The three finalists five years ago in the Utility category of the North American Car of the Year awards included an Acura and a Jaguar – premium vehicles that lost to a humble subcompact underdog, the Hyundai Kona.
In no small part, that first-generation Kona owed its success to a broad model lineup that included a full battery-electric version. The electric version didn’t only win over jurors (myself included) by delivering useful driving range at a relatively affordable price, it was also a blast to drive.
Now there’s an all-new and upsized Kona lineup vying for the 2024 NACOTY awards, and as a juror I’m back in Ann Arbor, Mich., for the program’s annual test event to choose the finalists.
The Kona Electric shares with its gas-powered siblings a new architecture that was developed primarily for EV use, and brings significantly enlarged dimensions inside and out. The redesign also ups the ante in terms of advanced driver-assist and convenience technology.
Surprisingly, there are no great electric-powertrain advances. Battery capacity grows only incrementally to 64.8 kilowatt-hours from 64, while the motor driving the front wheels is still rated at 150 kilowatts. Claimed range inches up to 420 kilometres from 415. Limited charging information is available but according to ev-database.org, maximum fast-charge capability is still 100 kilowatts. Hyundai cites 43 minutes to replenish the battery from 10 per cent to 80 per cent on a DC fast charger.
One thing that is new is vehicle-to-load (V2L) capability. Within a 1.7-kilowatt limit, the Kona can recharge external devices such as e-bikes or camping equipment, or provide household backup during an outage. Also on the menu are battery preconditioning, a one-pedal driving mode and smart regenerative braking that optimizes for real-time traffic conditions.
Pricing is not yet available, but because the gas models have increased (to reflect enhanced standard equipment, says Hyundai), it’s likely the 2024 Electric will do likewise when it arrives early next year. The outgoing 2023 model started at $44,599. In some markets the 2024 Electric is offered with a smaller 48-kilowatt-hour battery at a lower price, though we don’t know whether that will come to Canada.
The outgoing 2023 Chevrolet Bolt, meanwhile, starts at about $39,000 and offers similar range to the Kona. The Nissan Leaf Plus – the one with the 60-kilowatt-hour battery – starts at $46,998. Other small EVs such as the Kia Niro and Kia Soul are likewise priced in the mid to high $40,000s. Hyundai being Hyundai, we don’t doubt the new Electric’s pricing will be competitive.
Meanwhile, after being underwhelmed by the gas N-Line that was our first taste of the 2024 Kona, our first drive of a U.S.-spec Electric with the larger battery has rekindled our enthusiasm. We don’t think Kona will repeat as North American Utility of the Year, but if you’re in the market for a relatively affordable small EV, the Kona Electric may be worth waiting for.
2024 Hyundai Kona Electric
- Price: To be announced
- Powertrain: 150-kilowatt electric motor
- Transmission/drive: One-speed / Front-wheel drive
- Energy consumption/Range (Litres equivalent per 100 kilometres): 1.8 city/2.3 highway (estimate) / 420 kilometres
- Alternatives: Chevrolet Bolt, Kia Niro Electric, Kia Soul Electric, Nissan Leaf
The Electric’s 0.27 drag coefficient is impressive for a crossover, though our eyes preferred the tight “macho midget” looks of the previous generation. Distinct on the 2024 Electric is what Hyundai calls a Pixelated Seamless Horizon Lamp across the leading edge of the hood.
The inside makes good use of the enlarged outside, providing one of the segment’s roomiest rear cabins within a footprint that’s no bigger than average. Up front, a sturdy twist-action drive selector stalk on the steering column frees up space for a commodious centre console, where the cupholders can retract when not in use to create even more stash space. A single horizontal floating panel atop the dashboard houses dual 12.3-inch screens for the gauge cluster and the (next-generation) infotainment, but there’s still a full array of traditional knobs and buttons for the audio and climate control. Ample at-the-wheel adjustability is more accommodating than most for those who like or need to sit high.
The Kona doesn’t lunge off the line like some EVs, but its steady, linear launch should get it to 100 kilometres an hour in about seven seconds – ho-hum by EV standards, but perky for a subcompact crossover. For the most part it delivers that pace with an EV’s trademark silky silence, enhanced by muted wind noise even at freeway speeds, though paradoxically there was a pronounced mechanical whine at speeds close to 30 kilometres an hour. The light, firm brake pedal is easy to modulate, and the new chassis delivers an improved, firm, consistent ride while preserving the lively handling and engaging steering that we enjoyed on the previous generation.
Canadian packaging for the Electric hasn’t been revealed yet, but based on the gas models, expect a truly broad suite of driver-assist features, even including an available (albeit limited to forward and backward) remote parking assist. Available in the U.S., but not confirmed for Canada, is navigation-based smart cruise control, which can automatically adjust speed for speed-limit changes or for curves, and can even perform passing manoeuvres automatically.
The Electric has the same cargo volumes as the gas models – 723 litres seats-up and 1,803 litres seats-folded, both metrics near-best-in-class. A two-position cargo deck sits flush with flat-folding seatbacks in its upper position, with hidden storage below, or can be set lower for a deeper trunk while still retaining some subfloor space (a tire mobility kit subs for the spare wheel). There is also a small 27-litre frunk.
The 2024 Kona Electric is roomier and more refined without dulling its fun-to-drive feistiness or sacrificing electric range.
The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.