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FIRST DRIVE: Hyundai hits home run with 2020 Kona electric


Hyundai’s first shot at a pure electric vehicle is a complete success. This is an electric car I could live with on a daily basis. It has the quality and perceived reliability that comes with a brand that has relentlessly worked its way to the top of the charts in these areas.

The Kona is a lot like its gasoline-powered twin, boasting utility and additional features. Except it is purely electric, gifted with impressive performance and able to go more than 400 kilometres on a single charge. That number alone is enough to set it apart from vehicles like the Chevy Bolt, Nissan Leaf, and Volkswagen’s eGolf.

The Kona shares its platform, interior and much of the features with the “regular” Kona, which has found its way into more than 13,000 homes during the first six months of 2019. Nothing has been lost to in the switch from an engine to a motor. Both have the same seating and 544 litres of cargo capacity behind the back seat, 1,300 with it folded flat. The electric version is the first electric compact utility vehicle in the country and has the greatest government-rated range of any volume BEV (battery electric vehicle).

The Kona EV comes in two trim levels, Preferred and Ultimate. Both are pretty well loaded. The interiors are ultra-modern as befits an electric vehicle. They both have an extensive list of standard equipment including support for both Apple Car Play and Android Auto, heated and cooled front seats, heads-up display, LED headlights and navigation. They also have a full slate of safety features including: forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and lane keep assist, blind spot collision warning, rear cross traffic alert, front and rear park distance warning and automatic high beams.

Visually, you can tell the electric version from the gas twin by the lack of a grill and slightly different wheels. Inside, you get a unique instrument panel with a large infotainment screen atop the centre stack. The stylish centre console houses buttons instead of a shift lever and knob.

The Kona has a powerful electric motor driving the front wheels through a single-speed transmission. Power comes from a 64-kWh lithium-ion battery.

Driving the electric Kona is like driving the gas-powered Kona, except it is faster. This little utility will scoot from rest to 100 km/h in about 7.5 seconds. That’s almost two seconds faster than the gas version. It does this in near silence.

Acceleration is instantaneous because the powerful electric motor generates maximum torque, a hefty 209 lb.-ft. of torque from rest. Step on it from a stop and it is easy to break the front tires loose.

 The 2020 Hyundai Kona Electric’s cabin is much the same as the one found inside its gas-powered sibling: quality materials, comfortable, and rich with features. - Hyundai
The 2020 Hyundai Kona Electric’s cabin is much the same as the one found inside its gas-powered sibling: quality materials, comfortable, and rich with features. - Hyundai

Handling is impressive. Because the large battery pack is under the floor, the centre of gravity is low. The Kona remains very flat under cornering with very little roll. The steering is delightfully responsive and has some heft with the drive system in sport mode.

The Kona shares a neat trick with some other electrics and plug-in hybrids. A pair of paddles behind the steering wheel allow you to increase or decrease regenerative braking through four levels. When you remove your foot from the accelerator, regenerative braking captures the heat generated by braking, and converts it to energy used to recharge the big main battery.

Pull on the left paddle and you can increase regenerative braking in stages. Hold it in and the Kona will slow to a complete rest without touching the brakes. It is easily possible to drive without touching the brakes. This fun exercise creates more involvement with and appreciation of the system. It also increases the range.

Hyundai has addressed most of the negatives attributed to electric vehicles:

  • a) Electric vehicles are dangerous in urban areas because they are so silent that pedestrians may not hear them approach.
  • The Kona electric has a low-speed pedestrian warning system. It generates a fairly loud “hummm” to warn folks of its presence.
  • b) Batteries don’t like the cold and drive range is considerably shortened in tough Canadian winters. Hyundai says the system’s internal temperature controls and the heat pump result in the range being reduced by 20 per cent in extreme cold compared to 35-50 per cent for others.
  • c) Heating the interior in winter deletes the battery pack. The Kona Electric comes with a heat pump to help heat the interior.
  • d) Multiple back-to-back charges in hot weather lead to reduced range. The Kona’s batteries have a liquid-cooling feature to address that issue.

Statistics Canada says the average daily commute for Canadians is 45-km return. If you fit within that range, you would only have to charge your Kona once a week.

Even if you had run its battery to a nearly depleted stage, it would be back to full after less than 10 hours plugged into your 240-volt (Level 2) charger. If you should need a “refill” before then you can add 200 km of range after 30 minutes on a Level 3 public charger.

It is easy to see why Hyundai dealers had to pause order-taking until it could ensure sufficient production capacity to satisfy demand.

B.C. and Quebec are the only provinces to currently offer EV incentives, up to $5,000 and $8,000 respectively. Hyundai has accordingly slanted availability to those provinces. The recent addition of a federal rebate of up to $5,000 will likely lead to electric Konas being in wider circulation.

If you are in the market for a new vehicle, especially a small utility, and interested in going green, check out the Kona. You may have to get the dealer to order one in because supply is so limited.

And it’s pricey, but you’ll never again have to visit a gas station.

 Its long driving range and bold driving personality make the 2020 Hyundai Kona Electric one of the best electric vehicles on sale today. - Hyundai
Its long driving range and bold driving personality make the 2020 Hyundai Kona Electric one of the best electric vehicles on sale today. - Hyundai

 

The specs

  • Model: 2020 Hyundai Kona electric
  • Engine:150 kW electric motor, 64 kWh lithium polymer battery, 201 horsepower, 209 lb.-ft. of torque
  • Transmission: single speed direct drive
  • NRCan rating (litres/100km city/highway): N/A
  • Length: 4,180 mm
  • Width: 1,800 mm
  • Wheelbase: 2,600 mm
  • Price: $45,000 base, $52,000 as tested, plus/includes freight
  • Standard equipment: heated and ventilated front seats and steering wheel, tilt and telescope steering column, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, Infinity audio system, Android Auto and Apple Car Play, power driver’s seat, power sunroof, automatic climate control, heads up display, wireless charging pad

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