Hyundai Kona Electric: Compelling EV That U.S. May Barely Get to Know


Calling an EV a “compliance car” is largely considered an insult.

It usually means the manufacturer didn’t really want to build and sell an EV but they had to in order to comply with the California Air Resources Board’s requirements for zero-emission vehicles.

In such situations, the manufacturer slapped an electric powertrain into an ICE platform, and usually made the minimum required, selling them only in California, or in some cases expanding sales to the other nine “CARB states.” In most of these cases, the cars were full of compromises, had short ranges, rarely had DC Fast charge availability, and the OEMs had to subsidize the cost greatly, just to get them in consumers’ hands.  So why did I leave last week’s Hyundai Kona Electric press drive with that compliance car feeling in my gut?

Well, it wasn’t because of compromises. The Kona Electric didn’t have some of its cargo space intruded upon by a bulging battery, as some compliance EVs have had. Hat tip to Hyundai engineers for re-engineering the existing ICE platform of the Kona, and getting a 64 kWh battery in there without any visual compromises. They accomplished this by reinforcing the floorpan frame rails with an internal aluminum grid structure that provides more strength, allowing for a large battery pack to be located under the passenger compartment, like a true skateboard-designed EV.

The Kona Electric interior received high grades. The seating is comfortable, the instrumentation is well positioned and outward visibility is good.

As for the range, there’s nothing compliance about a 258-mile EPA rating. In fact, it’s the new electric range leader for all EVs not named Tesla. My time with the Kona definitely reinforced the range capabilities. The press drive was set up in two sections, because we were driving both the Kona Electric and the new Hyundai Nexo fuel cell. Two journalists would take a car (either the Kona or the Nexo) on a ~40-mile drive to where we met for lunch, and for the return trip they would take the other vehicle.

My team took the Nexo on the first leg of the day, and the Kona on the return trip. The total miles driven for the day in our Kona was 85, and the remaining range was stated at 190; that well exceeds the EPA rating. With how hard we drove the vehicle for our time in it, I was surprised that we still showed a total range of 275 miles. The weather was warm and we had the air conditioning on the entire time. During our ride we drove the Kona hard, frequently mashing the accelerator all of the way to get a good feeling for the acceleration which is very good. Hyundai claims a 0-60 time of 7.6 seconds for the Kona Electric, and I’m pretty certain that independent testing will find it’s actually quicker than that.

The Kona Electric has a 7.2 kW onboard charger and can (CCS) DC Fast charge up to 75 kW.

All trim levels of the Kona Electric will come standard with DC Fast charging (CCS), capable of accepting 75 kW of power. This will allow it to recharge to 80% in 54 minutes, returning roughly 210 miles of range in under an hour. Again, better than any currently-offered EV that doesn’t come from Fremont. Another sign that this isn’t just another compliance car.

The Kona Electric will be offered in three trim levels: SE, Limited and Ultimate. All have the same drive motor and range and include a list of high-tech safety features like Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection, Driver Attention Warning, Lane Keeping Assist, Blind-Spot Collision Warning, Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist.

The base SE has cloth upholstery, a six-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats and a 7-inch touchscreen. The Limited adds leather seating, a sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, turn signals in the side mirrors, LED headlights with High Beam assist, wireless phone charging and the Infinity premium audio system. The top of the line Ultimate trim adds the 8-inch touchscreen with built-in nav, ventilated front seats (which I really liked), Park Distance Warning, and a Heads-Up display and stop-and-go functionality for the adaptive cruise control system.

Hyundai has not yet announced pricing, but we were told it was coming very soon.

Video description: The Kona Electric Heads-Up display screen retracts with the push of a button.

So if all of this is true then it can’t be a compliance car, right? Well, I’m not too sure about that. It’s true that the Kona Electric a really nice overall package. There aren’t any compromises in the design, it has excellent electric range and it’s DC-Fast charging capable. It’s also powerful yet pretty efficient, the 201 hp electric motor delivers 291 lb-ft of torque and still manages an MPGe rating of 120 combined highway and city with a consumption rating of 28 kWh per 100 miles.

