2019 Hyundai Kona Electric: first drive of affordable 258-mile crossover

Our first test-drive time with the Hyundai Kona Electric included plenty of what’s very familiar to Los Angelenos: plodding along to the next stoplight on wide boulevards, waiting another few minutes, and repeating—with occasional squirts into traffic gaps and quick merges into the carpool lane. It’s a use case that many of the Kona Electrics Hyundai sells in the U.S. are likely to encounter. The company sees about 80 percent of the current U.S. market for EVs such as the Kona Electric in California, and company officials described a pecking order to it: California first (in January 2019), then the rest of CARB ZEV states, and then the rest of the nation. But in this year that Tesla is leading sales of all-electric models to new highs, it’s a travesty for Hyundai to limit it to what sounds, at the start, like a compliance machine—especially for a vehicle that, based on our preliminary impressions, is thisgood.

As you scan downward in this first drive report, there are a couple things we really can’t comment about yet: pricing, which won’t be detailed for a little while, and the Kona Electric’s 258-mile driving range, which is the most currently EPA-rated for any non-Tesla model. Our drive route included a lot of elevation changes, and we finished our drive of the Kona Electric at a lower elevation than where we started. It wasn’t surprising that the range estimator adjusted upward.

The Kona Electric instantly strikes us as a more “normal” vehicle than its obvious cross-shop rival, the Chevrolet Bolt EV. Both are price-conscious electric crossover-hatches with mammoth “skateboard” battery packs stocked with LG Chem cells (pouch for the Bolt EV, prismatic for the Kona Electric). The Hyundai is slightly lower and wider than the Bolt EV, but it rides on an identical 102.4-inch wheelbase and 164.0-inch overall length.

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