2019 Hyundai Kona Electric: Seven Days with Hyundai's EV

It’s the commuter car for the near future.

Todd Lassawriter, photographerThe Manufacturerphotographer

Given the way major automakers load up their product portfolios, the electric-vehicle revolution appears to be about three or four years away. This despite a distinct lack of consumer interest, but the California Air Resources Board's Zero Emissions Mandate and federal and state incentives have pushed what demand there is—to roughly 1.5 percent of the market—while helping build a loyal base of Tesla fans who nevertheless barely make a dent in overall vehicle emissions.

I recently spent a week with one of the most intriguing relatively affordable electric vehicles, a 2019 Hyundai Kona EV. Herewith a few observations about those seven days.

DAY 1

The Kona EV was dropped off at Automobile's Detroit bureau with 4,858 miles on the clock, and about 245 miles of range. This Hyundai is EPA-rated for 258 miles of maximum range on a full charge, with a 120 MPGe rating; compare those to the 240-mile range and 133 MPGe ratings for the Tesla Model 3 in Standard Range Plus guise. (There's also a 220-mile Standard Range Model 3—this is the long-awaited $35,000-ish version—but it must be special ordered.) The Long Range version of the Tesla Model 3 offers a 130-MPGe rating and an impressive range of 310 miles.

My daily commute is mostly along Woodward Avenue, five miles each way, with several stoplights. You can coordinate green lights most of the way by steadily driving the 45-mph speed limit, though not during morning or afternoon commute rush hours.

Backing up our most recent experience with the Kona EV, my first impression is that while it's not the electric sport sedan the Model 3 is, it's plenty fun, and I inadvertently chirp the front tires with hard-throttle launches into afternoon rush hour traffic.

DAY 2

I leave home for the office in the morning with 214 miles of indicated range, 18 miles less than indicated the previous night, after having only driven straight home. A couple of years ago, the Chevrolet Bolt, with its 238-mile range and 119 MPGe rating proved to be the first EV I wouldn't have to plug in at home because there's a Level II charger at the office. Plug it in each workday morning, and it should be fully charged by the time I leave. Hyundai's consumer website says the Kona EV takes nine hours, 35 minutes for a full Level II charge. There's also a 7.2-kW onboard charger under the cargo floor. My '19 Hyundai Kona EV Ultimate FWD wears a bottom-line price of $45,080, with $135 carpeted floor mats the only extra. The base price of the 2019 Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus Is $41,900, while the 310-mile Long Range starts at $49,900.

The 2019 Hyundai Kona EV Ultimate FWD is a pleasant place to be for the morning commute. There are real buttons and dials to use for the radio and the HVAC controls. Unlike the Tesla Model 3, which for about the same price is a much more luxurious, elegant-looking car, the Kona EV isn't overly reliant on touchscreen or voice-command controls. The perforated leather seats are comfortable, if a bit soft and low on support, but they're both heated and cooled in this top trim level. The driver has power lumbar adjustment, though the front passenger's seat does not.

I arrive at the office with five more miles on the clock and five fewer miles range. I plug it in, and four hours later when I leave for lunch, the indicated range is 241 miles. I return with lunch (and after a couple of other errands) with 4,874 miles on the odometer, but down just four miles in range, to 237. I plug it in again, and about four hours later, leave for home with 246 miles of range.

DAY 3

My third day with the Kona is a Saturday—errands day. Not much going on this weekend, because on tomorrow I'm off to Los Angeles for meetings at Automobile/MotorTrend HQ. I didn't charge at home overnight and start the day with 4,879 miles on the odo and 234 miles range. Later I return home with 4,914 miles on the clock and 196 miles indicated range.

Because I'm heading to the airport Sunday and the car will sit in a parking lot for more than 36 hours, I plug the Hyundai Kona EV into my outdoor 110-volt outlet. I like that the Kona EV's charging port is located in a pop-open panel on the driver's side of the grille; it's easier to use and reach with the various charger configurations one sees in the wild than an outlet mounted in one of the quarter-panels.

DAY 4

The long overnight charge juices up the Kona EV to 242 miles, and I leave for Detroit Metro Airport with 4,914 miles on the clock. Being a Sunday, the mostly freeway 27-mile route is fairly clear. On weekday mornings, this route is clogged with Ford Motor Company employees rushing to work. I floor the EV's throttle pedal as I get to the bottom of the on ramp, and the nose lifts a bit as the Kona launches itself forward with a delightful amount of verve.

