2019 Hyundai Kona Electric first drive: Hawaiian charge

258 miles — that's the range of the Hyundai Kona Electric. That number falls beneath just about every gasoline powered car on the market today, but not by too much. It also tops the Chevrolet Bolt by 20 miles, the Nissan Leaf by over 100 miles, and its Hyundai cousin, the Ioniq Electric, by over 125 miles. That range comes courtesy of a 64-kwh battery and an equivalent fuel economy rating of 132 mpge in the city, 108 on the highway and 120 combined. 

Those are interesting numbers. And they contribute to the downright normal behavior of this latest Kona. It’s not a science experiment or a senior engineering project. It’s a car (well, crossover). Exceptional in its normalness. Rare in its commonality. The aforementioned battery pack lies beneath the rear seat, which is a good “out of sight, out of mind” spot. The pack is also temperature-controlled by a liquid heating and cooling system. That pack powers a 201-horsepower electric motor that produces 290 pound-feet of torque from effectively zero rpm. 

That’s enough oomph to make the roughly 3,850-pound electric mini 'ute feel pretty darn peppy. In normal driving conditions, any heavy right foot will result in jerked necks in the cabin. The power at hand plays a role, of course, but so does the immediacy of delivery. A wonderful thing about electric power is the very quick and very consistent throttle response. 

When time comes to arrest the fun, the brake pedal feels normal too, but also seems largely optional since the Kona comes with four levels of brake regeneration or battery pack recharging. Selectable via paddles on either side of the steering wheel, what most would assume to be shift paddles, the right one increases regeneration on deceleration — the left decreases it. The driver can choose from zero regen all the way up to one-quarter of a g of deceleration, as long as said driver is willing to press and hold the right paddle for the stop. One quarter g is about as much as cars usually slow down if you're paying attention in everyday traffic. As regen levels increase the throttle becomes a part of the braking system in a way — you can modulate deceleration with light application of the pedal. As a big believer in developing a very sensitive throttle foot, I consider this a good thing.

Benefiting from a low center of gravity courtesy of the battery pack, the Kona does not lean into corners much and gives positive response to driver inputs. Steering wheel feedback isn’t half bad either, which is high praise for an electric car. Cornering limits, however, are laughably low since the eco-focused tires have very low rolling resistance and as a result offer as much stick as Post-It notes. 

Aside from powertrain this is the same Hyundai Kona with which we are familiar and fond of. Plopping into the seats and going on a two-hour ride is as comfortable as anything in the quickly growing small-utility class and its ergonomics are at the top of it. The second row is reasonable as well and the cargo floor is plenty low and offers nearly 20 cubic feet of room. There’s plenty of standard safety equipment like Forward Collision Avoidance, Lane Keeping Assist, and Blind-Sport Warning among others. 

We don’t yet know how much the Kona Electric costs. Pricing will be announced closer to the on-sale date, which is early 2019. And then, it will only be on sale in California before making its way to the other zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) states — don’t expect to see any whirring around the Midwest anytime soon. And though it’s risky to speculate, I bet it will cost less than a Tesla. 

The Kona is proof that electric vehicles have overcome another hurdle and continue to march toward mainstream acceptance. And that worries me less and less.

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