Hyundai Kona Electric review (2021): Kia e-Niro alternative?

In 2018, Hyundai much like its subsidiary brand, Kia, announced its all-electric SUV to market – the Kona Electric. Available in two powertrains, which coincidentally reflect the size of the battery pack housed within, the Kona Electric is, in many ways, identical to the Kia e-Niro.

On review is the top-spec Kona Electric Premium SE, which at the time of writing, can be found for £38,500 – that’s inclusive of the £3,000 Government Plug-in Car Grant (PiCG).

If you’d prefer to watch a review of the Hyundai Kona Electric, head on over to our YouTube channel.

Hyundai Kona Electric price & competition

Hyundai is considered as the more premium brand over its subsidiary, Kia. Unsurprisingly, the Kona Electric is more expensive over the equivalent e-Niro. The former model is available in three trims: SE, Premium and Premium SE.

The base SE trim that starts from £30,150 and comes with the following equipment fitted as standard:

  • 39 kWh battery pack (180-mile range)
  • Battery heater
  • 100 kW (134 hp) motor
  • 17″ alloy wheels
  • Manually-adjustable front seats
  • Rear parking sensors and camera
  • Keyless entry
  • 7″ touchscreen infotainment display with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support
  • 6-speaker audio system
  • 7″ instrument cluster
  • Cruise control, Forward Collision Warning (FCW) and Lane Keep Assist (LKA)

*the equivalent 39 kWh Kia e-Niro starts from £29,595.

Hyundai Kona Electric review

Move up to the Premium trim and there are two battery/powertrains to choose from: the same 39 kWh model as with the SE starts from £32,000; the bigger 64 kWh battery pack bolsters performance with 150 kW (201 hp) of power output, and up to 300 miles of driving range on a single charge – this model starts from £36,150.

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No matter which powertrain/battery pack you choose, it’ll come with the following options as standard; this adds what’s already included with the SE trim:

  • Automatic dimming rearview mirror
  • Privacy Glass: Rear side and tailgate
  • LED taillights
  • Solar Glass with windscreen shade band
  • Power folding door mirrors
  • Front and rear parking sensors, with rearview camera
  • 10.25″ touchscreen infotainment display with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support
  • 8-speaker Krell Automotive audio system, including subwoofer
  • Wireless charging pad for a smartphone
  • Lane Follow Assist (LFA), Blind Spot Detection (BSD)

*the equivalent 64 kWh Kia e-Niro starts from £33,850.

Hyundai Kona Electric rear

Move to the top-spec Premium SE, which is on review, and it’ll set you back £38,500. This trim is available with a 64 kWh battery pack, only. On top of what you get with the other two trims, the SE Premium comes with the following options as standard:

  • Electronically adjustable driver’s and front passenger’s seat
  • Leather seat trim
  • Static cornering lights
  • Head Up Display (HUD)
  • High Beam Assist (HBA)

*the equivalent 64 kWh Kia e-Niro starts from £36,145.

Aside from the Kia e-Niro which is its closest competitor, there’s also the shorter-range MG ZS EV that starts from £25,495. Past that you’ve got a few ‘premium-looking’ all-electric SUVs to consider, such as the Mercedes EQC, Jaguar I-Pace, and Audi e-tron that start from £64,925, £65,195 and £60,650, respectively.

Read next: Government car grant for electric cars: A complete guide on the PICG

Hyundai Kona Electric exterior review

With the added premium over its Kia sibling, the Kona Electric is expected to be more stylish, and it delivers on its promise. While the front of the car retains the same bubble-shaped design as the e-Niro, the Kona Electric’s headlights and styling, in our opinion, looks classier; the front bumper has a more aggressive style and at the back, the Kona Electric is more grown-up with its narrow taillights.

From the side, however, the Hyundai has larger plastic wheel arches and sideskirts that diminish its premium look. We had a similar complaint with the e-Niro, though, the Kia was less obtrusive with its plastic inserts. Of course, this is subjective, but we’d have preferred body-coloured parts all-round.

Speaking of colour, the Kona Electric comes in a ‘Galatic Grey’ finish as standard. The other colours, including the one pictured, are a £565 option: Tangerine Comet, Pulse Red, Chalk White, Acid Yellow, and Ceramic Blue.

