27 Mar 2019

Hyundai Kona 2019 Range Review

Tested: Is this Australia's best electric car?
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Can you put a price on trying to save the planet?

How much more would you spend to drive a cleaner, greener car? $5000? $10,000? How about $26,990? That’s the price premium of new Hyundai Kona Electric over its petrol-powered version.

That’s a lot of money to pay upfront, even if you’ll ultimately get some of it back by not visiting the service station anymore (though nowhere nearly enough), but that money buys more than just a car.

It may sound dramatic but in the Kona Electric you are buying into an idea, that zero emissions motoring is better for the planet. That’s what Hyundai believes and why it is offering the battery-powered Kona even though it knows it won’t make a big difference to its sales numbers; Hyundai believes it sends a message to the world that it’s serious about trying to make a difference and getting on the front foot as we shift into an electric future.

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Is the Hyundai Kona right for me?

Hyundai Australia knows customers for the electric Kona will be very different to the petrol version. But it is confident there are enough people looking to make the switch to an electric car that justifies offering it locally.

By putting an electric powertrain into an SUV body it adds to the appeal, given how popular high-riding models are these days in all shapes and sizes, so that should help broaden its audience slightly.

Who exactly is willing to pay more than $60k for a compact Hyundai remains to be seen, but the long delays of the Tesla Model 3 (which is also likely to be more expensive) creates a gap in the market for the South Korean brand. As does the fact the Kona EV offers more than double the range of the similarly priced BMW i3. So for those looking for an electric vehicle and not put off by spending so much for a car wearing a Hyundai badge, it has appeal.

What does the 2019 Hyundai Kona cost?

Hyundai is offering two trim grades of the Kona Electric - Elite and Highlander. The Elite starts at $59,990 plus on-road costs and Highlander is priced from $64,490 (plus on-roads), which is not only more than $25k on top of the Kona powered by the 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine, but positions it as the most expensive model in the Hyundai range.

The previous record holder was the full-size, seven-seater Santa Fe Highlander that starts at $60,500 (plus on-road costs).

Compared to the electric competition it looks better though. The Hyundai Ioniq Electric is cheaper, starting at $44,490, as is the Renault Zoe, which is priced from $51,990 based on a more compact city car than the Kona.

The BMW i3 is similar in size but is more expensive, starting at $68,700.

The Nissan Leaf small car will be cheaper than the Kona, priced from $49,990, but it doesn’t go on sale in Australia until August and can’t match the Hyundai’s range.

Another would-be rival is the Model 3, but Tesla is yet to confirm pricing for the compact sedan or an exact on-sale date locally other than “mid 2019” so it’s hard to know how it stacks up to the Hyundai.

What is the Hyundai Kona's interior like?

Hyundai made a concerted effort to give the Kona Electric a different look and feel compared to the petrol version. Inside that means a new ‘bridge’ centre console that stretches from the dashboard fascia to the lidded box between the front seats.

It houses the new ‘shift-by-wire’ gear selector buttons and electric parking brake, but also adds more small item storage underneath the ‘bridge’.

While a relatively minor change in some respects, it does help make the Kona EV feel different and a bit more special than the standard model.

How much space does the Hyundai Kona have?

Because it’s based on the same basic underpinnings, instead of a bespoke EV platform, Hyundai wasn’t able to take advantage of the packaging advantages offered by a typical electric car.

So the space in the Kona EV is the same as the petrol version, which is to say fine up front but a bit tight for adults in the back given its compact dimensions.

The only notable change is a slight reduction in boot capacity, 332-litres in the electric compared 361-litres in the petrol Kona.

What's the Hyundai Kona's tech like?

The Kona EV comes standard with a digital display in the instrument panel to monitor the car’s various electrical systems. It also is equipped with an 8.0-inch infotainment screen that incorporates navigation, digital radio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and an eight-speaker Infinity-branded sound system.

The Highlander adds head-up display and a wireless smartphone charging pad, which is a nice hi-tech touch.

How reliable is the 2019 Hyundai Kona?

While the Kona is already an established model, the technology of the electric powertrain is new. But given Hyundai’s reputation for reliability in recent years there’s no reason to doubt the long-term prospects of the Kona Electric.

How safe is the Hyundai Kona?

Thankfully the price includes a full suite of safety features, not just passive systems which include airbag protection for all occupants, but all the latest active items too.

Both the Elite and Highlander come with Hyundai’s SmartSense package that includes forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control.

What is the Hyundai Kona's warranty like?

One of the reasons we’re confident in the reliability of the Kona EV is Hyundai’s standard five-year warranty that covers the car, plus the brand’s decision to add an eight-year warranty specifically for the battery.

What are the on-going costs for the Hyundai Kona?

With less oily bits under the bonnet servicing costs are lower. So Hyundai Australia is offering lifetime capped price servicing with a flat $165 fee for its annual check-up.

Is the 2019 Hyundai Kona range good value for money?

Regardless of equipment levels and high-tech powertrain it’s hard to say a compact SUV costing more than $60,000 on-road is good value. The electric Highlander is nearly double the price of its petrol-powered equivalent, so as mentioned at the start the idea of buying the Kona for financial reasons is misguided.

