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REVIEW: Hyundai Kona EV builds on a solid foundation

No emissions. No fuel bills and a whole lot of performance and fun.

Published: September 14, 2021, 3:25 PM
Updated: September 14, 2021, 7:26 PM

Hyundai Kona EV - No emissions. No fuel bills and a whole lot of performance and fun.

The success of any good construction project relies on the foundation. The Hyundai Kona was first, and remains, available as a subcompact crossover with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission. In that guise it is an impressive little ute. Swap that fuel-burning combustion engine for a 201-horsepower electric motor and you’ve got the 2021 Hyundai Kona EV.

No emissions. No fuel bills and a whole lot of performance and fun.

Hyundai Kona EV - No emissions. No fuel bills and a whole lot of performance and fun.

The writing is on the wall

I’ve lived through the elimination of leaded gasoline, the introduction of increasingly sophisticated fuel injection systems, catalytic converters, electronic engine management systems and other technologies aimed at cutting exhaust emissions and increasing fuel efficiency. I love internal combustion engines! Nothing gives me more pleasure behind the wheel, than winding an IC engine through the gears, transforming all that combination of fuel and air into power that I can feel and hear.

But – I do not have my head buried in the sand. The age of internal combustion engines as the sole source of automotive power is drawing to a close. IC engines will be around for a couple more decades as engineers and scientists find ways to squeeze even more power from them while using less fuel. But the writing is on the wall.

Recharging is the major challenge

The transformation to alternative power sources began with hybrids, followed by plug-in hybrids and most recently – battery electric vehicles.

Electric motors are replacing gasoline engines more frequently as manufacturers improve on range and the charging infrastructure. The chief drawback from the outset, continues to be the need to plug them in, to recharge the batteries that power those electric motors . For an entire society accustomed to a gas station on every block or within 20 or 30 minutes reach, the need to locate charging facilities and await a charge is a new, and not necessarily pleasant experience.

Whether it be battery electric, hydrogen or other alternatives, change is inevitable. The first lesson, as I learned with my week with the Kona electric is the need for a refueling/filling /charging system.

Hyundai Kona EV - No emissions. No fuel bills and a whole lot of performance and fun.

Positive first impression

I had driven a pre-production Kona electric two years ago, and said at the time it was a very acceptable little crossover. It had style, content, performance and all of the attributes that make small crossovers so popular. I spent two or three hours at the wheel and came away impressed.

After driving a 2021 Hyundai Kona EV, for a week, those impressions remain intact. It looks like a stylish, yet conventional sub-compact crossover. The first hint it is different, is that is has no grille – or need for one. Instead of an engine that burns fuel, creating heat and requiring an extensive cooling system, beneath this hood rests a permanent-magnet synchronous 150 kW AC electric motor paired with a 64 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery located beneath the floor.

Plenty of power

Power – a full 201 horsepower and more importantly, 294 lb-ft of torque – is sent to the front wheels through a single speed direct drive system. Electric motors produce maximum power from rest so initial response is impressive. The first few of times I stepped into the throttle (no gas pedal here) the front tires scrabbled for grip, activating the traction control system, and squealed like mad.

The Kona EV has lots of power – at all speeds. It is also extremely quiet. The lack of engine or powertrain noise makes road and wind noise more noticeable. But even that has been well quelled.

Familiar interior

Inside, the Kona EV is almost identical to the conventional Kona, which is to say reasonably roomy for the vehicle’s size and well finished considering its competition.

The instrument panel, too, is similar to the conventional Kona except for the lack of coolant temperature and engine speed gauges. Instead, there are readouts for battery strength, distance remaining and charging information.

Hyundai Kona EV - No emissions. No fuel bills and a whole lot of performance and fun.

When it’s time to plug in

Like every other pure electric vehicle, the Kona EV  has no gasoline engine as a primary or secondary source of motivation. When the available range starts to dwindle, you have to think about plugging it in – and where to do so.

I saw the low battery warning as I pulled into my driveway late in the afternoon of the first day. No problem; I plugged it into the 120-volt outlet in the garage and called it a day. The next day I needed to go to the city, a 125-km drive. When I checked the state of charge I discovered it had barely reached 20% – not sufficient range for the drive to the city!

Thankfully, in the nearby town there were two public charging stations. I chose one with Level 2 and Level 3 outlets. I signed up for the Flo app, deposited $25 on the account through my credit card, and plugged in the Level 3 charger. Thirty-nine minutes and $9.35 later. the little Kona was 80% charged and had plenty of range for the trip – at least one way.

Hyundai Kona EV - No emissions. No fuel bills and a whole lot of performance and fun.

To make sure there was plenty of juice left to return home I sought out a related charging station in the city and, after waiting for a fellow electric vehicle user to complete his charge, was able to plug in and make use of my Kindle reader while it “filled it up”. A fully charged Kona EV will go up to 375 km before needing a charge.

Lesson #1 – Electric vehicles require electricity and a change in habits. So it’s best to have a Level 2 station installed at home and/or know where one is near your home or place of work.

Charging Primer

In case you’re not familiar with the types and levels of chargers and their charge rates, here is a quick primer:

Level 1 – 120-volt household with conventional three prong plug. Up to 59 hours for a full change from “empty”

Level 2 – 240-volts using same wiring as a stove or clothes dryer. Can be installed by an electrician at home. Laos becoming quite common around the province. Cuts charge time by at least half - less than 10 hours.

Level 3 – DC fast charger. Direct rather than alternating household current. Very high power, found at public sites. Cuts charging time by half again. I spent 39 min at a charger and watched it climb from 20% to 80%.>

In summary   

After testing thousands of cars, trucks, crossovers and SUVs over the years, a week with this pure electric Kona was one of my most memorable experiences with a vehicle.

JUST THE FACTS:

2021 Hyundai Kona Ultimate EV

PRICE

$53,349 base

$55,174, as tested, including freight

INFOTAINMENT

26-cm infotainment screen, Bluelink telematics, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functions,

SAFETY

Forward collision avoidance assist with pedestrian detection, lane keep assist, automatic high beams, active-cornering LED headlights, rear park distance warning, rear cross traffic alert,

STANDARD EQUIPMENT

17-in alloy wheels, proximity key, adaptive cruise control with stop-n-go, power sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, eight-way power driver’s seat, heated power mirrors, automatic climate control, tilt/telescope steering wheel, leather seats, navigation, eight-speaker Infinity Premium audio system, wireless charging, 

OPTIONS

None

MECHANICAL

permanent-magnet synchronous 150 kW AC electric motor, 201-horsepower, 290 lb.ft. of torque, 64 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery, single-speed direct drive, front-wheel drive NRCan ratings city/highway kWh/100 km: 16.2/19.3

17.4 kWh /100 km

DIMENSIONS

Length, 4,180-mm; wheelbase, 2,600-mm; weight, 1,712-kg

Competition: Chevrolet Bolt, Tesla Model Y