufacturers make great lease deals. That said, with the Kona’s impressively long range, and lifetime battery warranty, this might be a good purchase as well as a lease.

Stylish, fun and fast – with an exceptionally long range, this is an EV a driving enthusiast would really enjoy, and one an EV fan will totally love.

The Hyundai Kona EV is the most appealing EV we have driven.