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Hyundai Kona Owners Review: Packs a punch and is more fun than your car.

As someone conscious about EVs, having worked in the renewables space over the last decade, I started looking for a suitable vehicle about three years ago. There wasn’t a lot to choose from back then and whilst I initially pre-ordered a Tesla Model 3, when the Kona Electric details started coming through in 2018, I’d found myself a worthy option for consideration. With around 5 months of ownership and 5,000 kms, I thought I’d share my opinion on the journey so far. 

Drive behind an electric Kona and you wouldn’t know it was an electric car. Unless perhaps it was a cold winter morning in Victoria and you noticed the lack of water vapour and particulates coming out of an exhaust pipe. It doesn’t have one.

Actually, from behind the only other things differing the Kona Electric from the petrol- or diesel Kona is a small ‘electric’ badge and a slightly curvier rear bumper.

Moving to the front of the car and you realise that this is where the models start to really diverge. Love it or hate it, but the Kona Electric has replaced the traditional front grille with a more aerodynamic plastic criss-cross pattern.

Surprisingly the drag coefficient of the Kona Electric is only 0.29, which is not far at all from the Model 3 which was built from the ground up to minimise drag. Staying in Model 3 comparison land for a brief moment, here’s a few interest points of fact when comparing the two vehicles:

Correction: Model 3 now starting from $67,600 after price hike related to exchange rate.

And some more objective comparison points (feel free to add to the discussion around these points!):

OK, we’ve got the compare-to-Tesla part out of the way! Now let’s get back to the winner in my eyes, the Kona Electric and what it’s like to own one.

Driving experience

The words “buttery smooth” come to mind when thinking about what it’s like to drive the Kona Electric. When you take off it just whispers away – depending on how hard you push the pedal – and it’s either accompanied by the UFO-like pedestrian humming sound or screeching tyres.

The latter is one of the few faults with this car – the tires are all about efficiency and fuel economy and not about racing or performance. Add a splash of rain and it becomes a slipper (albeit fun) story. If you’re happy to give up some range for grip and performance, the tires would be your first thing to rectify.

Talking about performance and sportiness, Sports mode is fun. Not only does it unlock the full power of this car, it also firms up the steering wheel, which is really what changes the driving experience. All of the sudden the driver can challenge any old sports clunker by a traffic light. Here’s what it looks like under the hood. It ain’t all that pretty (in particular the old 12v battery for interior electronics) but it works real well.

Regenerative braking comes in 3 levels for the Kona Electric, which is a bit unusual for an electric car. Typically, regen comes in one level as with the Nissan Leaf or Tesla Model S/3/X. In my opinion, having 3 levels is really great, and when using the three driving modes (Eco, Standard, Sport) you can set your regenerative braking level in each of these modes to correspond to your preference.

For example in my case, Eco mode is paired up with Level 1 regen, as I tend to use Eco mode on the highway, and the other modes are set at Level 3, to feed more energy back into the battery in city traffic.

Unfortunately when it comes to the transition between the regenerative braking system and the standard brakes, Hyundai engineers have failed, and as a driver you often experience a jerking sensation at low speeds. It’s not a biggie, but it’s a bit annoying.

As always with electric vehicles, having the battery pack installed evenly under the floor of the car makes for a great driving experience, firmly hugging the asphalt when cornering without making the car feel heavy. After all, it’s the equivalent of around 5 Tesla Powerwall’s in the Kona, and if you value the batteries like the storage system, that’s well over $50,000 in batteries alone.

Now let’s talk about suspension. It’s one of those things that are easy to look over when thinking about the driving experience in a car, but the suspension in the Kona is absolutely spot on. Apparently, a whole heap of effort was put in to the suspension for the Australian market, and in particular for this unit, as the battery pack makes for an awkward placement of traditional suspension in the rear. There’s a whole lot of technical jargon around the suspension, but the bottom line is that it feels great on the road.

Quality

Plenty of articles have covered the quality of the interior of the Kona and there is not much add to the perceived notion that the dashboard interior is a bit bland/cheap for this sort of spend. The only point I’d like to add to this is the dynamic screen for the driver’s dashboard. It adds flexibility and makes things feel a lot more fresh up front in the car – and as you change between driving modes (e.g. Eco to Sport) the theme changes from being focussed on regen and smooth acceleration, to being about power and speed.

One of my pet dislikes of the Nissan Leaf is the manual speedometer, which does make it feel a bit cheap and old in my view. Hyundai has done a great job with the driver’s dashboard and linking it with the multimedia screen.

Doors are light but breathe quality still, and the leather seats are both firm and supportive. The steering wheel is great in terms of size and feel and the buttons make sense and have the right tactility.

Body work and overall build quality is great, as you would expect from an experienced manufacturer like Hyundai. Panel gaps are what they should be, which you’d expect for any car over $20k. So overall, here’s the Pro’s and Con’s of my experience to date:

Correction: 77kW DC charging (thanks Liz)

Summary

The value for money that this car represents is arguably the best in the Australian market right now. The Model 3 Standard Range would be close, and I’m sure even favoured by many because it’s a damn cool car, but an extra 12% in costs upfront and much higher ongoing cost each year, as with insurance, makes it difficult to justify.

