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:
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.
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.
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:
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.