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Could EVs be the key to super commuting? Here’s how I found driving the Hyundai Kona EV for a week

Here in my car 
I feel safest of all 
I can lock all my doors 
It’s the only way to live 
In cars.” 

– Gary Numan  Cars, 1979 

Last week I got to test drive the Hyundai Kona Electric Elite. It’s a compact SUV with a 64kWh battery and a listed 400km+ range listed at $79,990. When I got the vehicle, the battery was at 99 percent and had 414km range on the guess-o-meter (GOM). The exec summary is this, I really loved driving that car. 

As someone who does over 48,000 km per year, I keep a very close eye on vehicle costs. I’m the technology (and fleet) manager for my company, so am used to looking at everything when choosing a vehicle. My current car is a 2014 Mazda 2 Ltd. I brought it new in early 2015. It was the best appointed, safest, most fuel efficient (we average 5.2lt/100km) vehicle I could get at the time. With three hours spent in the car every day, it also needed to be comfortable. My wife and I drive 170km most work days (sometimes one or other works from home). It’s an 85km drive to my work and I go through six sets of lights. I don’t mind motorway traffic, but I really hate lights. It’s a long drive, 1.15 – 1.30 hours usually. Unlike thousands of cars we see each day, there are two people in ours and we share the driving. Like most households we have a second vehicle, mostly used by my retired dada Subaru Forester. It does the boat towing and luggage hauling duties. 

The good. 

Hyundai has a reputation for building very good, reliable vehicles. They are not the cheapest or most fuel efficient, but they are very goodThey were sixth out of 23 cars in the Trouble Free ranking of vehicle manufacturers in last yearConsumer report. They are also sixth in new car sales this yearThe specs of many base model Hyundai vehicles blow away a lot of other vehicles. I had the Kona Elite, but most of the smart electronic safety features are standard in the base model. Prior tthe test drive I haven’t had much experience in Hyundais, but my uncle swears by his 18-year-old Sonata.  

One of the first questions I got asked when talking to people about the Kona was “whats the range?” As stated above, it is listed as 400km+ and it’s the big selling point of this vehicle compared to an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle. The good news is that the listed range is accurate. The great news is that, for me, it’s much better. I got 500km or more from the Kona. That’s Tesla range, at half the price. Range depends on the sort of driving you do and how you drive. I have a lot of open road and I let the car drive itself. That means speeds consistent with the traffic, no hard acceleration to overtake, no hard braking when you catch up to the next car, and no speeding. My view is we’re all going to get to the traffic jam at roughly the same time, why speed to it?  

Hyundai’s have a lot of safety features, there are fifteen three-letter acronym safety features listed in the spec sheet for the Kona. This is a VERY safe car.   

Of all those features, there are two that really made a world of difference to my drive. Smart Cruise Control (SCC) and Lane Keep Assist (LKA). Put together, these pretty much took over the driving of the car as soon as I was on the motorway. I could lift my hands just off the steering wheel (i.e. lightly touching) and the car would drive itself. That’s almost level two autonomous driving. If you don’t know about autonomous driving yet, wait a few years, it will eventually change your life. 

There are five levels of Autonomous driving and in simple terms, they look like this:

With adjustable regenerative braking, it’s common to have one pedal driving in an EV. Once you’re used to it, you adjust your driving so that you hardly need to touch the brake pedal. Like pretty much everything in an EV, brakes last much longer and need far less maintenance. With Smart Cruise Control turned on its pretty much no pedal driving. The Lane Keep Assist will keep the car centred in the lane so that you don’t need your hands on the wheel. Feet off + hands off = level two autonomous driving.  

To be clear, the Kona is not level two, but it’s close. It steered around corners and maintained speed and distance in nose to tail traffic of varying speeds. If you come to an actual stop you’ll need to tap the cruise control switch to get going again, but otherwise, the car drives itself. If it didn’t detect my hands touching the wheel, it would alert me to put them back on. The LKA felt a bit weird to start with, I was not used to having a car steer itself, but you soon get used to it. If you’re not driving on the motorway with cruise control you can turn LKA off and the steering feels totally normal. That’s ‘normal’ for a modern electronically assisted steering car, i.e. light and responsive.   

I think if every car on the road had this technology (and people used it), we’d probably have a couple of hundred fewer fatalities every year. People are not good drivers, many think they are great – they are wrong. In fifteen years, we’ll have a much lower road toll, it’ll be because people have stopped driving themselves. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet and if someone cuts in front of you and hits the brakes hard you need to be ready to react, hands and feet on.  

Most manufacturers have this technology in their cars now, but not in base models like the Hyundai Kona. You don’t need to buy a BEV either, the petrol versions have it too. It’s was the first time I’ve driven with such an advanced system. Most LKA systems aren’t this clever, although Tesla, GM and Nissan might have better ones (i.e. actual L2 systems) and Audi are apparently bringing out an L3 system in 2019. 

Being Electric there is no engine noise, there is a small whine of the electric motor but mostly you just hear the road noise. It’s probably about the same as any other modern car, but the eco-friendly tyres used by EVs probably prioritise efficiency rather than noise. As an aside, I’ve done 90,000 kms on the eco-friendly tyres on my Mazda 2. At $240 a tyre, they are expensive, but good tyres save lives and fuel. I don’t go cheap on tyres. The Kona Elite has a very nice 8 speaker (+ sub-woofer) Krell speaker setup, so road noise wasn’t an issue.  

