What Car? says...
We’d loved to have been flies on the wall in Hyundai’s design department when ideas for this new Hyundai Kona Electric SUV were being bandied around.
The conversation must have gone something a little like this: “Well, the Hyundai Ioniq 5 – with its 8-bit videogame looks – is winning over premium buyers, and the Hyundai Ioniq 6 – modelled on a 1950s streamliner – has won numerous design awards, so let's go all in and style the second-generation Kona Electric after RoboCop.”
It practically shouts, "Hey, I’m an electric car!" And that makes sense when you consider that this second-generation model has been developed as an electric vehicle (EV) first and a combustion car second. The more traditionally styled first-generation car was the other way around.
On top of new styling and drivetrain options, the Kona Electric has an all-new interior, lots of new technology and equipment, and a simplified range of trim levels. Better still, Hyundai has made it bigger and increased interior space.
There are plenty of electric SUV rivals to consider, of course – from the Peugeot e-2008 and the Skoda Enyaq iV to the Smart #1. If you can do without the increased ride height of an SUV, there are other models to put on your list, including the Cupra Born and the VW ID.3.
In this review, we'll tell you how we rate the Hyundai Kona Electric and which version we recommend. If you're not looking to go electric just yet, have a look at our Hyundai Kona review.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
There are two battery and motor options for the Hyundai Kona Electric. The standard version has a 48.4kWh battery and a 154bhp electric motor, while the long-range version gets a 65.4kWh battery and a more powerful 215bhp motor.
We’ve yet to sample the entry-level car, but as you would expect from a car with 215bhp, the long-range Kona Electric feels genuinely sprightly, accelerating from 0-62mph in an official 7.8 seconds.
That’s a fair bit quicker than the Skoda Enyaq, and much faster than the Jeep Avenger and the Peugeot e-2008. When it comes to electric cars, though, performance isn’t just about how quickly you can speed up – it’s also about how far you can travel between charges.
When you lift off the accelerator pedal, you feel the car slowing down quite quickly thanks to the regenerative braking.
You can increase that braking effect using the paddles on the steering wheel, and you can even make it so strong that it will bring the car to a complete stop without touching the brake pedal. Regardless of how it's set, the brakes are predictable, allowing you to stop more smoothly than most rivals, including the e-2008.
The Kona Electric is ultimately a pretty relaxing car to cover miles in. The suspension is quite soft, which means urban potholes and craters are wince-free. The biggest 19in wheels don’t do much to blot up surface imperfections, such as patchy Tarmac, leading to a slightly fidgety ride, but things settle down nicely at motorway speeds.
The steering could do with a touch more weighting, but it’s accurate enough and allows you to place the car on the road with confidence.
There's little reward for pressing on, though. Up the speed on an undulating road and the soft suspension could do better at keeping the body under control, with a bouncing motion that can make it tricky to keep a steady course through corners. The firmer Volvo XC40 Recharge is more composed.
Pulling away from a standstill, you hear a slight whine from the Kona Electric’s motor, but it’s much quieter than a petrol or diesel engine buzzing away. It also produces very little wind noise, less than in the Atto 3. And while you'll hear the Kona's suspension working away more, it's not obtrusive.
Strengths Impressive range; decent performance; comfortable ride
Weaknesses Plenty of body lean
The interior layout, fit and finish
When you're behind the wheel of the Hyundai Kona Electric, you know you’re in an SUV, because you sit nice and high. There's plenty of electric seat adjustment to help you find your ideal driving position easily.
What's more, the driving position is fundamentally sound – the pedals line up neatly with the steering wheel and there's plenty of steering-wheel adjustment. Every version comes with adjustable lumbar support, to keep you comfortable on long drives, while going for N-Line S trim or above adds electric seat adjustment.
Seeing out of the front and side of the Kona isn't too difficult, because of its relatively narrow pillars and tall windows. That's really helpful when you're pulling out of T-junctions and on to roundabouts.
When you look back over your shoulder, the Kona’s broad rear pillars and small rear screen restrict your view, although it’s no worse than in the Kia Niro EV or the Smart #1. Happily, front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera are standard across the range.
The software itself is impressive, with sharp graphics and quick response to all of your prods. Even so, the best thing about it is the sheer amount of physical shortcut buttons you can use to skip to each of the different menus.
