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Hyundai Kona Electric Highlander 2019 review

EXPERT RATING
7.8
Is this electrified Kona going to be a big part of the proliferation of electric cars in Australia?

I think it’s just human nature to like explosions.

There’s something fascinating and wonderous about how an internal combustion engine unites the chaos of exploding petrol with a few hundred moving parts to send a car hurtling forward.

So, I should hate the Hyundai Kona Electric. I should hate it for the simple fact that it is the almost undeniable future of motoring, and it has no engine.

But for so many reasons, I can’t hate it. I can’t hate it because for the first time since I first drove a Tesla Model S, the Kona Electric made feel like I’ve had to the opportunity to experience a little slice of the future before we’re really supposed to see it.

So, should we be ready for it? Is this Kona going to be a big part of the proliferation of electric cars in Australia? Importantly, is it a realistic cut-price long-range alternative to the wildly expensive Tesla range?

 The answers lie in this review…

Hyundai Kona 2019: HIGHLANDER ELECTRIC
Safety rating
Engine Type
Fuel TypeElectric
Fuel Efficiency—L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$64,490

Is there anything interesting about its design?  7/10

Our loan car was fully tricked out with the ‘eco’ look. That includes the Kona Electric’s hero colour of ‘Ceramic Blue’, the two-tone white roof and the airy blue and grey interior trim.

Some will love this aesthetic, to me it was total eco-credential overkill. Regardless, the electric Kona carries most of the styling points which made the original car a bit of a hit.

Our car was eco-credential overkill, but more conservative colour schemes are available (image credit: Tom White) Our car was eco-credential overkill, but more conservative colour schemes are available (image credit: Tom White)

In fact, in some ways I think the electric Kona improves on the base car by eliminating the overcomplicated grille.

Round the back is less revolutionary, featuring a re-designed lower bumper and a simple ‘electric’ badge to set it apart from the regular range.

The Highlander offers you a choice of a contrast roof (seen here) or a sunroof at no cost. (image credit: Tom White) The Highlander offers you a choice of a contrast roof (seen here) or a sunroof at no cost. (image credit: Tom White)

Inside has the same symmetrical design which makes the regular Kona and i30 so appealing.

The electric car gets a raised up centre console which offers easy access to the little SUV’s many buttons and functions as well as giving the cabin a slightly more futuristic look.

The centre stack is nicely designed with the climate control functions leading up to a set of vents and the pride-of-place multimedia touchscreen jotting out of the dash. It’s a good look and easy to use for both the driver and front passenger.

The Kona Electric offers a sci-fi take on the already-good interior deisgn. (image credit: Tom White) The Kona Electric offers a sci-fi take on the already-good interior deisgn. (image credit: Tom White)

Less good is the abundance of matte silver finish everywhere, there’s simply no need for it, anyone who gets behind the wheel will already realise this car is from the near future.

Unfortunately, the interior, as full-on as it looks, is comprised mostly of hard plastics. This is a consistent Kona problem - there’s even more hard surfaces present here than there is in its i30 hatchback sibling.

How practical is the space inside?  6/10

The Kona is already hardly the most practical small SUV out there, as the base car features a decent boot, but middling rear legroom.

The same is true here, only the boot floor has been raised to accommodate batteries. As a result, total boot space has been reduced 39L down to 332L (VDA).

That’s unfortunate, but despite the sacrifice, it's somehow not the smallest boot in the small SUV class (it still bests the Mazda CX-3, for example). The Highlander grade gets a really quite handy luggage net across the boot floor.

The electric Kona's boot is slightly cropped compared to its petrol-powered equivalents. (image credit: Tom White) The electric Kona's boot is slightly cropped compared to its petrol-powered equivalents. (image credit: Tom White)

Underneath the boot floor, the on-board charging cable packs away neatly into a zipper bag alongside the puncture repair kit.

Rear legroom is a bit of an issue. If you’re any taller than me (182cm) you simply won’t fit and you’ll have your legs jammed up against the front seat.

On my test week I put three adults across the rear row and while they were too polite to complain, it didn’t look particularly comfortable, particularly for the middle occupant.

The rear seats offer no air vents and limited legroom. (image credit: Tom White) The rear seats offer no air vents and limited legroom. (image credit: Tom White)

In terms of amenities the rear seats get small cupholders in the doors and nettings on the back of the seats, but no power outlets or air-conditioning vents.

Up front is a much better story, where the driver and front passenger benefit from deep cupholders in the centre console and doors, a neat little Qi wireless charging point, USB point and 'aux' input in the dash, as well as a huge storage area and 12-volt output underneath the raised centre stack. There’s also a decent console box.

Sure, the electric Kona can’t compete on practicality with something like the brilliantly-packaged Honda HR-V, but it isn’t as compromised as it could have been.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?  6/10

Let’s get the major downside of the Kona Highander electric out of the way right off-the-bat, shall we?