Now for the bad news. The 2019 Hyundai Kona EV will launch in California only, and at some point months later, become available in the other nine CARB ZEV states. (Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont). I was told by Hyundai representatives that there’s no guarantee they will offer the Kona EV outside of the ZEV states at any point, and that even if they do the dealers in those states likely won’t stock them. However, if a customer in a non-ZEV state wants one, they can special order it from a Hyundai dealer, but they’d need to do so without seeing or test driving it.

Also, I was able to squeeze some exclusive news for InsideEVs from Hyundai senior Manager of eco and performance powertrains, Jerome Gregeois. Gregeois told me that the Hyundai Kona Electrics sent to North America WILL NOT have active battery heating, unlike the cars going to European countries. Instead, they will only have thermal management with active battery cooling, but not heating. That’s a pretty significant sign to me that Hyundai isn’t serious about selling the Kona electric in the Northern states or Canada, where battery pre-conditioning in the winter months is very important.

So, there’s the initial launch in January 2019 in California only, followed at some unspecified point by the other CARB ZEV states, with no clear plan to expand sales beyond those states. With these distribution plans, Hyundai USA clearly isn’t expecting to get a lot of Kona Electrics from the mothership. Add to that the fact that Hyundai is eliminating active battery heating from the Kona Electric for North America, (to save money, I suppose) and I can’t help but get that compliance car feeling in my gut.

And that’s too bad. I like the Kona Electric. Correction, I really like the Kona Electric. So much so that I previously cancelled my Tesla Model 3 reservation and had intended on getting one once they became available in New Jersey. Going on the press drive had two purposes for me. First, of course, to report back here on my initial impressions and secondly, to get a pre-launch test drive and confirm my interest in buying one.

However, the apparent lack of availability, combined with the deletion of battery heating for the US market leaves me a little unsure if a Kona Electric will find its way onto our garage.

Compliance EV? We’ll let you decide.

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62 Comments on "Hyundai Kona Electric: Compelling EV That U.S. May Barely Get to Know"

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I think it falls under the compliance category because of availability as well as it being a conversion from the ICE version. It’s nice packaging for a transplant. When you look under the hood there is a lot of wasted space – no frunk (Tesla) or tight packaging (Bolt). It even has a center tunnel where the exhaust would normally run so you don’t have a flat floor.

Total production of all Kona variants globally for the first year is 20,000, as announced by Hyundai. A few years ago, that would be notable. It isn’t really today.

The Ioniq isn’t even sold in northern CA (only in L.A. area I believe) As a S.F. bay area resident I , selfishly, hope the Kona, Niro and/or longer range Ioniq actually make it even this far. Thus far Hyundai/Kia have really just been toying with their potential U.S. EV customers. Too bad because they are appealing vehicles.

I would love a Kona, but Monterey is not ready to service electric vehicles, my Soul EV has to go to Salinas and nobody here carries the Leaf. And we’re in the middle of Compliance, USA…

Haters are gonna hate… Poor kona, poor.

Looks like the Bolt will remain the only 200+ mile, <$40k BEV available for purchase in all 50 states for the foreseeable future. I actually gave credit for Hyundai including an active battery heating feature, as it is something I want on my Bolt. Nevermind!

The SR Model 3 should be available early in 2019.

But not less then $40k.

Early 2019 for Tesla means near April.
Also, you forget to mention the much smaller battery.

Still 200+ miles Cypres

Any info on expected release in california?

This is a good article. Comprehensive, thoughtful, fact-based, no click-bait in the title, no rumors or guesses reported as news. I particularly like that you did the work of rolling up your sleeves and getting actual concrete info out of Jerome Gregeoi. I also like that you didn’t do what so many other articles about the Kona do, which is call it “affordable” without knowing literally any facts about the price. So nice work. This is what auto journalism should look like.

