2019 Hyundai Kona Electric: first drive of affordable 258-mile crossover Page 2

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2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

Out on the open road (yes, we did get some of that, too), the Kona Electric feels very perky, with its permanent-magnet motor delivering 201 horsepower and 291 lb-ft of torque. Even if the calibration doesn’t make it feel quite as uproariously enthusiastic and tire-burning as the Bolt EV off the line Hyundai says it has the same 7.6-second acceleration to 60 mph. The Kona Electric can reach a top speed of 104 mph versus the Bolt EV’s 90.

As we zigzagged on canyon two-laners, the Kona Electric really underscored the car side of the equation. It feels sporty and more balanced—likely the result of a better weight distribution and lower center of mass, even though it likely can’t muster as many Gs in corners as those other versions on its low-rolling-resistance tires. The Kona Electric gets an upgrade to a trailing-arm independent suspension, replacing the torsion-beam setup in the gasoline Kona, plus a front subframe bushing and hollow stabilizer bar, so that may help with the impression.

The best brake-regen functionality yet?

There are three levels of regenerative braking in the Kona Electric—0, 1, 2, and 3, with 3 being the most aggressive and 0 being freewheeling/coast mode. The car defaults to 1 for Normal and Sport modes and 2 for Eco, and you can click up the regen with the left paddle or down with the right paddle. But here’s where it all gets interesting: It doesn’t have to be that way. Hyundai has smartly decided to make those default levels of regen for each drive mode customizable via menus on the instrument cluster. So if you set the default to 3, you can get a strong almost-one-pedal level of regen every time you get in.

2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

Doing a longer pull on the left paddle serves two purposes. Do it as you’re coasting down and it enables the system’s maximum brake regen of 0.25g (a slight step more than ‘3’). Or do it as you’re gradually slowing to a stop and it disables creep, allowing you to gently (the operative word) reach a stop without pressing the brake pedal, until you start back up. It’s almost one-pedal driving.

A smart regeneration mode uses the radar sensors from the adaptive cruise system to automatically adjust your regen mode up or down. We did try this system, which engages via vehicle-configuration menus on the instrument cluster, for a short distance and couldn’t fully understand what it was doing in traffic and why. We’ll update you in the future, over a longer drive on familiar roads.

One other impression held every step of the way: This is a very quiet vehicle inside. With acoustic glass for the windshield and front side windows to help keep wind whoosh out, a suite of underbody covers and deflectors that double in keeping road noise away, and any motor whine well-muted, the only thing that finds its way into the cabin at city speeds is the intergalactic whir of Hyundai’s low-speed pedestrian warning.

2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

Hyundai has, through all these wind-cheating measures (the active front fascia included), cut the coefficient of drag to a low 0.29. That may play a part in the Kona Electric’s MPGe ratings of 120 combined (132 city, 108 highway)—versus 112 combined (125 city, 100 highway) for the Nissan Leaf.

Charging: light and fast, with thoughtful controls

The big pack is liquid-cooled and uses LG Chem prismatic cells; the entire battery system weighs less than 1,000 pounds, and by weight the pack’s energy density is 141.3 wh/kg—better than that of the Bolt EV, which uses LG Chem pouch cells. In terms of total curb weight, the Kona Electric weighs only slightly more than a top-trim gasoline model (about 3,400 pounds).

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