2019 Hyundai Kona Electric: Good EVs Are No Longer Shocking

CURRENT NON-EVENT Despite its impressive range of 258 miles, Kona proves how humdrum EVs can be.
CURRENT NON-EVENT Despite its impressive range of 258 miles, Kona proves how humdrum EVs can be. Photo: Hyundai

NO DRAMA. No CEO sleeping at the factory, no media circus. The 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric—a winsome little crossover with an estimated 258 miles of range, expected to be priced under $30,000 with tax credits—will arrive quietly at California dealerships by year’s end, where I expect it will be devoured on sight.

The Kona Electric marks a point in technical history we all knew car makers would reach, when executing a competent, long-range EV would be not just doable but relatively straightforward. This maturation can be seen in the Electric’s liquid-cooled, 356-V, 64-kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack that’s layered between the floor boards. Weighing fewer than 1,000 pounds and assembled from what are effectively off-the-shelf pouch cells from LG Chem, the pack exhibits an energy density of 64.2 Wh/lb, superior to that of the Chevy Bolt, which arrived only two years ago with the ballyhoo of a moon landing.

Thus provisioned, Hyundai’s mini-ute outdistances the Bolt (238 miles), the Jaguar I-Pace (234) and even comes within a whisker of Tesla’s base Model 3 (260). The affrontery, the cheek!

The Prosaic Plug-in

Dan Neil takes a closer look at the 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

The Hyundai Kona Electric compact crossover the company’s first long-range EV, able to travel an estimated 258 miles between charges. Built in Ulsan, South Korea, the Electric is due in California dealerships in the first part of 2019, with later deliveries planned for ZEV states.

Kona’s high-voltage battery pack ticks a lot of boxes, actually. It has an unusually robust (costly/elaborate) liquid cooling circuit to protect the battery. As one measure of how far it all has come in so short a time, Hyundai Motor America offers a lifetime warranty on the battery.

Plug-wise, the Electric is equipped with an onboard 7.2 kW inverter for Level 2 charging, with capacity of up to 70-75 kW at a DC fast charging station with the SAE-Combo plug—if you can find one. At that rate, the Electric’s battery can go from dead-flat to 80% charge in about 54 minutes.

I know, it’s unexpected, and the Hyundai execs at a driving event in Los Angeles three weeks ago were beaming at the prospect of their brand being lofted upon the same greenie pedestal as Tesla. But the fact is, now, any global original equipment manufacturer (OEM) can build winning, livable EVs, and it doesn’t have to reinvent the battery to do it.

And it’s so weirdly adorable, like a Sony Aibo robot dog you can ride. A near identical twin of the internal-combustion (IC) version, the Electric’s distinguishing feature is its strange, future-signaling plastic nose, with a concealed door for the charge port, which allows nose-in parking for charging. Certainly no one will launch ships on account of that face, but it’s cute and aero efficient. Also, I’d like to report a knife fight at the back end of this car. The cutlines go everywhere.

The interior is modestly, even conservatively styled, but full of nice details—a three-tier dash design with handsomely textured soft-touch materials; a high-res touch screen on the center stack; and, the conversation piece, the broad, gently banked center console for the gear selector and two huge cupholders, with concealed storage underneath. Among the gizmo-tech are standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, as well as Blue Link, which effectively turns your phone into your car’s remote control.

Under the hood—in the same place as the IC engine in conventional Konas, right down to the bolt holes and mounting points—is an AC synchronous motor producing 150 kW (201 hp) and 393 Newton-meters (290 lb-ft) of softly whining torque. For comparison, that’s 54 hp and 158 lb-ft more than the base Kona with the 2.0-liter, so at the least the Electric is the performance upgrade. The e-motor drives the front wheels through a single-speed reduction gear set.

Now, any reasonably competent car maker can build winning, livable EVs. That’s good news for drivers.

Nail the right pedal, and it accelerates like it’s shot out of tiny, adorable cannon. But that 0-60 mph acceleration of 7.6 seconds is actually highly traction-limited, on account of the pretty useless tires up front, which chirrup and squeal even beyond the interventions of traction control whenever pressed.

Still, acceleration is strong and stays strong at interstate speeds, where the Electric hums along serenely. I can confirm a top speed of 104 mph, with an executive white-knuckling it in the back seat.

The Kona with the IC engine and the Electric share the same unit-body, with the same MacPherson struts up front and multi-link in the rear. But the EV version’s center of gravity is almost 3 inches lower, which means its suspension must have been drastically retuned for the application. In any event, the Kona EV absolutely slaloms through the curves, very level, drivable and obedient, up until you start taxing the aforementioned useless tires.

A fine piece. You would think Hyundai would want to make a big deal of the Electric, but the execs I spoke to were positively diffident about where, when and how much of marketing to put behind it. Sales will commence first in California, where the company needs the clean-air credits most then broaden to eastern ZEV states. Who knows when it will reach the wider U.S. market, and in how many numbers.

OK, so maybe a little drama.

2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

2019 Hyundai Kona Electric: Good EVs Are No Longer Shocking
Photo: Hyundai

Base Price: $37,500 (est.) before $7,500 federal tax credit

Price as Tested: $41,000 (est.)

Powertrain: Battery-electric vehicle powertrain, with 150 kW AC synchronous motor; 25.4 kVA/liter inverter; 356-V, 64 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack single-speed reduction gearset; front-wheel drive

Power/Torque: 150 kW (201 hp)/393 Nm (290 lb-ft)

Length/Width/Height/Wheelbase 164.6/70.9/61.2/102.4 inches

Curb Weight: 3,715 pounds

EPA Fuel Economy: 120 MPG-e combined

Cargo Capacity: 19.2/45.8 cubic feet, rear-seat-backs up/folded

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