I agree and IMO Tom is one of the top journalists in this segment.

Totally agree. Great job Tom, please contribute more here! Quick question: Are you sure the Kona EV isn’t going to have battery warming for all of North America, or just the US? It HAS to have it in Canada or it’s DOA.

If people in non-ZEV states can order the Kona through a Hyundai dealership when it comes out, does that mean that people in ZEV states can order it as soon as it’s released in California in January? I’m in New York.

When the Bolt EV came out local dealers in non-CARB states were not allowed to order. So a lot of people were buying the Bolt EV in CARB states and having the car shipped to thier residence state. Anyone that does this will miss out on any EV incentives offered by thier state.

Well, it’s not that bad if you can order one. Keep in mind all the Teslas have to be ordered and look at how well they do. My big concerns would be whether I could order from a Texas dealer so could get the Texas $2,500 rebate (Teslas are not eligible for this rebate) and whether the local dealers are certified to work on the car.

I generally am very reluctant to order cars. It’s a lot easier to negotiate on the price if the car is sitting on the lot and you can threaten to walk away if you don’t like the deal. But I have been known to order cars sight unseen and have the car shipped if I find a really good deal.

I know this conversation is a few months old but I’m also living in Texas (north of Houston) and have started thinking about purchasing the Kona Electric. This would be our first electric car. Have you spoken with any dealerships in TX yet about the process of ordering when it’s available? I’m curious about a few things:

1) how will the Kona Electric hold up in TX heat?
2) if we can, indeed, order the Kona Electric from TX when it is available in other markets then is there any shipping cost involved and, if so, what might that amount to?
3) Like you mentioned, is there any TX rebate ($2500) that could be redeemed if the car were ordered from out of state?

Did you have any luck speaking with a Hyundai dealer in TX about ordering info?

I live in NZ, I also cancelled my model 3 order and am expecting a new Kona premium in Jan 19. It sounds like Kona sales are focused outside of the US market. But even if the model 3 was available here, having test driven the Kona with all its comfort features the model 3 just has no chance, as much as I love Tesla, they killed it for me with no driver display, and turning on the wipers on a centre console just sounds weird to me. Why?!

I have not canceled my Model 3 yet, but am waiting to see the Kia Niro EV and Hyundai Kona EV. I had a Model 3 test drive today and was really impressed but really would like a vehicle with higher ground clearance since I have had knee replacement in both knees. I also test drove today a Kia Niro Plug-In and also found it impressive. I talked to the dealer sales manager and he said that he had been in Las Vegas last wee for a Kia dealer meeting and was told that the Niro EV would only be available in ZEV states; Virginia not being one of them. The sales manager said that the issue had to to with Virginia not offering state tax rebates on EVs but it really looks to be a Kia/Hyundai corporate position.

BS from the sales manager. Kia customers will still get a Federal tax credit of $7500. I suspect that the real bottleneck is the supply of batteries which is also the problem that GM is facing with the Bolt. Even if GM could sell more LG couldn’t supply the battery packs.

Can’t remember the last time I turned on the wipers. That’s what auto everything is for, so you don’t have to. Auto lights, Auto wipers, they even got Auto pilot!

I have a Model 3 and you don’t have to turn on the wipers. They turn on automatically. And the headlights also turn on and dip automatically

“…Hyundai Kona Electrics sent to North America WILL NOT have active battery heating, unlike the cars going to European countries. Instead, they will only have thermal management with active battery cooling, but not heating…”

Deal killer.

With more particularly cold areas of the US in the winter…WTF?

I wonder if this is something that could be added later on after purchase.

Cost savings, they only plan on selling this in moderate or hot climates. Those heaters or coolers are very expensive. Hyun-ki already leaves any auxiliary heaters off their PHEVs relying only on engine heat. Volt, Clarity, etc at least have resistance heat so your engine isn’t running when it’s 40 out and you turn the heat on.

With the recent IPCC report I’m getting sick and tired of non CARB states being denied EV’s.