This car costs a whopping $64,490 before on-roads. So, for what is essentially a budget-style small SUV you’ll be punished to the tune of almost $30 grand more than its petrol-powered Highlander equivalent.

In fact, as Richard Berry pointed out in his launch review, this is the most expensive car Hyundai sells in Australia. More than even the top-model seven-seat Santa Fe Highlander diesel, which will set you back a (suddenly cheap-sounding) $60,795.

On the upswing, it is much cheaper than any other electric car with an equivalent range on full charge. The cheapest current Telsa Model S, for example (now simply called the ‘Long Range’), comes in at an even more whopping $123,500.

The electrified Kona is well equipped but still massively expensive for any small SUV. (image credit: Tom White) The electrified Kona is well equipped but still massively expensive for any small SUV. (image credit: Tom White)

Sadly, a slice of the future is still limited to those who are wealthy enough to afford it.

Our electric Highlander does come with decent kit to help mitigate the cost a little. Included is the full suite of standard features from the regular Kona, and then some.

There’s an 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with DAB+ digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, built-in sat-nav and Bluetooth connectivity, an eight speaker premium audio system, Qi wireless phone charging pad, full LED front lighting, front & rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, and 17-inch ‘eco-design’ alloy wheels.

The eco-look wheels are a dead give-away you're driving the electric version. (image credit: Tom White) The eco-look wheels are a dead give-away you're driving the electric version. (image credit: Tom White)

Unlike the Elite which sits below it, the Highlander is offered with a choice of either a two-tone roof or sunroof option at no extra cost. All Kona Electrics have leather-appointed interior trims as standard, but the Highlander adds power operated, heated & ventilated front seats.

There's also a head-up display standard on our Highlander, but with all the required information being displayed across the media system and dash cluster I hardly found it useful.

The flip-up HUD was hardly one of the best one's I've used. (image credit: Tom White) The flip-up HUD was hardly one of the best one's I've used. (image credit: Tom White)

The Kona also has a substantial safety suite (explored in the safety section of this review).

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?  8/10

The Kona Electric drives the front wheels via an electric motor producing 150kW/395Nm.

It’s more powerful than any other Kona model, most other small SUVs and even most electric cars around this price.

It’s not as… ahem… ludicrous as a Tesla, with a claimed 7.6 second 0-100km/h time, but it really doesn’t need to be. It has plenty of power for what it is.

The Kona Electric has more power than fuel-powered versions, while offering smooth acceleration. (image credit: Tom White) The Kona Electric has more power than fuel-powered versions, while offering smooth acceleration. (image credit: Tom White)

Electric motors don’t require a transmission in the traditional sense, and the Kona simply has a single-speed ‘reduction gear’.

The Kona feeds power back into its battery pack via regenerative braking, which has three levels controlled by paddle-shifters on the wheel. More on that in the driving and fuel consumption segments.

Sadly, the motor still juts into the regular engine bay, so there’s no extra storage up front. There’s also a standard battery to power auxiliary functions alongside the gigantic battery pack.

How much fuel does it consume?  10/10

The Kona consumes precisely zero fuel, due to the whole ‘lack of an engine’ deal. Really, in the future, we’ll have to rename this segment to ‘energy consumption’.

To that end you’re probably used to measuring consumption in terms of litres per hundred kilometres (L/100km), but the new figure against which electric cars are measured is kilowatt hours per hundred kilometres (kWh/100km).

Over my week of testing the Kona produced 14.1kWh/100km. No context for that? Here, I’ll provide some. The Kona has a 64kWh battery pack, which Hyundai claims will give you a “real-world range” of 449km.

If you put the numbers together, it means at the rate I was using power I would have actually scored a greater range than Hyundai’s estimate at 453.9km.

That’s legitimately impressive, because the Nissan Leaf I had on test immediately afterwards couldn’t get below 15.3kWh/100km.

Weirdly, on both tests I found EVs aren’t more efficient on the freeway, producing the same or even better numbers in traffic.

Charging any electric car is a sticky topic. The Kona has a single port, a ‘Type 2’ (Mennekes) European-standard charging port. This is a three-phase standard port which can be charged at stations ‘up to 100kW’.

The Kona can be charged via a single 'Mennekes' Type 2 connector. (image credit: Tom White) The Kona can be charged via a single 'Mennekes' Type 2 connector. (image credit: Tom White)

I couldn’t find a single 100kW charging port in Sydney, but there is a lone NRMA 50kW Mennekes connector in Olympic Park (which will charge from zero to 80 per cent in 75 min) or 22kW versions at ChargeFox stations (which require the ChargeFox app to use).

Unfortunately, you can’t make use of Tesla’s extensive fast charge network, nor can you make use of the ChargePoint network which has 6.6kW ‘J1772’ connectors.

Hyundai offers an optional 7.2kW wall-mounted home charger, which can fill the battery in nine hours and 35 min.