Around town, the EV's instant-on 291 lb-ft of torque constantly impresses. Handling is decent while the chassis is sufficiently soft, and the regenerative braking generally allows one-foot driving around town in its most aggressive setting—its level is controllable via paddles mounted to the steering wheel—though often requiring a last-minute tap of the brake pedal to stop. Once you get used to the regenerative braking and the quiet, low-key sci-fi-movie-style motor noise, this EV is as seamless a commuter as any gas-powered compact with a CVT.

I go to my usual airport off-site parking lot, though this time I get a space on a row near the front with probably a dozen electrical outlet stands. I fetch the portable onboard charging plug from in back and plug into one of the outlets, but my shuttle bus arrives before I remember to check the dash for remaining range.

DAY 5 (Idle)

Range anxiety as a concern is so 2006 when you use a modern EV as a commuter car. If you have a Level II outlet, you might not often see the range level dip below 150 miles. Think of how often you run an internal-combustion-powered car below 50 miles of range (though, admittedly, even if you do there's a 10-minute-or-less refuel just a gas station away).

DAY 6

I've flown the Monday night redeye from LAX to DTW. When the shuttle bus drops me off at the Kona EV, I'm disheartened to find the car's charger unplugged and on the ground. There are several other EVs and PHEVs and at least one Chevy Volt parked along this small row of outlets, though several outlets are still available. There is no plug from another car in place of the one I used. But when I get in and fire up the electric motor, the dash shows 4,941 miles on the odo, and 249 miles estimated range, three miles short of a max charge. The gauge sorts itself out, and by the time I get home, 27 miles later, estimated range is only 187 miles.

I leave for the office a few hours later and the odo still shows 4,968 miles on the Hyundai Kona EV, but estimated range now is 201 miles. Both numbers change by five when I reach the office; 4,973 miles for the odo and 196 miles for the range. After a few hours' charge at the office, range is up to 260 miles and when I get home seven miles later (including a short errand), there are 4,980 miles on the clock and 275 miles of estimated range, 17 miles above the car's estimated max.

DAY 7

The Kona EV loses one mile of estimated range, to 274, with no charge overnight, and I arrive at Ford in Dearborn for a program describing how that automaker is going to concentrate on hybrids and plug-in hybrids more so than on EVs. There are 4,998 miles on the Hyundai's clock and 235 miles remaining range. Clearly, the 275-ish-mile estimate was overly optimistic, but, hey, 235 miles is very reassuring, even for such a spread-out metro area as Detroit-Dearborn-Ann Arbor.

Sometime during this weeklong loan, I consider the possibility of driving the Hyundai Kona EV to our summer cottage 175 miles northwest of our Metro Detroit home. It's plausible, but only for one direction—and the cabin's fuse box couldn't handle the juice necessary to recharge the Kona EV for the return trip.

The Kona EV sat for about four hours by the time I leave the Ford program in Dearborn, and range is down six miles, to 227, though when I reach home, I've put on 17 miles, but have lost just three miles range, to 224. The next day, the 2019 Hyundai Kona EV is picked up and replaced, with 5,021 miles on the clock and 219 miles range.

Would I own one? Yes, but only in an urban area as a daily driver alongside at least one long-range, gas-powered car, and only at a lower price. If you're willing to forego the head-up display, ventilated and heated leather front seats, smart cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, sunroof, LED headlamps, and eight-way power driver's seat, and take a 7.0-inch touchscreen instead of the 8.0-inch screen with navigation, you can have a Hyundai Kona EV for $37,995 before any tax breaks. Or you can let someone else take the typically hard depreciation hit and buy a used one. That's my kind of commuter car.

2019 Hyundai Kona Electric Ultimate Specifications

PRICE $45,945/$46,080 (base/as-tested)
MOTOR permanent-magnet synchronous AC motor, 201 hp, 290 lb-ft
BATTERY 64-kWh lithium-ion polymer
TRANSMISSION Single-speed reduction gear.
LAYOUT 4-door, 4-passenger, front-motor FWD hatchback
EPA MILEAGE 132/108 MPGe (city/hwy)
EPA RANGE 258 mi
L x W x H 164.6 x 70.9 x 61.2 in
WHEELBASE 102.4 in
WEIGHT 3,700 lb (est)
0-60 MPH 6.5 sec (est)
TOP SPEED 104 mph
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