On paper, these two electric cars match up rather well, but can we declare one a winner?

Ever since the latest electric vehicle revolution started, we in the press have been comparing every EV available to every other one, and quite often the only thing the two vehicles had in common were the fact that they plugged in.  How about a Tesla Model S 100D versus the BMW i3 REx? Or a Nissan LEAF versus a Chevrolet Volt? All four cars I just mentioned are very different, and if they were conventionally powered, nobody would be comparing them. Because the variety of available electric cars has been so restricted, we've been stretching a bit to come up with relevant comparisons to write about.

The good news is that's starting to change.  We're not only getting more electric options, but we are also getting more variety in the types of electric vehicles available. I still can't get a sub-$50,000, long range, all-wheel-drive crossover, similar to a Toyota RAV4 or Chevrolet Equinox that I want, but I digress. Perhaps the Tesla Model Y will eventually fill that void.

So, we're going to change things up a bit here and compare two EVs that actually deserve a comparison: the Chevy Bolt and new Hyundai Kona EV. Correction, they are so similar that they actually beg it. Not sure about that? Well then, let's examine the facts:


How Far Can You Go on Electricity?

The Bolt EV's range estimator offers a minimum and maximum range estimate, as well as the single-figure that other EVs offer.

The Bolt EV's range estimator offers a minimum and maximum range estimate, as well as the single-figure that other EVs offer.

BOLT: The Bolt's 60 kWh battery delivers an EPA-rated 238 miles per charge. Since its launch in December of 2016, the Bolt has had the distinction of having the longest all-electric range of any EV besides a Tesla. The Bolt has an efficiency rating of 119 miles-per-gallon equivalent (MPGe), which at the time of its launch was considered very good for an EV with a large, 60 kWh battery. The Bolt was also the first long-range electric car available for under $40,000, and has been the only one for nearly two years now. However, that's about to change.

KONA: That's because the Kona Electric, with its larger 64 kWh battery, will arrive in the U.S. in a couple months with an EPA-rated 258 miles per charge. Hyundai didn't just barely edge out the Bolt, it made sure the Kona Electric clearly has more range than the Bolt. Hyundai representatives at the car's launch event for the media made certain everyone in attendance was aware of the 20-mile advantage over the Bolt. The Kona Electric also has a slightly better efficiency rating than the Bolt, measuring 120 MPGe.

Plus, unlike the Bolt, the Kona Electric has a second battery option available for those who don't need 258 miles of range. A 39.2 kWh battery option is expected to deliver 155-160 miles of range. We're not sure if the smaller battery option will be available in the U.S., where Hyundai believes most of the demand will be for the larger battery. However, it's good to see other manufacturers following Tesla's model of offering different battery sizes, to accommodate the varying needs of all their customers.

WINNER: KONA ELECTRIC

It's hard to beat the extra kWh the Kona Electric has. With 20 more miles of range, the Kona Electric is the new (non-Tesla) range champ.


Which Car Is More Fun to Drive?

The Bolt is lighter and more agile than the Kona, which allows for a more spirited driving experience.

The Bolt is lighter and more agile than the Kona, which allows for a more spirited driving experience.

BOLT:  The Bolt packs a good punch with 200 horsepower (150 kW) and 266 pound-feet (361 Nm) of torque. And it weighs 3,580 pounds – not bad considering the battery is about 1,000 lbs of the total weight. Power is delivered to the front wheels, and as one would expect, there's a decent amount of torque steer when you mash the throttle to the floor if the steering wheel isn't exactly centered.

In my time with a Bolt, I found it fun to drive and a capable performer. While nobody would call the Bolt a sports car, its 0-60 time of 6.5 seconds definitely puts it solidly in the "hot hatch" category. The Bolt is electronically speed-limited to only 91 mph, so it's definitely not ready for the fast lane of the Autobahn. However, here in the States, there aren't many opportunities to (legally) go faster than the Bolt's limit.

KONA:  The Kona Electric's motor has 201 hp (150 kW), just one more hp than the Bolt. However, it does have 24 more lb-ft of torque than the Bolt, with a rating of 290 lb-ft (395 Nm). The torque advantage is pretty much negated by the fact the Kona Electric weighs about 300 lbs more than the Bolt. We don't have the official weight of the U.S. version yet, but the European Kona's specifications have been published, so we can use them to estimate.

One might ask why the Kona weighs so much more than the Bolt, while being virtually the same size. It's not because it has a larger battery, because the battery weighs just about the same as the Bolt's smaller pack does. We believe it's because the Kona wasn't designed to be electric. Hyundai re-engineered the gas-powered Kona to accommodate an electric powertrain.

