Could the Hyundai Kona Electric Be a Surprise Hit?

By · June 21, 2018

2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

Hyundai unveiled the Kona Electric in late March, so we’ve known the formula for its upcoming all-electric crossover for a few months. It’s an attractive yet sedate crossover EV that will likely offer the most range among a new class of affordable big-battery electric vehicles that includes the Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3. The essential piece of missing information has been the price. The best clue yet about the cost of the Kona Electric, which is due in California in late 2018, came a few weeks ago when Hyundai announced that the crossover EV will sell for the equivalent of about $40,000 in Norway. At that price (and with generous local incentives), the Kona quickly received as many as 20,000 hand-raisers for an allocation of only 2,500 units in Norway.

While market conditions and incentives are different in the United States, the enthusiastic response in Norway reveals that Hyundai has the possible makings of a surprise hit. The Kona Electric is roughly the size of the Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, and Mazda CX-3—and about a half-foot longer than the Chevy Bolt. Its 201-horsepower electric motor, driving the front wheels, matches the Chevy Bolt’s 200-hp motor—and beats the Nissan LEAF and BMW i3 with 147 and 170 horses respectively. All of them scoot from a standstill to 60 miles per hour in around seven seconds.

The Kona Electric will likely beat the Chevy Bolt and the Tesla Model 3 for driving range and price. It carries a 64 kilowatt-hour battery, compared to the Bolt’s 60-kWh pack that provides 238 miles on a single charge. Official E.P.A. range and efficiency numbers are not yet available for the Kona Electric, but it's likely to achieve about 250 miles of driving range.

Trevor Lai, the Kona’s product planning manager on the Kona project, suggested that the Kona will be more affordable than the Bolt—indicating that it could start below $40,000 before incentives. If Hyundai prices the Kona Electric more aggressively in the mid-$30,000 range, it could become the best realization of EV affordability to date.

"I think we're going to get a lot of people who know that they want an EV, and they're cross-shopping looking at other EVs because they now have an option for a crossover utility vehicle that hasn't been on the market," said Brian Smith, Hyundai Motor America COO, in an interview with Automotive News. "I also believe we'll get plenty of people because of the maximum range. Many people will be able to say I can go two or three days without having to charge."

Tesla will not start producing the lower-cost 50 kilowatt-hour version of the Model 3 until next year—and currently only offers the 310-mile version that commonly sells for around $60,000.

A shorter range and less powerful 39.2 kilowatt-hour version of the Kona Electric, offering about 130 miles range, will be offered in Europe.

Coming This Year to California

The Hyundai Kona Electric will initially be offered only in California. In mid-2019, sales could expand to other U.S. states that follow California emissions rules before the vehicle potentially goes on sale throughout the country. There will be three trim levels: SEL (base), Limited, and Ultimate. The long list of standard features includes a forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane-keeping assist. The front seats have three levels of heating, and there’s an available heated steering wheel.

Recent reviews from Europe of a pre-production version of the Kona Electric have been mixed. The UK’s AutoExpress said the dashboard is “neatly laid out with a smart set of buttons,” although “six-footers will find themselves pretty short on knee and legroom in the rear seats.”

Autocar said that the Kona EV has “excellent throttle response,” although “you couldn’t call it fun to drive [based on] a “pervasive numbness to the car’s steering,” among other small gripes.

Yet Autocar gave this verdict: “The Kona Electric may well have more of what really matters to EV drivers than what Hyundai and Kia have delivered with their electric efforts thus far, or that its direct rivals offer: battery range.”

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