Hyundai Kona Electric review: top of the mass-market EV tree?

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Hyundai has been criticised by some as a slow-adopter of the battery electric vehicle, and there’s plenty of evidence to support that claim. Back in 2015 the company made its first foray into EV’s, but sold just 180 electric cars that year. Compare that to more than 15,000 LEAFs and Volts from the same year and it’s pretty apparent the Korean auto giant was lagging far behind its competition. Heck, Porsche sold more million-dollar, 918 hybrid hypercard that year than Hyundai did $30,000 EVs. It wasn’t until late in 2016, at the Los Angeles auto show, that the company said it was going to start focusing on alternative ways to power its cars.

But that was three years ago, and since then the company has introduced hybrid variants of the Ioniq and Sonata, the hydrogen-powered Nexo and, most recently, a fully-electric version of the Kona crossover. And though Hyundai’s EV history is short, the initially hesitant company has made major headway in that time.

This $45,000, Sonic Silver Hyundai Kona EV showed up on yet another gloomy June morning in SoCal – summer should have started weeks ago, but everyone in the Borrow office still keeps their sweaters at the ready. Stepping into it for the first time, that dollar figure feels like a lot of money for an interior that’s relatively unattractive – five different types of  scratchy plastics smother the dash, doors and center console. The buttons and surfaces range in color from dark drab gray to light drab gray. It doesn’t help that the only two surfaces covered in leather – the seats and the steering wheel – aren’t what you’d call premium, either.

The cabin, for all its lack of excitement and luxury, is a capacious place to sit. There’s room for four decently sized people inside and the heated and ventilated front seats are a nice touch – though ventilation is an option only available on this top-level, Ultimate trim. The view over the dash is clean, the scuttle low for a car of this type and the short hood makes it easy to see where the front of the car ends. That means no excuses for bad parking jobs. 

This car’s German competition – that is, the Volkswagen e-Golf – has a nicer inside for about $14,000 less than this particular Kona, but there are a number of caveats. First, it’s base price of $37,495 puts it on par with the baby Tesla Model 3 before savings. A federal tax credit further cuts the cost of the Hyundai $7500. Next factor in that the Kona’s 258 mile range is better than that of both the e-Golf and the cheapest Model 3 and this EV starts to make sense as a mass-market player. Skip the spinning rims and the Kona Electric represents one of the best dollar-for-dollar values on the market – and that’s before you drive it. 

The cloud cover didn’t forbear any inclement weather, so we took the Kona through our usual test route: the streets of West Hollywood. Though terribly maintained and flooded with other cars, both Santa Monica and Sunset Boulevard quickly sort the hard riders from the softies, and this Kona is a sweet spot right in the middle of those two extremes. The ride is quiet aside from the soon-to-be-mandated noise the car emits when moving below 18 mph. The electric motor in the Kona makes 201 horsepower and healthy 291 lb-ft. of torque and setting off immediately reveals the now familiar benefits of electric powered cars – that instant acceleration. In normal mode driving and coasting around town is like wafting from stoplight to stoplight. Put it into sport and power seemingly jumps, giving just the right amount of grunt to scoot you through closing gaps and execute the occasional overtake. 

The June gloom didn’t make for the prettiest of pictures, but in the right light our Sonic Silver tester isn’t a bad looking car. It’s subdued from all angles, and the grill on the front of the normal Kona has been replaced with a charging port that includes a handy battery charge level meter. Hyundai says the Kona EV will go from flat to a full charge in just over 9 hours, but with the help of a Level III 50kw fast charger, that number tumbles to just 75 minutes – not bad.

In truth, the city is where this little crossover will spend most of its time. The range isn’t such that it’ll go from Los Angeles to San Francisco on a single charge and it’s not going to win any drag races any time soon. That means that everything the Kona EV has to do – zip in and out of side streets and parking lots, ride well, be quiet and go an ample distance on a single charge – is taken care of beautifully. If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to get into an EV, this Kona Electric might just sell you on them for good.

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