Hyundai estimates the Kona Electric's 0-60 time at 7.6 seconds, but often independent testing results in better times than what the manufacturer offers. Still, after driving the Kona Electric, it's clear it won't be quite as spirited as the Bolt. On the plus side, I didn't notice as much torque steer as the Bolt, and the handling was more than acceptable. As with the Bolt, this isn't a sports car, but it isn't a slouch either.

WINNER: BOLT EV

The Bolt is a full second quicker to 60 miles per hour, according to the manufacturer's specifications. They both ride on 17-inch wheels that are 215 millimeters wide, but the Bolt's aspect ratio is 50%, while the Kona's is slightly taller at 55%. I drove both cars pretty hard and they both handled very well. Having those 1,000-pound battery packs below the cabin really helps lower the center of gravity, and offer good handling in both vehicles. However, the Bolt is definitely the better performer.


Charging Times for the Bolt and Kona Electric

The Kona Electric has a 32-amp onboard charger, the same as the Bolt EV. However, the Kona's DC Fast charging system allows for much faster DC Fast charging than does the Bolt's.

The Kona Electric has a 32-amp onboard charger, the same as the Bolt EV. However, the Kona's DC Fast charging system allows for much faster DC Fast charging than does the Bolt's.

BOLT: The Bolt comes standard with a 32-amp onboard charger, which Chevy claims is good for 7.2 kW charging. However, it can actually charge up to 7.7 kW, depending on how high the voltage of your supply is. During my time with the Bolt I recorded charging levels up to 7.6 kW, so I know first-hand it can accept the full 32 amps. I suspect Chevrolet lists the rate at 7.2 kW so they can account for those customers that may have slightly lower-voltage at their homes, and don't want to over-promise.

As for DC Fast charging, the Bolt uses the Combined Charging System (CCS or Combo) protocol, and can accept up to 55 kW of power. DC Fast charging is not standard on the Bolt, and costs an additional $750.00. Since the Bolt's inception, this amount of power has been fine, because there haven't been any DC Fast charge stations that could deliver more than 50 kW. However, that's changing, and new DC Fast charge stations that can deliver 100+ kW are beginning to be installed across the U.S. and Europe. Also, many Bolt owners have expressed frustration because the Bolt tapers down the charge rate on DC Fast much earlier than most other EVs do. This make long distance travel less convenient, because it increases the length of time it takes to fully recharge the Bolt on DC Fast stations. Chevrolet claims the Bolt can add 160 miles of range per hour on a DC Fast charge station.

KONA: The Kona also has a 32-amp onboard charger for level 2, 240-v charging. Therefore, while charging on Level 2, the charge time will be slightly longer than the Bolt because the Kona's battery is slightly larger. However, things are different with DC Fast charging.

The Kona Electric uses the same CCS connector as does the Bolt, but it can accept more power. The Kona Electric can accept up to 75 kW, a full 20 kW more than the Bolt. And the advantage doesn't end there. The difference becomes even bigger when the battery temperature is cold. Hyundai tested both vehicles in cold weather, and at zero degrees, the Kona EV fully charges 50% faster than a Bolt will. This is because the Kona doesn't taper the charge rate as aggressively as the Bolt does as the state of charge increases, or when the battery cells are cold. Hyundai claims the Kona Electric can add about 210 miles of range per hour on a DC Fast charge station.

WINNER: KONA ELECTRIC

Both vehicles use a 32-amp onboard charger for level 2, daily charging. However, the Kona's standard DC Fast charge system is far superior to the Bolt's, which is also optional. There's a clear winner in the charging category, and it doesn't wear the Chevrolet bowtie.


Comparing Dashboards, Interior and Cargo Space

The Bolt's (top) interior seems more roomy because it doesn't have the continuous center console like the Kona has. However, we found the Kona to be more comfortable and have a slightly more upscale feel.

The Bolt's (top) interior seems more roomy because it doesn't have the continuous center console like the Kona has. However, we found the Kona to be more comfortable and have a slightly more upscale feel.

BOLT: In our opinion, the Bolt's interior is probably its weakest link. While there's plenty of interior room, especially for a car of this size, and the seating position and outward vision are very good, the materials used and seating comfort just are not on par with what you'd expect from a $36,000+ car.