As for its wheels, the SUV comes with 17″ alloys, roof rails, body-coloured door mirrors and has a front-mounted charging port that is concealed under a plastic flap. Beside it, you’ll also find a textured front bumper, which not only serves to reduce the drag coefficient but houses the vehicle’s vibrating sound plate (VESS). This is used to warn pedestrians of its presence at low speeds – more on this, below.

Hyundai Kona Electric bumper

Read next: What is an EV? Everything you need to know about hybrid and electric vehicles

Hyundai Kona Electric interior review

Inside, the Hyundai is again, a touch classier than its Kia alternative; it looks and feels a tad bit premium, although, in some aspects isn’t as practical as its South Korean sibling. This largely stems from the design of the centre console, which stretches over a storage compartment; concealing it in the process. Here, the Kia e-Niro has a cut-away, making it far easier to access valuables.

Elsewhere, the wireless charging pad – on the Premium and Premium SE – is concealed under a soft-close flap. While this might look better and provide a bit more security if you were to forget your smartphone in the vehicle, the design lends itself to be a little awkward when you’ve got a smartphone plugged into the singular USB slot; say if you’re looking to fast-charge or connect up to Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. Here, the cable sits on the outer edge of the compartment, putting pressure on the phone’s connector. Whereas with the e-Niro, your phone can be popped into the large tray underneath or placed without issue in its wireless charging bay.

There’s another USB slot and a 12V cigarette lighter outlet located by the lower centre console compartment. Unfortunately, there are no additional USB slots found within the armrest compartment, meaning one can’t drag an elongated USB cable to rear occupants; especially important if you have kids using mobile devices. As with the e-Niro, it’s also disappointing not to see any dedicated USB ports for rear occupants – a slight oversight by the Hyundai Group.

As for the centre console, it’s got two cupholder spaces and a set of buttons smartly laid out. Here, you’ll find Drive, Neutral, Park and Reverse in a cluster – it makes for easy operation but does lead itself to be a little less intuitive than the Kia’s rotary dial.

Moving up toward the dashboard, there are a set of easy-to-use climate control buttons with premium-looking rotary dials to adjust the fan speed and heat. On top of that, there’s a 10.25″ (or 7″ in the SE) touchscreen display. Unlike the Kia e-Niro, the Kona Electric has this propped up on the dashboard, making it a bit easier to glance at when driving.

Read next: Audi A8 audio review: Is the Bang & Olufsen system worth it?

Similarly, the Kona Electric Premium SE has one key advantage over its Kia sibling: a Head Up Display (HUD). The small glass panel pops up on the dashboard and can be configured to a slight degree through the vehicle’s 7″ instrument cluster. Through the HUD one can easily see the speed limit, active safety systems (such as Lane Keep Assist) and the current speed of travel. It’s definitely handy and makes for a less-distracting drive.

As for the digital instrument cluster, it cleverly switches in design when you flick through the drive modes making for a bettered experience. It’s plenty bright and can also be customised to the slightest degree; it can’t personalised to the extent of the instrument cluster found on the Audi e-tron, however.

Through the infotainment system, one can adjust the vehicle’s settings and tinker with the audio configuration. In the Premium and Premium SE, you’ll find a 400W eight-speaker Krell Automotive system that features an eight-channel amplifier and a 200mm subwoofer located in the boot. If you’d like to hear how it performs, watch our dedicated review of the audio system on YouTube.

On the subject of audio, VESS is a system developed by the Hyundai Motor Group to alert pedestrians of the vehicle’s approach. Given its silent nature, the feature is actually mandatory for any electric vehicle being sold in Europe. The outward-sounding frequency isn’t particularly pleasant – head on over to the appropriate section on Hyundai’s website to hear a demo.

However, unlike the Kia e-Niro which amplifies the sound inside the cabin, the Kona Electric provides a near-silent in-cabin experience. This makes for a much more pleasurable drive, especially within inner-city commutes where you’re likely to drive at lower speeds. One can also manually disable VESS through a button found on a panel located by the driver’s side door.

When it comes to wireless connectivity, Bluetooth can be used, where the AAC and SBC codecs are supported for playback. Over a wired connection, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto both come as standard. While these are a welcome sight, the automaker’s integration with the latter system isn’t impressive. Connected through a USB cable with a Samsung Galaxy S10+, the 10.25″ screen only utilises two-thirds of the display, whereby a third is rendered useless and is replaced with an Android Auto logo, instead. It’s very much the same case with the e-Niro, but we’d have hoped to see better integration with the Hyundai; alas, that’s not the case.

