The Hyundai Kona Electric offers punchy performance, a raised driving position and lots of equipment, but there are more spacious EV alternatives
The Hyundai Kona Electric is significant. Significant, because more and more people are turning their backs on combustion engines, but also because small SUVs are a piping-hot topic. With the Hyundai Kona Electric, you’re getting pure electric power in an SUV package, and it’s not as expensive as you might think.
OK, so it costs more than others Hyundai Konas with petrol and diesel engines further down the range, but next to alternative EVs such as the Nissan leaf, Volkswagen e-Golf and BMW i3, the Kona Electric is temptingly priced.
There are two power outputs to consider when buying a Hyundai Kona Electric – a 39kWh model with 135hp and official range of 180 miles, or a ‘Long-range’ 64kWh version with 204hp and up to 279 miles of range. Then there are three trim levels, SE, Premium and Premium SE, but all Hyundai Kona Electric models benefit from the Government’s £3500 EV grant.
And Hyundai has made the Kona Electric feel like it’s a range-topping model inside. You get a different, raised central console to the one you’ll find in regular Konas, and it looks and feels more premium. The dashboard also gets unique trim inserts, while above sits a 7.0-inch infotainment screen flanked by menu shortcut buttons, which increases to 8.0 inches on more expensive models. All cars, though, get a 7.0inch digital instrument cluster rather than analogue dials, further distinguishing the Kona Electric within the Kona range.
Even so, although the Kona Electric gives the Nissan Leaf a run for its money for wow-factor inside, an e-Golf and i3 both looks and feel more upmarket if that’s what matters to you most.
The Kona Electric’s standard infotainment system is easy to use and comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring – so you can seamlessly use the sat-nav and music apps on your smartphone on the Kona’s screen, as well as viewing a large range of EV-centric power and range info.
It’s worth stepping up to the 8.0-inch display if you can, though. Its graphics are clear and you can swipe through menus like you do on your smartphone. It also comes with a generous seven-year subscription to Hyundai’s live services so the integrated sat-nav can route you around congestion and give live weather updates. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are also included.
Space inside the Hyundai Kona Electric is a mixed bag. On the one hand front passengers benefit from lots of seat adjustment and the driver a wide range of steering wheel adjustment to ensure a comfortable driving position, while space around the seats in the front is impressive.
However, a couple more adults in the back seats won’t be so comfortable as, even if head room is decent, leg room is at more of a premium. In short, both a Leaf and e-Golf will transport rear passengers in more comfort.
And the Kona’s transition to electric power hurts boot space too, so the regular Kona’s already-disappointing 361 litres of space (next to other small SUV efforts) drops to an even tighter 332 litres when you go for an Electric model. At least 60:40 split-folding rear seats still feature as standard to open up the space should you need a run to the rubbish dump.
SE models come with plenty of standard equipment, including 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, air-con, cruise control and rear parking sensors with rear camera. Stepping up to Premium gets you automatic wipers, rear privacy glass, LED rear lights, front and rear parking sensors and an upgraded Krell sound system, while Premium SE models get leather seats all-round with electric front seats, a head-up display, LED headlights and a heated steering wheel.
Every Hyundai Kona Electric gets automatic emergency braking with pedestrian recognition, lane keep assist and tyre pressure monitoring, but Premium and Premium SE models get blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert and lane follow assist to that list.
Petrol and diesel Konas fail to stand out in a crowded class of small SUVs, but this pure electric Kona is different - it offers something unique, and does it well
Like all EVs, the Hyundai Kona Electric is great to drive in town. Performance is punchy, instant and silent, which means darting through traffic is easily done. In fact, even the lesser 39kWh model can crack 0-62mph in 9.7 seconds, while the more powerful 64kWh car races to 62mph in a warm hatch-bothering 7.6 seconds. That’s quicker than both a Nissan leaf and Volkswagen e-Golf, albeit slower than a BMW i3.
You’re able to charge a Hyundai Kona Electric to 80% in just 54 minutes using a 100kW charger – the trouble is, we don’t have any publically available in the UK. In fact, the best we currently have is 50kW, so you’ll have to double that charging time. More common is the 7kW charger, like the one most people have at home. At this rate of charge the wait is far longer: the 39kWh model takes just over six hours to ‘fill’ while the 64kWh car takes nearly 10 hours. Better stick the kettle on. Actually, best just go to bed.
While the Nissan Leaf has its E-Pedal – where the car starts to slow itself gently when you take your foot off the accelerator pedal and in doing so recharges the batteries – the Hyundai Kona Electric has a similar feature but you have to press a button on the steering wheel and it takes a little time getting used to.
In other respects the Hyundai Kona Electric is good rather than great: its steering is nicely weighted, it handles tidily, deals with all but the worst broken roads and keeps most wind and road noise outside at speed. However, a Nissan Leaf feels even more agile, while a Volkswagen e-Golf rides even more comfortably along battered roads, meaning the Kona Electric is by no means the best-driving EV for the money.
So, a Nissan Leaf handles slightly more keenly and has more space, while an e-Golf and i3 both feel more premium inside and have better infotainment systems – although they do cost more to buy. Still, none of these alternatives can claim as impressive a range as the Kona, nor can they offer its chunky SUV styling. All told, it’s well worth investigating if EV motoring works for you.