The much-maligned seats are too thin for larger people, and owners have complained about them having insufficient padding. Chevrolet also used a lot of hard plastics, and the overall feel is definitely more of an entry-level economy-car, than it is of a car in this price class. The Bolt's large 10-inch center display is bright and clear, even on sunny days.  It also comes standard with Apply CarPlay and Android Auto, but there's no onboard navigation offered, even as an option.

As mentioned above, the Bolt has a lot of interior room for both passengers and for cargo. In particular, the Bolt's 36.5 inches of rear legroom is exceptional for a car of this size. Power seats are not available on the Bolt but a heated steering wheel is, as an option.

KONA: Even though the Kona Electric is basically the same length and width as the Bolt (.6 inches longer and 1.4 inches wider, in fact), it doesn't feel as roomy as the Bolt. Perhaps that's because the Kona's center console completely divides the driver and passenger compartments and is positioned rather high. The Kona comes standard with a seven-inch touch-screen center display, but the Limited and Ultimate trims have a slightly larger eight-inch display. The Ultimate trim also comes with a heads-up display, with retracts into the dash when not in use. The Kona comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the Ultimate trim also has onboard navigation, with real-time traffic included.

The Kona's interior also has its fair share of hard plastic surfaces, but not quite as much as the Bolt, and feels a little more upscale than the Bolt does. Heated seats are standard, and the Kona Limited and Ultimate trims come with an eight-way adjustable power driver's seat. Surprisingly, ventilated front seats come standard with the Ultimate trim. I used them on the Kona Electric press drive held in sunny Los Angeles, and they worked very well. The Kona's seats are supportive in the right places and comfortable. The Kona has only 33.4 inches of rear legroom, and doesn't have much room to spare with a tall adult sitting in the front seat. That's a full three inches fewer than the Bolt, and it's definitely noticeable. Perhaps that's why the Kona has 2.3 more cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats.

While the Bolt has lots of high-tech features and options, the Kona has even more, including:

  • Hyundai Smart Sense (HSS):
    • Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection
    • Driver Attention Warning
    • Lane Keeping Assist
    • Blind-Spot Collision Warning
    • Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist
    • High Beam Assist
  • Premium technology availability:
    • 8-inch Navigation System
    • Shift-by-wire center console drive controls with additional storage below
    • Next generation Blue Link® connected car system
    • Heads-up Display (with active pop-up display screen)
    • Rain-sensing Wipers
    • Qi Wireless-device charging
WINNER: KONA ELECTRIC

While the Bolt feels roomier, the Kona's more comfortable, has more high-tech features including a heads-up display and ventilated front seats, and offers a navigation system, which is absent on the Bolt. Neither vehicle screams premium, but the Kona's dashboard and center console look and feel better to me than the Bolt's plasticky look and feel.

On the other hand, the Bolt has three inches more rear legroom, and that's a big advantage. It has 19% more cargo room than the Kona with the seats down, but 12-percent less when the seats are up. We believe most owners find it more useful to have the extra cargo space while the seats are up, since that's how the vehicles are primarily used. The Bolt does offer a very nice overall package, but the Kona edges it out because it's more comfortable, and offers more premium and safety features.


Which has the Best Regenerative Braking System?

This is the Hyundai Kona Electric's regen on demand paddle.

This is the Hyundai Kona Electric's regen on demand paddle.

First, I'd like to say that I've driven pretty much every electric car available today, and in my opinion, these are the two best regenerative braking systems available today. Why?  Because they offer options.

Some automakers are afraid to make regenerative braking systems too complex, because they don't want to confuse people who are new to electric vehicles. I can understand their thinking, but electric cars are for different; they should celebrate that fact and not try to make them as similar as they can to traditional gasoline cars. Regenerative braking is probably the biggest difference in the EV driving experience. If done right, it can not only make the car more efficient, but more enjoyable to drive as well.

BOLT: The Bolt has two driving modes, Drive and Low. In the default Drive mode, the regenerative braking in minimal, and you can almost freewheel coast. Putting the vehicle in Low dramatically increases the regenerative braking, and coasting isn't at all possible. There's also a Regen on Demand paddle on the left side of the steering wheel. Pulling it forward unleashes an intense 70 kW of regen force. The Bolt also allows for true one-pedal driving when in Low. If driven carefully, you rarely need to employ the paddle to increase the braking force, or to come to a complete stop.

In January 2016, I had the opportunity to sit down with Josh Tavel, lead engineer for the Bolt, and one of the things we spent a lot of time talking about was his approach to regenerative braking. He explained that he and his team really spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the best level of regen was before ultimately deciding to have two distinct levels (Drive and Low) and letting the customer decide which they preferred.