Hyundai Kona Electric Android Auto

Read next: MG ZS EV review: An affordable all-electric SUV

Hyundai Kona Electric storage review

Onto storage, the Hyundai Kona Electric, much like the Kia e-Niro, has plenty of compartmental storage space inside the cabin. Under the centre console, within the front and rear door compartments and inside the armrest.

However, given its slightly sleeker design, the Kona has 332 litres of space in the boot and 1,114 litres with the seats folded flat. By comparison, the Kia e-Niro trumps the Hyundai with 451 and 1,405 litres, respectively. Likewise, the MG ZS EV offers 448 and 1,375 litres.

Put into perspective, the all-electric Renault Zoe hatchback offers 338 and 1,225 litres – it’s a shame the Kona Electric can’t compete at this level. Nevertheless, it should suffice for most, whereby fitting your weekly shop will be a non-issue and even large luggage or a mountain bike will squeeze into the rear of the vehicle.

Read next: Renault Zoe review: Best electric family car?

Hyundai Kona Electric comfort review

When it comes to seating, the Kona Electric caters five adults; if a fifth occupant isn’t at the back, the middle seat can be brought down to reveal an armrest, which houses two cupholder spaces.

At the front, the Premium SE has electronically adjustable seats; both for the driver and the passenger. The former is solely present on the Kia e-Niro. Here, headroom and legroom are plentiful with tall-sized individuals comfortably sitting at the front of the cabin.

Hyundai Kona Electric front seats

However, the same couldn’t be said about the rear of the cabin, where both headroom and legroom are limited; 6-foot (182cm) individuals will find there’s very limited legroom, and headroom will be an issue if rear occupants measure more than 6-foot 4-inches (193cm). The same experience isn’t felt in the Kia e-Niro, which offers ample amount of space at the back.

All five seats are also a little stiff, meaning a long-distance drive can take its toll on your quads or glutes.

As for cabin noise, the Kona Electric provides a serene interior. It can’t quite match up to the Audio e-tron or A8 for example, but it’s certainly a cut above the rest, including the Kia e-Niro. Road noise is kept to a minimum on motorways and wind deflecting on the A-pillars is almost non-existent.

Read next: Extreme E: The electric off-road racing series

Hyundai Kona Electric performance review

The Kona Electric’s smaller cabin size makes it lighter than its Kia counterpart. Here, the 64 kWh model has a kerb weight of 1,685 kg, making it 127 kg lighter than the equivalent Kia. Despite the weight-saving the Kona Electric will take fractionally longer to get to 60mph from a standstill – at least according to the manufacturer; it clocks in at 7.6s, while the Kia manages the same speed in 7.5s.

Using Racelogic’s Vbox Sport, we measured the Kona Electric propels itself to 60mph in just 7.19 seconds. An excellent result considering the vehicle weighs over one and a half tonnes. Here, the Premium SE’s single front-mounted Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motor (PMSM) dispatches 150 kW (201 hp) of power, delivering 395 Nm of readily available torque. Max speed is limited to 104 mph.

Hyundai Kona Electric motor

The only downside is that the vehicle operates a front-wheel-drive system, which means if you put your foot down to the metal, you’ll hear and feel the tyres struggling for grip. While this is fun to try on a straight road, it can lead to a lack of stability when cornering at speed on country roads.

Similarly, it suffers from body roll whereby no matter which driving mode you’re in, the SUV’s seesaws around. Oddly, its suspension isn’t buttery smooth, either. While it isn’t as stiff as the MG ZS EV, the Kona Electric doesn’t glide over speed bumps like the Audi e-tron, which uses active air suspension.

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On the subject of the feel, the Kona Electric’s steering wheel feels connected to the front axle. In Sport mode, the SUV’s steering feels a little heavier and harder to yank to one side. In both Comfort and Eco mode, however, it softens up making for an easier drive around the city. Its accelerator pedal also acts in conjunction with the selected drive mode – it’s more responsive in Sport mode.

Manoeuvring the SUV is a breeze, too. With a good turning circle and visibility across all windows, it’s easy to check for oncoming traffic or pedestrians. The addition of front and rear parking sensors alongside a rearview camera makes it even easier to execute a parallel parking manoeuvre.

