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Review: 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric


By: Lawrence Ulrich –

What a concept: Driving an electric car without having to cast nervous glances at the battery level, or perform mental gymnastics to know if you can get where you want to go and back again. The Hyundai Kona Electric, with its EPA-affirmed 258 mile driving range, gives its owners a nice long leash—and a reasonably affordable auto loan. That 258-mile range is 20 more than the Chevrolet Bolt offers, a vast 107-mile edge over the Nissan Leaf, and essentially matches the 260 miles of the new “mid-range” Tesla Model 3.

While I was humming to and fro in the Kona last week, Hyundai announced a $37,495 base price for a model that goes on sale in California in January, followed shortly by its arrival in showrooms in Zero Emissions Vehicle-focused states along the West Coast and in the Northeast. (Customers in other states can still special-order their own Kona Electric.) Almost certainly uncoincidentally, $37,495 is exactly the starting price of the Chevy Bolt. As with the Chevy, this luxury-level tab becomes more palatable after a $7,500 federal tax credit, revealing a take-home price of $29,995 for the base model—though Hyundai hasn’t divulged what you’d pay for the top-rank Ultimate version I tested. Based on its equipment levels and Hyundai’s fealty to value, I’m guessing the loaded Ultimate will go for around $36,000, post-credit.

As it happens, I’d been driving a gasoline-powered Hyundai Kona just before switching into the Electric. That fossil-fueled Kona was powered by its optional 1.6-liter turbo four, mated to Hyundai’s mediocre, dual-clutch automated gearbox. And I’m happy to report that the Kona Electric is the more-compelling choice, as long as you’ve got a handy place (or places) to plug in.

The juiced version is quieter and far more energy-efficient, of course, at an EPA-rated 120 mpg-e combined and a respective 130 and 108 mpg-e in city and on the highway. That 120 mpg-e nips the Bolt by one mpg-e, and rips the mere 30 mpg of the most-frugal gasoline Konas. I saw closer to 110 mpg-e during my weeklong test, but that’s still outstanding mileage.

The electric version also feels zippier, with an electric equivalent of 201 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of peak torque, versus just 175 horses and 195 pound-feet for the turbocharged Kona. On paper, the 0-60 mph times—6.4 seconds for the Kona Electric, versus 6.7 seconds for the Kona turbo—don’t seem dramatically different. But on real roads, the Kona Electric’s instant-on torque and single-speed gearbox make it notably more responsive, especially in city and suburban driving.

The standard model’s only real advantage, aside from gas stations stretching as far as the eye can see, is the optional AWD that you can’t have in the front-driven EV version. And honestly, AWD is hardly a priority for nano-scale crossovers like this Kona, which stretches only 164.6 inches—about four inches longer than a Honda Fit hatchback.

The Kona is a reasonably cute little crossover, in that troll-doll way people tend to love or hate. Oddball bits include a four-eyed face with LED running lights stacked above conventional headlamps, though the Electric thankfully ditches the headlamp cladding that’s a literal black eye on the gas version. The EV’s mesh-patterned front fascia, in lieu of the gasoline model’s traditional radiator grille, conceals the charge port and its glowing state-of-charge indicator. My Kona featured snazzy teal paint and a cabin trimmed in EV-customary pale gray and blue, the cool tones implying a world in which planetary temperatures are in check and black coal is forever banished. Hey, an owner can dream...even as she carries a Magic Eraser to scrub any pesky scuff marks inside.

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