Faced with little option but to charge it from a humble wall socket in the CarsGuide garage (which had a max output of 2.2kW) the Kona informed me a max charge from 29 per cent battery would take 24 hours and 47 minutes…

What's it like to drive?  8/10

The Kona Electric is great to drive because it's so natural, so much like a ‘normal’ car. It’s quite literally as though somebody cross-bred a Tesla with a regular Kona Highlander, and that’s a very good thing.

If you’ve never driven an electric car before (and let’s face it, few people have) there are some distinctly different characteristics you should know about. Firstly, the way you slow down is not usual.

Electric cars like to reclaim energy through regenerative braking, which feeds energy back into the battery as the wheels turn. This means instead of coasting, electric cars will actively slow down when you let your foot off the accelerator.

In the Kona, you can control three levels of this braking depending how how comfortable you are with it or turn it off entirely, which I would advise against as it saves a surprising amount of battery, especially in stop-start traffic.

You can also hold down the brake level paddle to bring the car to a full stop with just regeneration. Efficient. This will also prolong the life of your brake pads, a further cost saving over time.

The Kona Electric's regenerative capabilities help to prolong battery life, and fundamentally alter the way you drive. (image credit: Tom White) The Kona Electric's regenerative capabilities help to prolong battery life, and fundamentally alter the way you drive. (image credit: Tom White)

The acceleration is smooth and swift, but not brutal like a Tesla, and you seldom need to hop on the brakes hard if you have the regen braking on, although if you do the pedal has an odd, disconnected, woody kind of feel.

The electric Kona feels heavy thanks to its big battery mounted below the floor. This gives it a weightiness through the corners, but also a solid amount of grip. I never really felt as though the Kona would understeer despite its front-wheel drive disposition.

The suspension, like all Hyundai products now, is well sorted and tuned locally in Australia. Due to the extra weight of the electric components, this Kona has a different tune from its petrol-powered equivalents.

It’s less springy, but still a little sporty, and by nature of the extra weight alone it feels super settled over bumps.

Obviously, the lack of an engine makes the Kona Electric quiet, but it does make a rather strange noise. It’s like a choral ringing noise that’s most evident during low speed acceleration and braking.

You may have heard similar noises from electric trains before. It is undeniably cool and futuristic though, and results in more than a few turned heads from nearby pedestrians.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

5 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?  8/10

Both electric Kona variants come with Hyundai’s full suite of active safety items, including auto emergency braking with pedestrian detection (AEB – works up to 65km/h for pedestrians or 80km/h for vehicles), forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring (BSM), driver attention alert (DAA), lane keep assist (LKAS) with lane departure warning (LDW), high beam assist, rear cross traffic alert and active cruise control.

That’s an impressive suite of features, placing the Kona among the best equipped in the small SUV segment.

Regular safety refinements include six airbags, the expected electronic stability and brake controls as well as two ISOFIX child seat mounting points on the outer rear seats.

All Konas including the electric variants carry a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating as of December 2017.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?  9/10

The Kona Electric is covered by Hyundai’s competitive five-year unlimited kilometre warranty offering, sitting on-par with most competitors.

Hyundai covers the Kona Electric's battery for eight years. (image credit: Tom White) Hyundai covers the Kona Electric's battery for eight years. (image credit: Tom White)

It came as a surprise to find Hyundai actually guarantees the battery for longer than the car itself, with an eight-year/160,000km warranty.

The lack of moving parts in the Kona Electric’s drivetrain means (theoretically) less to service and less to go wrong. As such, Hyundai has capped electric Kona servicing at $165 per 12-monthly 15,000km visit for the length of the warranty.

Services have capped prices beyond that with Hyundai’s 'iCare' packages, although we're waiting for confirmation on pricing.

Whether any long-term issues will show up with electric drivetrains is yet to be seen.

Pricing Guides

$43,995
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$23,500
Highest Price
$64,490

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
ACTIVE (AWD) 1.6L, ULP, 7 SP AUTO $27,000 2019 Hyundai Kona 2019 ACTIVE (AWD) Pricing and Specs
ACTIVE (FWD) 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $25,500 2019 Hyundai Kona 2019 ACTIVE (FWD) Pricing and Specs
ACTIVE SAFETY (AWD) 1.6L, ULP, 7 SP AUTO $30,500 2019 Hyundai Kona 2019 ACTIVE SAFETY (AWD) Pricing and Specs
ACTIVE SAFETY (FWD) 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $29,000 2019 Hyundai Kona 2019 ACTIVE SAFETY (FWD) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.8
Price and features6
Design7
Practicality6
Engine & trans8
Fuel consumption10
Driving8
Safety8
Ownership9

“On price alone, the Kona Electric is not quite the Volkswagen Beetle or Ford Model T of the electric car world.”

What would it take for you to make the switch to electric? Tell us what you think in the comments below.