Hyundai Kona Electric first drive: Still the electric crossover

(Pocket-lint) – The Hyundai Kona Electric quickly became one of our favourite electric cars following its launch in 2018.

Sitting alongside the Kia Niro, Hyundai offered the Kona in various guises – with hybrid and combustions versions – a strategy that continues in this most recent version.

What the Kona offers is crossover charms with pure electric power – with a range that’s respectable, and prices that are approachable.


The design of the Kona Electric has been simplified slightly over the previous outing. Fundamentally, this is a facelift of the compact crossover, so it’s instantly recognisable as the Kona.

There’s a new front bumper, enclosing the area that previously had a covered grille. The grille remains on the hybrid and combustion version, but the Electric model now gets a better front design, looking a little more refined, a little more loved.

Pocket-lintHyundai Kona Electric photo 14

From the sides the looks are broadly the same, but there are some bodywork changes resulting in a slightly simpler look. Plastic wheel arches and other detailing has been removed from the Kona Electric – while also providing a point of distinction from the combustion models.

The result is a slightly cleaner look, while the regular gas-guzzling Kona perhaps looks a little more rugged with those plastic wheel arch protectors. If nothing else, it’s easy to spot the electric on the road now, thanks to the slight shift in styling.

There are some minor exterior differences between the trim levels offered – SE Connect, Premium, Ultimate, but that mostly amounts to how premium the lower section of the front bumper look. As is often the way with Hyundai, there aren’t a whole world of options, instead with different spec falling into those different trim levels.

Pocket-lintHyundai Kona Electric photo 13

That makes selecting your model easier: we suspect the most popular will be the Premium, which offers a choice of battery sizes, but still comes in at a price that qualifies for the UK’s Plug-in Car Grant, saving you £2500, off the larger 64kWh version.

Minor interior updates

The interior of the Kona Electric hasn’t seen huge changes from the existing model, the largest noticeable difference being the move to a digital driver display – which we’ll talk about in the bit.

The Kona is comfortable and roomy enough in the front, with the rear seats a little more cramped – especially compared to the larger Ioniq 5 which has a higher level of interior, both in terms of quality and design.

The highest level trim gets the options for leather facings and lighter colours, while the lower trims have a black interior, which if nothing else, won’t show up so much muck if you’re transporting a young family around – which many Konas will be.

On the Ultimate trim we tested, there are leather touch points, but fairly wide use of harder plastics, of various textures. As we said, this isn’t out of place given the price of the car – and for those want something superior, the Ioniq 5 is worth a look as an alternative.

Ultimate trim does bring some luxury, with seat heating and cooling for those front seats, however.

Pocket-lintHyundai Kona Electric photo 8

The boot is a little compact offering 332 litres of space, although the rear seats will fold to increase the capacity if needed. For many, as daily run-around, that’s plenty of space for the weekly shop, but broadly aligns with the Citroën ë-C4 and others around this price point.

We will be spending more time with the Kona Electric, so we’ll be expanding on any of the quirks that this interior arises, but it’s pretty much par for the course for Hyundai models in this segment.

Interior technology

One of the interior changes that we mentioned is the digital driver display.

This replaces a display that had a single central dial and gives a lift to the driving experience, although it does seem to be sunken quite deep within the cowl. No matter, it’s clear enough with a left-hand speedo and right-hand power meter.

We like that Hyundai presents plenty of data on this display, like the average mileage you’re achieving from that battery, which will help you get a better picture of how you’re driving.

The centre section allows you to leaf through information, like more data, so there’s a small degree of customisation too. Importantly, it’s all clear enough to understand, which can’t be said about all car displays. As you switch through drive modes it will change colour too, with red for Sport, of course, to make it a little more racy.

The central display is flat, there’s no curving of the cabin towards the driver, with a run of buttons beneath the display to get you to where you want to go – including a customisable button. Two dials mean it’s easy to work with, while also supporting touch, although the volume knob seems a stretch, better placed for the passenger than the driver. Fortunately, there are comprehensive controls on the steering wheel too.

Again there’s easy access to information on how efficiently you’re driving and where the nearest public charger is, but we need to spend a little more time with the Kona to really get to the heart of this system. Some of the graphics look at little dated, but with support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, there’s plenty of flexibility.

We’ll be digging deeper into the technology setup and updating once we’ve spent more time with the car.

Drive and range

With a poke of the D button you will be on your way in blissful silence. Buttons are becoming more common for these drive functions, with gear or drive selectors being replaced with simpler interactions. What’s perhaps strange is that the drive mode selector is right at the back of the centre console alongside the seat heating controls – you have the reach behind you to access it, so it’s not hugely practical while actually driving.

Pocket-lintHyundai Kona Electric photo 20

As before, there are two battery capacities available for the Kona, which plays a big part in dictating the price. The smaller battery is 39kWh and is the only option for the lowest SE Connect trim, paired with a 100kW/136PS motor.

The larger battery is 64kWh and is available as an option for the Premium trim, while also being the size you get on the Ultimate trim – paired with a 150kW/204PS motor, so there is going to be a performance difference between the trims based on the options you choose.

That’s why we suspect the Premium with the 64kWh battery will be the most popular, because it gives you the best performance for the money and will likely offer the same driving experience as the Ultimate.

Pocket-lintHyundai Kona Electric photo 6

We’ve not had the chance to gather extensive real world driving figures, but on our test drive – and from the long-term average from the car – the Kona Electric Ultimate reported around 4.5 miles per kWh. This would equate to a range of 288 miles, against a cited range of 300 miles, which isn’t bad. We suspect we can get it higher with careful driving.

The cited range for the 39kWh battery is 198 miles.

The achievable range will depend on how you drive the car, with Eco and Eco+ modes in place to help you reduce the wonton dispersal of power. At the top Sport level you have the twitchiest throttle response (giving you that 0-62mph time of 7.9 seconds), and the lowest regeneration on lift-off.

Pocket-lintHyundai Kona Electric photo 39

Hyundai offers paddles on the steering column to manually shift the level of regen, so you can be driving in Eco and choose to turn off the regen if you just want to coast down a hill without slowing down. Once you’re in the mindset of how regen works, this makes it really easy to be more engaged with regen, rather than just leaving it all to the car to sort out.

As with other electric cars, the drive is super smooth and from what we’ve experienced of the ride, it’s comfortable too. That was the impression we had of the previous model and we still think that Hyundai has a great formula here, offering practical range and reasonable prices, in a car size that’s hugely popular.

Added to the mix is support for 100kW charging, which while not the fastest out there, will get you back on the road pretty quickly when you hook up to a fast charger.

First Impressions

The Hyundai Kona Electric comes from a strong position, making a number of tweaks in this new version to update the experience over the incumbent. For those with a Kona always, moving to the new model would be very familiar, while the core underpinnings – the options for power and batteries – are very much as they were before.

What’s really changed in the competition: there are many more models to choose from, with cheaper and more compact models like the Mini Electric or Honda E, through to closer rivals like the Vauxhall Mokka-e or Peugeot e-2008.

That’s going to give buyers more choice and that’s never a bad thing – it’s just not as easy a decision when it comes to buying an electric crossover as it was a couple of years ago.

We will be spending more time with the Hyundai Kona Electric in the coming weeks, and we’ll update with more figures and thoughts as soon as possible.

Writing by Chris Hall. Originally published on .

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