We much prefer it to the touch-sensitive controls you’ll find in the #1. What’s more, there are big, easy-to-find buttons to adjust every single aspect of the climate control system without having to go anywhere near the touchscreen.
Only entry-level Advance models miss out on a wireless charging pad, while opting for N Line S or above also adds an upgraded Bose stereo system with seven speakers. Its sound quality won't blow you away, but it lets you crank up the volume without too much fear of distortion.
The Kona's interior is a step behind the #1 for quality, with plenty of hard, scratchy plastics dominating the dashboard and insides of the doors.
Indeed, most of the Kona’s rivals are better when it comes to their interior materials. That said, at least it feels sturdily assembled and all the buttons, switches and dials feel robust and have a satisfying click whenever you use them.
Strengths Easy to use dashboard; decent infotainment system; good forwards visibility
Weaknesses Too many cheap plastics
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The new Hyundai Kona Electric is a bit bigger than the outgoing version, so you get even more front space. There’s plenty of head and leg room, and its wide enough that you don't rub shoulders with your passenger.
Storage space includes a couple of cupholders between the seats and a large cubby hidden below the front centre armrest. There’s also a wireless charging pad, and the door pockets that are big enough for a couple of small water bottles.
There's loads of head and leg room in the back too. A six-footer with long legs will have no trouble sitting behind an equally tall front-seat passenger.
That means rear-seat passengers will be able to stretch out more than in a Jeep Avenger or Peugeot e-2008. Even middle-seat occupants get impressive elbow room, and the floor is flat, so they get just as much foot space as people either side of them.
You get versatile 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats from N Line and up, allowing you to slide longer items through from the boot while still having two outer rear seats. That’s better than you’ll find in the Avenger and the Smart #1.
Manual seat adjustment for the front-seat passenger is standard on lower trim levels, but that’s upgraded to electric adjustment if you go for N Line S or above. Unlike almost all the Kona’s rivals, the front and rear seats of all but the entry-level Advance model are heated, while top-spec versions get ventilated front seats.
The boot is a handy size and shape, with easy access through the broad opening. With an overall capacity of 466 litres, it absolutely trounces the Avenger (380 litres) and Atto 3 (440 litres), but isn’t quite as big as a Niro EV (475 litres).
Strengths Impressive rear head and leg room; big boot; height-adjustable boot floor is standard
Weaknesses Boot has a small lip at the entrance
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Because you can get the Hyundai Kona Electric with a small battery option, its starting price undercuts the BYD Atto 3, the Kia Niro EV and the Smart #1. However, we suspect most buyers will go for the long-range car, which is priced more in line with those rivals.
And even if you go for the cheapest version, called the Advance, you get plenty of kit as standard, including 17in alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, and keyless entry. All models also come with a heat pump, something that costs extra on the Niro EV and the Smart #1.
There’s plenty of safety kit on all versions, including automatic emergency braking (AEB) that senses cars, bikes and pedestrians. If you want blind-spot monitoring, a rear-cross collision avoidance system and a safe exit system then you’ll need to step up to N Line S or Ultimate trim. The new Kona Electric has yet to be crash-tested by Euro NCAP.
When it comes to charging speeds, you’ll be pleased to learn that with a maximum charging rate of 102kW, a 10-80% charge will take around 40 minutes, which is quicker than a BYD Atto 3 (88kW), the Honda e:NY1 (78kW) and the Kia Niro EV (80kW), but a little slower than a Smart #1 (150kW).
A full 0-100% charge from a 7kW home wallbox in the Kona Electric takes around 10 hours and 30 minutes.
The Kona Electric was too new to feature in the 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey but Hyundai as a brand claimed seventh place (out of the 32 car makers included) in the overall league table. To give you extra peace of mind, Hyundai offers a five-year, unlimited mile warranty. That’s said, Kia offers a seven-year warranty.
Buying and owning overview
Strengths Heat pump comes as standard; Hyundai performed well in latest reliability survey
Weaknesses Smart #1 charges a little quicker; Niro Electric has a better warranty
A full 0-100% charge from a 7kW home wallbox in the Kona Electric takes around 10hr 30min, but on a fast charger a 10-80% charge will take around 40 minutes.
The Hyundai Kona Electric is a 100% electric, but you can also buy a petrol-engined car and a regular hybrid. See our (non-electric) Hyundai Kona review.