What's under Hyundai Kona's bonnet?

A permanent magnet synchronous electric motor takes the place of the petrol engine and is paired to a 64kWh lithium-ion battery. Making 150kW of power and 395Nm of torque the motor endows the Kona EV with plenty of punch for a compact SUV, even if the electric drivetrains adds almost 400kg of weight over the petrol Kona.

That’s a lot of extra heft to pull along but with the instant torque characteristics of the electric motor the Kona builds speed really effortlessly when you put your foot down. While hardly a sports car, the Kona can manage the 0-100km/h sprint in 7.6secs, which is sprightly for a compact SUV weighing 1600kg.

The electric drivetrain does make some interesting noises too. There’s the typical EV whirring when on the move but at low speed there’s a soft humming noises that almost sounds melodic; it’s particularly noticeable outside the car.

How much fuel does the Hyundai Kona use?

Hyundai claims a 449km range for the Kona EV, using the new WLTP cycle. That’s an impressive distance given the Ioniq has a real world distance of approximately 230km, the i3 is rated a 200km and the new Leaf at 270km.

It puts it on par with bigger, more expensive EVs such as the Tesla Model S and Model X as well as the Jaguar I-Pace.

The catch is if you do deplete the batteries you will be facing a long wait to replenish them if you don’t have a fast charging system. Using a 240-volt outlet it takes more than nine hours to recharge the batteries.

If you can access a 100kW fast charger you can go from empty to 80 per cent in just 54 minutes, while using a 50kW fast charger that same regeneration takes 75 minutes.

What's it like to drive the Hyundai Kona?

Typically car makers try to play to a car’s strengths when they select a route for us to sample it for the first time, and while the Kona EV is arguably best suited as a city runabout, Hyundai let us explore the Adelaide Hills.

That gave a chance to prove the range of the little machine, but it also exposed its true driving character - for better or worse. The Kona wasn’t the benchmark compact SUV for dynamics before it added its battery weight, but all things considered it does a commendable job and makes for an easy EV to live with around town.

The biggest challenge the Kona Electric has is coping with all the extra weight. The suspension hardware is taken from the all-wheel drive petrol Kona, even though the EV is front-wheel drive, which means it has the more sophisticated multi-link rear end set-up. That has allowed the local engineering team to fine-tune the ride and handling but it’s still fighting the laws of physics.

It feels stiffer than the petrol version, in a bid to try and keep the weight under control, which is does for the most part, but that does mean a more temperamental ride over patchy roads.

The bigger issue for anyone looking to punt along the Kona EV on a twisty road are the tyres. The Nexen brand eco-friendly tyres are designed to reduce rolling resistance at the expense of grip, which means the rubber gives up before the chassis does. What makes it more disappointing is the Ioniq features similar eco-friendly tyres, but are sourced from Michelin which provide superior grip and would undoubtedly suit the Kona EV better.

Those are relatively minor criticisms in the grand scheme of things. In terms of its everyday role, the Kona is zippy and agile in traffic and its range means most owners could do a week’s worth of commuting on a single charge.

One interesting element of the Kona, which it shares with the Ioniq, is steering wheel-mounted paddles that allow you to adjust the regenerative braking force on the move. Other EVs including Tesla and the Jaguar I-Pace allow you to make a similar adjustment but only through a menu screen on the infotainment system. By adding the paddles - and four-levels of regenerative power - Hyundai gives the driver more flexibility.

It means, for example, when you’re in heavy traffic you can put the system up to its strongest setting to harvest as much energy has possible and use the brake pedal less. Then when you’re on a freeway you can hit the paddles down to the weakest force and allow the motor to cruise more easily.

They aren’t functional when you hit the brake pedal or when you have cruise control active, but for owners who embrace them it’s a simple piece that will allow them to extract the most range and best driving character out of the car.

How does the 2019 Hyundai Kona compare to the competition?

This is a hard question to answer because the Kona’s competition is hard to pin down. It may cost as much as a Santa Fe but it’s highly unlikely anyone will be cross-shopping the pair.

As mentioned earlier there are cheaper rivals, including the Ioniq, Zoe and Leaf, but all three are more traditional small car bodystyles rather than SUVs. The likes of the I-Pace and Model X offer similar range but better performance and more range, however, they come at a significant price premium.

The BMW i3 is arguably the closest in terms of looks and size but the BMW badge will be a lure for some, despite the arguably superior technical specifications of the Hyundai.

Perhaps Hyundai’s best chance for now is to target disgruntled or impatient Tesla Model 3 wanna-be owners by presenting the Kona EV as a here-and-now option with excellent range for a similar or even lesser price.

TMR's Verdict:

There is no escaping the cost of the Kona EV will narrow its market massively. But by the same token its excellent range, easy performance and SUV styling also helps make it an appealing option for anyone with the money to spend and a determination to go zero-emission.

That, though, requires true believers. It needs people who believe switching to an EV will help make a difference to the planet or even just their impact on it.

In many ways the Kona Electric is a great car, as long as you’re willing to pay the price.

 

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