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

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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 this good.

CHECK OUT: 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric rated at class-leading 258 miles of range

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.

2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

Cabin priorities are starkly different between these two, though. For instance, even though the Bolt EV has about three inches more rear legroom by the official numbers, the Kona Electric feels more spacious in back because its sides don’t taper as aggressively upward—revealed by the Kona’s nearly two-inch advantage in rear shoulder room. Lift the hatch and you get the same cargo capacity as in gasoline versions, and the 60/40-split rear seatbacks flip forward to a flat floor

DON'T MISS: 5 things about the 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

It’s easy to get in and get comfortable in the Kona Electric. Seats aren’t as high as most SUVs and crossovers, and there’s plenty of headroom. The front ones are more generously padded than in the Bolt EV, and the lower seat cushions are longer, for more thigh support—a big difference for this tall driver.

Gas gone electric—but you might not know

While there’s no gasoline Bolt EV, there is a gasoline Kona, and it’s one of the finest (and newest) specimens of the compact crossover class—neither conceived to look too outdoorsy nor aiming too far afield in design. To take it electric, Hyundai gave it a smoothing-over that makes the whole design a whole lot less busy than the gas model, but carried the rest of the goodness forward. The sharp squint of the headlamps are the most overt aspect of the design; otherwise the Kona feels a bit like a stylish hatchback car that’s gone sans serif and sans italics. Cargo space is abundant, rear seatbacks fold flat, and there are none of the sore compromises that can call out a compliance car [whether it is or not, well, we’ll get to that].

2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

Hyundai has added what it calls a “bridge-type center console with high-tech image.” Translation: With shifting between Park, Reverse, Neutral, and Drive performed by four big buttons replacing the traditional shift lever (with the parking-brake toggle just behind), there’s a lot more space freed up for a large storage area below.

READ MORE: 2019 Hyundai Ioniq preview

A drive mode button, important to note, is also atop the bridge. There are three primary charge modes: Eco, Normal, and Sport, each with a different calibration for how the accelerator and steering boost respond. Hold down the button for a few seconds and you’ll get to a fourth, Eco+, which essentially just cuts out the climate control.

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