Variant: Highlander EV
Engine/Transmission: Single electric/Single speed reduction gear
Manufacturer Claimed Range: 484km
Price: Around $65k
IN A NUT SHELL:
A cracking electric vehicle at a price that, while not cheap, represents reasonable value in the EV space.
With Hyundai’s Kona EV we are starting to see the proliferation of affordable (well, sort of affordable) fully electric cars. Forget your 1000hp, headline grabbing Tesla or Porsche Taycan – cars like this Hyundai are what most of us will end up driving when we make the switch to EV.
Putting aside some minor bit players, like MG’s ZS EV and BYD’s Atto 3, Hyundai’s Kona range represents one of the cheapest ways to get into fully electric wheels while maintaining a mainstream badge on the steering wheel.
At around $55k, the standard range Kona EV is competing with its stablemate, the IONIQ. Splitting the two really just comes down to personal taste – hatchback in the case of the IONIQ and mini-SUV in the case of the Kona.
Coughing up for the extended range and luxury spec Highlander badge sees the challengers step it up a notch with the rather excellent Polestar 2 and the ubiquitous Tesla Model 3 competing for your hard earned. Unlike the bare bones Polestar and Model 3, spending big on the little Hyundai brings all the bells and whistles.
Along with everything that you would expect to be included in a $65k mini-SUV, such as: leather, sun roof, LED headlights, wireless smartphone charging, 10.25″ touch screen display, heated and cooled seats and Harman Kardon branded premium sound. Less impressive is a head up display that rather than project straight onto the windscreen, requires a little mini screen to act as the display. It is a distracting system and not in keeping with the up-spec feel of the rest of the car. Still, it is easily hidden away by the press of a button.
Of course, the Kona EV’s real tech muscle is in the drivetrain. The 150kw motor produces a stump pulling 395Nm of torque – often enough to overcome the available grip offered by the front wheel drive chassis. It offers super fast charging from a DC station (10% charge to 80% charge in 48 minutes) but also smart home charging, where the charging app can time recharging to take advantage of off-peak savings.
For me, electric cars are all about the way they drive and in the case of the Kona EV, it’s a ripper. There is nothing wrong with the way the regular Kona drives – competent ride and handling, reasonably comfortable seats and average rear seat room given the mini-SUV design brief. What the EV version brings to the party though is a little torque monster of an engine that just makes city and urban driving huge fun.
Out on the country road, the EV version is much louder on coarse chip then I remember the regular Kona being. Less sound deadening maybe? While I’m at it, the LED headlights fitted to the Highlander don’t cut it out on the open road either. While they look great, they are miles and miles behind the LED systems fitted to high end brands. But this is nitpicking. Apart from me, who is driving an EV in the bush? No one, that’s who! In its natural environment, you will never notice either of these failings.
Importantly, Hyundai seems to have listened to complaints about over sensitive active safety systems – think Lane Keep Assist and the like. I’m pleased to report that the systems fitted to the Kona EV were intuitive and subtle. The only hint of old skool Korea was random binging and bonging that I am sure had a purpose but I never managed to work it out.
NOT SO IMPRESSIVE:
Like all electric vehicles at the moment, it is hard to make an economic case for the Kona EV – it’s an expensive small car! Choosing the EV route demands a big slug of cash on top of the regular Kona Highlander. This is cash that I just can’t see you recouping over the life of the car. Despite this, buyers are choosing EV either for environmental reasons (which are still a bit dubious when you take into account whole life emissions and the cost of mining exotic metals), to look like you care for the environment (in which case the Kona EV will never be chosen – it looks just like a regular Kona) or for the way EV cars drive (which is exactly why you choose the Kona EV).
Ultimately, the winner of the EV sales race will be the company that can continue to offer the current exceptional performance and features for the lowest cost. If Hyundai can find a way to shave $10k or so off the price of the Kona EV, they will have a sales winner on their hands.
WHEN ON A TEST DRIVE:
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix solution to choosing your next EV car. Only you can decide what you feature you value over others, so put a day or two aside and drive as many as you can but make sure the Kona EV is on your list. It’s a great car.