It’s still in the same field as a normal car. There are normal cars that have as much natural decel as the Bolt in Drive; it’s not out of the norm. Originally it was tuned such that if you were to take 100 people and monitor them coming to a stop light, and monitor that decel, and let’s say it would be about .2g’s. The Bolt was designed for .2g’s – to basically act like a conventional car. But the problem was, sometimes you need a little bit more, and it didn’t give it.

So actually just this past December we were all out in L.A. and I said ‘You know guys, this is stupid. It feels like we're making the one pedal driving be kinda acceptable for the people that don’t like it, and kinda acceptable for the people that do. Why are we doing this halfway? If they don’t like it, they have drive (mode), the i3 for instance, doesn’t have a drive mode with light decel. So if they don’t like regen, go to drive. If they want it, give it to them (low mode with heavy regen).’ So now we’re at a spot where I can drive home and never touch the brake pedal. - Josh Tavel, lead engineer, Bolt EV

 

KONA: The Kona also has three different driving modes: Eco, Normal and Sport, and four different regen settings, 0 through 3. These four modes are activated by paddles on the steering wheel. Pull the left paddle and the regen goes to the next stronger level, pull the paddle on the right and it drops down to a weaker level. The zero regen setting is free-wheel coasting, 1 is slight regen, 2 is about the equivalent of the Bolt in Drive and 3 is slightly weaker than the Bolt's regen force in Low. Unlike the Bolt, the Kona won't come to a complete stop in the strongest regen setting.

However, you can come to a complete stop without using the friction brakes by pulling and holding the regen on demand paddle on the left side of the steering wheel. Once stopped, the car will hold its position until the driver presses the accelerator. You can also set the level of regen you want (1-3, 0 isn't an option) in each driving mode and those settings will remain until you change them. So, if you want strong regen when you're driving in Sport mode and your significant other prefers weaker regen and driving in Normal mode, you can set it and forget it. You can also use the paddles at any time to change the regen (stronger or weaker) and the car will reset to your default settings in each driving mode the next time you use the car.

WINNER: BOLT EV

To me, this is as close to a toss-up as they come. Both systems offer different options that different drivers will appreciate. I really like the Kona's ability to set different levels of regen for different driving settings, and to be able to change the settings whenever you like. I just wish the highest regen setting was a little stronger. The paddle makes up for the weaker regen, and quickly slows the vehicle down to a complete stop, but I'm not sure I want to use the paddle that much, so I'm going to give Chevy a slight edge here.


The Price For a Bolt EV Versus a Kona Electric

The Bolt's base MSRP is $36,620. We're still waiting on Hyundai to announce U.S. pricing for the Kona Electric.

The Bolt's base MSRP is $36,620. We're still waiting on Hyundai to announce U.S. pricing for the Kona Electric.

Unfortunately, Hyundai hasn't announced U.S. pricing for the Kona Electric yet, so an important component of the comparison cannot be completed. The Bolt LT starts at $36,620, and the Premier at $40,905. If Hyundai offers the Kona Electric SEL at $37,900 or less, and the Kona Ultimate at $43,900 or less, then I would say the Kona wins for value. If the pricing is higher, then the Bolt would get the nod. At the Kona Electric press drive earlier this month, Hyundai representatives promised us that U.S. pricing was going to be announced very soon, even eluding that it might be set by the end of the week, which didn't happen. Unfortunately, we can't declare a winner in this category until we have the Kona Electric's U.S. pricing.

WINNER: TBD


BEST OVERALL: KONA ELECTRIC

The Hyunday Kona Electric is our top pick in a very close comparison contest.

The Hyunday Kona Electric is our top pick in a very close comparison contest.

This comparison lived up to our expectations. These cars are very much alike in some ways, yet are different in others, and have their own unique personalities. They both have a lot of power – the Bolt has more punch because it's lighter, but it also has a bit more torque steer.

However, overall the Kona is slightly better and certainly more comfortable. If Hyundai keeps the pricing close to Bolt, as mentioned above, it would be hard for me to choose the Bolt over the Kona Electric. But that's if you could actually get one. Hyundai isn't going to be importing many Kona Electrics into the U.S., and they may never even sell them outside the ten ZEV states (California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont). That's unfortunate, because it really is a great EV.

BEST VALUE AND AVAILABILITY: BOLT EV

BEST TO IMPRESS: KONA ELECTRIC (ULTIMATE TRIM)

BEST FOR A FIRST-TIME EV OWNER: BOTH