The SUV’s biggest selling point, however, is its quoted all-electric driving range, which puts the more premium-looking SUVs on the market to shame. Hyundai claims up to 300 miles on a single charge (up from 282 miles on the Kia e-Niro); in our mixed driving tests, we found it to achieve between 240-260 miles, which is outstanding.

Pop the car into Eco or Eco+ mode, which limits top speed and climate controls, and you’ll likely manage even better mileage. By comparison, the Audi e-tron that costs over two times the Kona’s retail price managed only 190-200 miles in our like-for-like range tests.

Hyundai Kona Electric front design

To achieve this feat, the Hyundai Group uses a pump to recoup heat dissipated from the vehicle’s battery pack. Here, the Kona Electric – like the e-Niro – utilises unwanted heat to warm the interior of the cabin when needed. Ultimately, prolonging the vehicle’s range in colder months when EV’s battery packs are at their weakest.

The proof is in the pudding: our 240-260-mile result was conducted with the temperature of the cabin set to 23°C and fan speed set to 2, whilst outside temperature ranged between 4-6°C. Impressive.

Read next: Volkswagen e-up! review: A bite-sized electric car

To recoup energy back into the vehicle’s 64 kWh battery pack, there are three levels of regenerative braking to choose from: level 1, 2, and 3. One can set the level you like through the infotainment system, and better still, the car will save the setting for the next drive. It will, however, always default to Comfort mode.

For example: if you set level 1 on Sport mode, level 2 on Comfort mode, and level 3 on Eco mode, and left off using Sport mode your next drive default to level 2 mode, as that’s what you will have set for Comfort mode.

While the above might seem like a small logical step, most manufacturers seem to disable or ramp up all regenerative braking methods. Hyundai seems to have got it right – drivers don’t want to step inside their vehicle and set their preferred regenerative braking level each time they press the start/stop button.

As for one-pedal driving, it’s made possible through the harshest mode (level 3); it’s not quite as severe as say a BMW i3 nor the MG ZS EV, so you’ll still need to touch on the brake pedal when coming to a complete standstill. Of course, if you’d prefer not to utilise it at all, a simple flick on the flappy paddles can disable automatic regenerative braking altogether.

Hyundai Kona Electric charging port

To recharge the vehicle, it’ll get to 80% in 75 minutes using a 50 kW CCS input; fully charge in 7hrs 30 mins using a 3-phase 10.5 kW Type 2 input; 9hrs 35 mins with a 7 kW public or wallbox charger; and will take a whopping 31 hrs if one has to resort to a 3-pin wall plug.

Finally, in terms of safety, the Kona (non-electric) variant received five stars in Euro NCAP’s 2017 tests; one can imagine the similarly-built Kona Electric should achieve this result, too. The Premium SE also has a flurry of safety systems: Cruise control, Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Blind Spot Detection (BSD), High Beam Assist (HBA), Lane Follow Assist (LFA), and Lane Keep Assist (LKA). We found the latter system seems to do a modest job on the motorway, with the car pinging from time-to-time from left to right.

Hyundai Kona Electric TotallyEV award

Read next: Kia e-Niro review: The best all-electric SUV?

TotallyEV’s verdict on the Hyundai Kona Electric

On the whole, the Hyundai Kona Electric is an excellent all-rounder and makes for a great choice for those looking to up the style and class over the Kia e-Niro. Comparing both like-for-like models, the Kona Electric Premium SE will set you back £38,500, while the Kia e-Niro 4/4+ comes in at £36,145.

The £2,355 premium gets you a HUD, a more premium look from the exterior and a nicer feel in the interior, a slightly more competent infotainment system and a better-insulated cabin, at the expense of less legroom at the rear and smaller boot capacity.

Ultimately, both vehicles make for a fantastic choice, namely in terms of their all-electric range. It really comes down to which SUV better suits your needs; if you’re looking for an all-electric SUV that won’t lead to range anxiety, look no further than the Hyundai Kona Electric or the Kia e-Niro. Both vehicles receive TotallyEV’s coveted Best Buy award.

Which all-electric SUV would you pick? Let us know in the comments below or via social media; we’re on: YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Design
9
Features
10
Storage space
8
Driving comfort
9
Performance
9
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Christopher is an avid car enthusiast and techie. In his spare time, he reviews the latest consumer electronic products on his YouTube channel, TotallydubbedHD. Elsewhere, he practices Taekwondo, in which he has held a black belt for several years and coaches at a national level. He also speaks fluent English, French, Armenian, and loves to practice freestyle street dance.

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