If you want to be cooler, if you dig autonomous driving, and you can afford it, get a Tesla. If you want more space and spend even more money, wait a couple of years and get a Rivian. If you want repeatable launch mode, then apparently the Porsche Taycan is the way to go. If you want a great electric car today, get this one.

Lastly – use clean electricity!

Lastly, I just want to make a quick pitch for clean electricity. The thing that’s unique about being an electric owner is that you have complete control over what “fuel” you put into your car. The choices you make have a real impact on emissions overall. So my pitch is this:

  • For home charging, make sure you at least buy electricity from an electricity retailer that doesn’t own fossil fuels. If you’re unsure about who does, check out this list. Enough people moving away from fossil fuel companies will make a roar.
  • Buy carbon neutral electricity (included with the likes of Powershop and DC Power Co) or go one step further and buy GreenPower, which supports new renewables.
  • Get solar if you can – it’s literally one of the best investments you will ever make. If you already have solar, get a charger that helps you maximise self-consumption of your solar power by diverting it into your electric car. This will help you improve your solar investment even further.
  • When you’re out and about, use charging infrastructure with renewable energy attached or with GreenPower.
During the day, Johan works with DC Power Co - an energy company for solar homes. In the morning he cycles, and on the weekends he drives his Hyundai Kona Electric.

8 Comments

  1. I concur with the articule written about the Kona Electric. Took delivery 2 months ago and nearly 4000 km . I drive with reg 3 and steering paddle and smart cruise on highway so rarely use foot brake. I would greatly miss the heads up display that comes with the highlander. Most charging is at home with an island solar system. Sometimes I use the green powered Queensland electric highway 10 km from home for fast charging at 47KW . Top car handles great. Its a two tone because I did not require a sunroof.

  2. Good review ;have had the Highlander for 8 weeks and clocked up 3000km. Have only charged at home charging at 2.2 kw/hr. Have completed several 380km return trips cruising at 110 kph (50% of time),with 4 on board. Remain very impressed with the car and regenerative braking

  3. The Kona’s fastest charging is 70 kW, not 100 kW. I agree with you about it being a great EV, and have enjoyed driving ours since purchasing it in May.

  4. Great article Johan, thank you. I particularly appreciate everyone’s attempts to purchase their electricity with some sense of responsibility. In the words of Amory Lovins (look him up on you tube) “We can choose to mine the fires of hell, or harvest the radiance and abundance of heaven”

  5. Thanks for the great article – it is really helpful. We are looking to get an EV and the Kona looks like a serious contender. We have only been researching for a while and I am still coming to terms with some of the technology. When you rated it low for upgradeability, what was this in reference to? Something I don’t understand is what happens when the batteries reach end of life. They advertise 8 years warranty on the batteries but what happens after they die? Can you merely install new batteries? Would the cost be prohibitive? Like nearly the cost of a new car? With the rapid advance in EV technology would such a vehicle be maintainable into the future? eg my current phone is becoming obsolete after about 6 years because the operating system is being moved off support. I would hate to see similar things happen to EVs when one of the main reasons to buy them in the first place is sustainability.

    1. Hi Wayne,

      Thanks for the comment and queries. I’ll answer them to the best of my knowledge and ability. Upgradeability of low in this instance was mainly referring to the ease of upgrading features of the car via over-the-air updates such as with the Tesla. Hyundai instead would be able to do yearly updates of software and looking historically at Hyundai and the smaller proportion of EVs in their business, it seems unlikely they’ll be putting considerable efforts in adding features to these early models rather than focus on developing new models and software platforms (feels a bit retrofitted in the Kona).

      On the flipside, earlier models of software-heavy cars like early Tesla Model S are starting to be left behind with new software updates, so being less software dependent has its advantages too perhaps.

      On the battery side I feel really comfortable. They use LG Chem batteries that are best-in-class and Hyundai uses a great cooling system. In theory, the battery should outlast the car. If it doesn’t, looking at the build of this car with the battery pack, a replacement of the pack in the future should be easy. Today it’s prob $20k but we all know where battery cell pricing is going.

      I hope that answers some of the concern. If you’re around Melbourne, feel free to hit me up for a test drive. Kind regards,

      Johan

      1. Thanks Johan for that response. As long as the software controlling the car can be maintained in a state where the car keeps running I will be happy. Not looking for the very latest whizzbang on everything all the time and would be looking for reasonably long term use of the vehicle. We have solar at home so should be able to keep it all pretty green. Thanks for your offer of a test drive but we are at the Sunshine Coast – but I can’t complain about that :).
        Regards,
        Wayne

  6. Just a note to concur with this article. I’ve just gone over 5000k in mine. I assume it has noted and remembered my frugal driving style because I did my first full charge the other day (usually I leave it to auto fill only to 80%). And once full I had 560k range.

    It’s still a great pleasure to drive, and I’m convinced that EVs will eventually, hopefully soon, become the norm – they are clearly, simply, better. I haven’t driven any other EVS, but the Kona is great, and it’s powered by sunshine!

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