The big battery makes the car a lot heavier than a normal Kona. Fortunately, the placement and weight distribution do not negatively affect the handling. I really liked the way the car corners, it feels planted.  

The other advantage of the big battery is the power it gives. Apparently, the Kona has as much as 201 horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque at its disposal. It is claimed it will go from 0-100km/hr in 7.6s. It’s not a hot hatch, but that’s impressive for a compact SUV. It certainly felt fast and had no issues overtaking slow vehicles up hills. 

One barrier to EV uptake is the way they look. Many people dislike the way manufacturers have designed cars to look totally different from a normal car. The Kona Electric looks pretty much like the Petrol version so that’s not really an issue here. In fact, it’s the first BEV which has my wife’s approval in terms of styling. Granted we’re starting from a low bar, but I’ve tested the BMW i3 and Hyundai Ioniq previously. The interior of the Kona is clean and understated, I’d say very Germanic. The materials are nice, but this was the Elite version, so there was lots of leather. Heated seats and steering wheel will be appreciated by those who feel the cold. The seats can be vented for summer as well. There is a wireless charging pad for phones and if you connect more than one phone to Bluetooth you can prioritise them.  

The bad. 

There no New Zealand maps on the Kona’s satellite navigationIt’s a problem with the Ioniq EV as well. Why? Apparently, itbecause we’re getting UK variants and they use milesI guess New Zealand is too small for Hyundai to go to the expense of doing the required changes. The Kona has Android Auto and Apple Car Play, so this wasn’t an issue for me. I prefer the mobile app maps to Car Manufacturers, Google maps and Waze are much better than an onboard map that gets updated once a year. 

The Kona only has a standard 3year new car warranty. That’s normal for an ICE vehicle, but seems pretty conservative for an EVEV’s have (supposedly) 2000 fewer parts than an ICE vehicle, why not back it with at least a fiveyear cover? These are new models though, so Hyundai might be nervous to open itself up to the risk. At least the battery is covered for ten years – I guess that’s thanks to LG Chem the battery maker. 

After a couple of years of no claims Hyundai’s bean counters might lose the risk adverse stance and up the warranty to five years. I would love to see a seven-year warranty on an EV, but time will tell on that. 

The ugly.

One of the main problems might be that you might not be able to buy this car. Stocks are limited around the world thanks to demand for batteries being so high in Korea. New Zealand is a small market, so Hyundai New Zealand will have probably have a fight to get vehicles. Tesla Model 3’s are flying out of stores in the US, but Hyundai has limited the Kona to just a couple of states over there – the ones on the West Coast that have zero-emission vehicle mandates 

Overall rating.

The competition for the Kona Electric is high. However, given the regular petrol, Kona is currently third in that segment behind Mitsubishi ASX and Nissan Qashqai, the outlook for the Kona Electric is good. 

With the release of the Kona Electric, Hyundai now has a BEV choice in the compact SUV segmentAt this point in time, it’s the only one there, that will change next March when Hyundai’s sister company, Kia, brings in its Niro Electric to market. Compact SUVs are very popular, at 13 percent of the market it’s third most popular vehicle type behind Medium SUVs and 4×4 utes. As well as being the only Electric SUV, the Kona was released with a 64kWh battery. Again, it’s pretty much out on its own with a battery of that size. The Tesla’s have big batteries too, but they are twice the price and far out of the range of regular buyers. At price points of $72,990 for the base and $79,990 for the Elite version, many would say that these Kona’s are out of regular buyers ranges as well. However high price points haven’t stopped VW, BMW, Audi, Volvo and the like from selling loads of cars. 

It’s not perfect for everyone, because many people don’t want a Compact SUV. But if youre in the market for a high end European compact SUV (BMW X1, VW Tiguan, Audi Q2) then I’d recommend that you test drive a Kona. There is a certain market segment which is quite large up where I live, they are looking for their ‘last car’. After talking to a couple of people in that segment about the Kona, and taking them for a drive, they think the Kona might look great in their large double garage. 

If the coalition government follow through with some business friendly EV incentives around Fringe Benefit Tax and depreciation, then we might find the Kona on fleet managers option list, rather than more double cab utes. These vehicles are in no way similar, so that might seem strange. However, many utes are not brought because they are fit for purpose. They are brought because they save thousands per year on FBT and are a cheap company car option. There are 65 utes sold for every EVthey are the top five selling vehicles in New Zealand. We don’t have that many farmers and tradesmen in New Zealand to justify those sorts of numbers. If you look in the back of many utes on the street you find that the rear trays are empty. 

If I had the money, I’d buy Kona, it’s perfect for me and my lifestyle. The total cost of ownership over three years for the Kona works out better than a Mazda CX3 (for me) but that’s because it’s exempted from road user charges until Dec 2021. If petrol prices keep going up, it’ll probably still beat the CX3 over five years too. I’m not ready to buy a new car yet, but when I am I’ll be looking seriously at a Kona. 

  • Zephyr was lent a Hyundai Kona Electric to test drive for a week courtesy of Hyundai New Zealand. This review is entirely his own.  

Review overview