If this is indeed true … that North American units will NOT have active battery heating, this might just make me go get my deposit tomorrow.

I am hoping that this colossal mistake is just a fake news from the Huyndai employee who really didn’t know anything other than what US cars will have. Selling Kona in Canada with no active battery heating would be downright crazy.

Hyundai/Kia has never produced an EV for 50-state sale, and this is the path they remain committed to.

They won’t commit to the EV customer, so the EV customer won’t commit to them. Yet they wonder why they can’t get a toehold in the EV market. We’ve had 5 H/K products in our family, and I would gladly buy one of their EVs if I could. (And no, I won’t buy a car I can’t test drive, and which might have sketchy dealer support near me).

This talk of so many H/K EVs by 2025 is just hot air. Hyundai/Kia is playing to lose.

All the major outlets are reviewing the Kona right now, but I might never even see one. I may as well be reading about a limited edition Panoz.

I cancelled my Kona EV order 2 weeks ago and got my deposit back, glad I did if the active battery heating is not available in Canada. I was early putting down a deposit in July when Hyundai Canada first posted a reservation list around July 5, but now because of the success in Europe I think we will only get a limited supply, originally 2500 units were heading to Canadian customers in the 4th quarter of 2018 – we will see if that still happens.

Great report, as always Tom. Hopefully the shaking in your video of the heads-up display screen is caused by your hand on the camera and not by the operation of the screen! 🙂 Meanwhile, on the compliance front, I am spoiled by living in CA so it doesn’t affect me personally. But I do wonder if manufacturers aren’t inclined to offer just in compliance states because those are still the states where people are most likely to buy an EV. You know, the old marketing maxim of “fish where the fish are biting.”

I guess I need to see what the specs of the Model Y will be in March.

I hope GM has something much better that will soon be released and I hope the competitive playing field is leveled by either extending tax credit incentives or cancelling extension—either way. Of course, extension would be preferable.

Compliance and should not get the tax credit since they don’t want to sell nationwide

They are taking $1,000 deposits for Kona electrics in Vancouver BC for delivery in 2019. I hope they have battery heating on the ones coming to Canada… No official price but questimate they are suggesting is pre government ev incentives of $40-45,000 Cdn

Fast charging will heat up battery enough anyway plus charging at home inside a garage in NJ winter is good enough for range.

You are missing the point … the system will not be able to keep the battery at its ideal 30C temps when temperatures dip lower in colder months. This would certainly not be beneficial to the battery health.

Imagine you are leaving from work after the car sitting whole day in sub 0C …. not good.

Cold doesn’t damage batteries much, if at all. It simply limits the electron flow so you cannot go as far when it’s cold.

HEAT (90+ degree fahrenheit), especially Texas or Arizona where temps can get well over 100 is what kills battery life.. That and letting a battery sit at 100% charge for long periods.

“Calling an EV a “compliance car” is largely considered an insult.”

How do you compliment something that you’ll probably never get to purchase, let alone see up close?

My Kona EV spec sheet says “Canadian drivers will also appreciate a standard heat pump system with inner condenser that re-uses waste heat from the air conditioning system, minimizing range loss during cold winters.” So does this contradict the “no heaters” comment or is a “heater” something different/additional to that description? Also, does the Bolt have a heater?

Sale only in CA at first? There are currently close to 28 Million licensed drivers in the state. Pretty good market I’d say.

Once again, leadership in the United States is lacking. I’d love to buy the Kona electric but without the right infrastructure in the United States — charging on trips, including to other states than California, and heated battery — making the car available in California is mere tokenism. Shame on our country!

The Hynundai Kona EV just arrived for sale in Los Angeles. I drove one today but not sure yet about actually laying out 46K for one. Its got a good amount of torque, but greatly lacks any feeling of sure footed stability on the road. To top that off, the dealerships here are marking the car up to 64K! Utterly ridiculous for a car that’s neither impressive on the road or head turning in the least