by Frank A. Aukofer

As electric vehicles go in 2020, the Hyundai Kona motors at or near the front of the pack.

The Kona EV is a small crossover sport utility vehicle, similar in many respects to the Kia Niro, no surprise because Hyundai owns almost one-third of Kia and the South Korean sister companies share engines and transmissions, though they do their own styling, other engineering and tuning.

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The Hyundai engineers have squeezed about as much power and range as possible from the Kona’s electric motor, which makes 201 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque, sent directly to the front wheels. There’s no need for the torque multiplication of a conventional automatic transmission because electric motors deliver maximum torque the instant they are switched on.

Unlike Kona gasoline-engine models, the EV comes only with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is not available. Still, independent tests have demonstrated that the EV is slightly quicker off the line than the Kona with the 175-hp, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine.

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With a base curb weight of 3,750 lbs, that amount of power enables the Kona to scamper to 60 mph in the six-second range — not bad for what is described as a subcompact sport ute that has interior space of 111 cubic feet. That’s as much as a midsize sedan, though the back seat has a shortage of knee room.

Moreover, it is stingy with natural resources. With no fossil fuels directly involved — the electricity comes off the same grid as the juice that feeds your TV set and kitchen range — the Kona EV is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency as equivalent to 132 mpg fuel economy. And that’s around town. On the highway, the so-called MPGe is 108 and overall the happy owner gets 120 MPGe.

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Better yet, this little scooter is a joy to drive. The 64 kW hour battery pack, which enables an advertised range of 258 miles on a charge, is located under the floor. The lower center of gravity makes for a more stable set around curves, though the weight and suspension tuning makes for a choppy ride on rough surfaces. Of course, the Kona is blissfully silent at any speed.

Part of the reason for the decent range is an aggressive regenerative braking system. When the driver lifts off the throttle, the Kona immediately slows down, feeling as if the brakes had been applied. The energy produced goes right into the battery pack.

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The driver can control the system’s regeneration with paddles on the steering wheel, to the point where so-called one-pedal driving is possible. Much like the BMW i3, the Kona can be carefully driven without ever using the brake pedal.

There are three selectable drive modes: normal, sport and eco. Normal enhances the regenerative braking and eco shuts down some systems like the heating and air conditioning to extend battery life. Sport puts more power on tap, similar to higher engine revs on a gasoline-engine vehicle.

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Though there’s an onboard charger and a cord to plug into a standard 110-volt household outlet, it’s not anybody’s first choice because it would take a couple of days to get a full charge from a depleted battery pack. Better to use a 240-volt Level 2 charger at home, which can do the trick in about 9.5 hours overnight. If you have access to a commercial Level 3 DC charger, you can top up the Kona’s battery pack in about an hour.
Kona EV prices start at $38,310, including the destination charge, for the SEL trim level. Others are the Limited, at $42,920 and the top-line Ultimate, tested here, at $46,520. All versions get automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and lane departure warning with lane keeping assist.

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The Ultimate also came with blind-spot warning, rear cross traffic collision alert, DC fast charging capability, navigation system, SXM satellite and HD radio, head-up display, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, motorized glass sunroof, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity, LED lighting and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

In the current panoply of electric sedans and crossovers, the Kona EV stands out in a group that includes the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Bolt and, of course, its garage-mate Kia Niro. But it also looks capable against  such higher-priced machines as the Jaguar E-Pace, Audi E-Tron and even the Tesla Model 3.

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Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Hyundai Kona Electric Ultimate four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Motor: 356-volt electric; 201 hp, 291 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single-speed direct drive automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 92/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,750 lbs.
  • EPA Miles Per Gallon Equivalent city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 132/108/120 MPGe.
  • Advertised range: 258 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $46,295.
  • Price as tested: $46,430.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Large-36981-2020KonaElectricPhotos (c) Hyundai