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2019 Kona Electric first drive: As sure a thing as you’re going to get!

Hyundai Kona Electric
Photo: B.Charette
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Benoit Charette
We also discover the Hyundai Nexo hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle

Los Angeles, California — Every time we review a new electric vehicle, we note a few steps forward in terms of refinement and battery range. The arrival of the Kona was long-anticipated, especially as Hyundai had let it be known right from the debut of the combustion-engine version of its new crossover that an electric variant would follow. In the end, it took only a few months.   

415-km range
The Kona scores two big points right out of the box: first, it’s the first fully electric SUV sold in Canada, and second it’s the first vehicle introduced by a major automaker with a range that surpasses 400 km – 415 km to be exact. Given that Statistics Canada estimates that Canadians drive on average 23 km per day, this means that the average Kona Electric owner will only have to recharge his vehicle once every two weeks. Can we agree that this might do away with dead-battery anxiety once and for all?

Photo: B.Charette

Some visual differences
The internal combustion-engine Kona and its new electric sibling are built on the same foundation. But the front end of the Kona electric sports a front grille with, well, no grill. In the front right corner, meanwhile, sit two inputs for charging the batteries via either 110-, 220- or 400-volt outlets.

(Note that it will take you over 30 hours to charge fully if you plug your Kona into a regular wall outlet. A 220-volt, 30-amp outlet cuts that to 9.5 hours, and using 400-volt charging station gives you an 80% charge in 54 minutes.)

Also distinct are the alloy wheels, designed to offer less air resistance. Not visible but also notable is the more-aerodynamic underside of the vehicle, which allowed Hyundai to improve the drag coefficient from 0.34 on the regular Kona to 0.29 on the Electric.
The 64-kWh electric motor can produce 201 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque. This power is managed by a single-gear transmission.

Photo: B.Charette

Two versions
Starting in January 2019, Canadian consumers will be able to choose from among two versions of the Kona Electric. The base-model Preferred comes with the full range of electronic safety and drive assist features, and includes the navigation system as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

Buyers will have to move up to the Ultimate version if they want leather seats (available in dual-tone leather at no extra cost). This trim gets an 8-inch touchscreen instead of 7-inch, as well as a power sunroof and an upgraded audio system. Also included is a head-up display, though it’s a Mazda-style one with the transparent plastic screen that frankly looks a little bargain-basement.

But really, that’s a minor drawback, one of the few I noted. Overall, the instrument cluster is clean and clear, supplying all the relevant info in a straightforward way. The floating console is a bit on the big side, but it is practical just the same.

Because the battery pack is placed under the vehicle floor, there’s no compromise in terms of interior space. The rear bench can comfortably seat two adults, and it has the same cargo space as the regular Kona. Total volume with the seats up is 544 litres, and 1,297 with them folded down. The only small difference has to do with the very slightly raised floor to allow for the placement of the batteries, but it really has no impact on the interior environment.

Photo: B.Charette

Over 470 km
On our departure for our semi-urban itinerary from the Sunset Marquis in Beverly Hills, the trip odometer in our Kona Electric read 473 km. The folks at Hyundai had explained that the vehicle adapts to the driver’s driving style and regulates the battery charge accordingly. Which means that if you drive real stingy-like in terms of energy use, a full charge can carry you somewhere in the vicinity of 500 km; on the other hand, that can shrink to less than 400 km if you drive more aggressively. So the evidence told us our predecessor in the car was an exemplary electric-car driver!

When traveling at under 15-20 km/h in in the Kona Electric, the vehicle emits a subtle musical sound, which is designed to alert pedestrians of its presence.

4 drive modes
Once out on the road, drivers can choose between four drive modes: Eco, Eco+, Normal and Sport. As explained to us by Hyundai’s engineer for the model, Eco+ is really an emergency-only mode; when it’s activated all systems are deactivated, including the climate control, engine response is limited in order to maximize remaining range, and top speed is limited to 90 km/h. If you’re not sure you’re going to have enough juice to get to destination, in other words, Eco+ is your friend, but other than that it won’t be used.

For everyday driving, Eco mode offers a comfortable, responsive ride while optimizing energy efficiency. It allows for heating or ventilating the seats, and use of the climate control system. Normal mode is not very different, actually, and doesn’t much penalize the driver in terms of total range. It’s the default mode when you turn on the car.

Sport mode transforms the Kona Electric into a more sporty vehicle, for example by giving the steering more bite. But it also slices around 25 km off the battery range. Using this mode in the part of the drive that took us through Malibu’s canyon roads gave us the opportunity to appreciate how well the Kona enjoys that kind of drive.

Photo: B.Charette

Another way for the driver to manage the ride – and energy consumption - is to use the paddles mounted on the steering wheel. These provide access to four levels of regenerative braking. The higher the number, the more regeneration takes place. When descending a hill or in city traffic, it’s possible to add several kilometres of charge to the battery this way.

Overall, we were pleasantly surprised by the handling and performance of the Kona Electric. Another result of the placement of the battery pack under the floor is that the vehicle has a very low centre of gravity. This tends to minimize roll when first getting moving, and so the suspension has been designed to offer equal amounts of roll control and comfort. And then there’s the added assurance of the drive and the steering in Sport mode. The Kona attacks corners with gusto, and acceleration is such that it even made the tires screech when departing from a traffic light. This is no sports car, let’s be clear, but its driving dynamics are certainly less dull than what you get from a Bolt or a LEAF.

Though Hyundai has not announced pricing for the Kona Electric, we know that the model will be competing directly with Chevrolet’s Bolt, which goes for between $40,000 and $45,000. We expect the Kona will come in around that range as well. Hyundai also promised that buyers (most of whom will probably be in B.C. and Quebec) won’t be kept waiting too long for delivery. For that, we can ironically thank Doug Ford’s government in Ontario, which has abolished the electric-car subsidy program. As sales inevitable decline in that province, more EVs will be available for the Quebec and B.C. markets. As mentioned, we expect the first units to arrive at dealerships beginning in January 2019.

Drive comfort
Dynamic engine
Battery range
Efficient regenerative braking system

Sound insulation could be
Ergonomics of the dashboard
Head-up display not the best we’ve seen

Hyundai Nexo
Hyundai Nexo
Photo: B.Charette

The Hyundai Nexo
And now for something (almost) completely different. Hyundai also presented the Nexo, a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle that will actually be sold to consumers - also as of January 2019. Able to drive 600 km on a full tank of hydrogen, the car has technology that represents another vision of the powertrain of tomorrow.

Hyundai is the first automaker to make such a vehicle available for purchase, and it also happens to be the first manufacturer to offer all four types of clean-energy vehicles currently possible on the market. The IONIQ model comes in hybrid, plug-ion hybrid and all-electric formats, the Kona is now going to be offered as an electric vehicle, and the Nexo will run on hydrogen fuel cells.

You have to hand it to Hyundai for being ready to plow ahead with this cutting-edge project. The first hydrogren re-filling station is not even expected in Quebec until the start of 2019 (one will be installed in Montreal, the other in Quebec City).

Hyundai Nexo
Hyundai Nexo
Photo: B.Charette

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2019 Hyundai Kona Electric photos
Benoit Charette
Benoit Charette
Automotive expert
  • More than 30 years of experience as an automotive journalist
  • More than 65 test drives last year
  • Attended more than 200 new vehicle launches in the presence of the brand's technical specialists