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Private Fleet Car Review: 2019 Hyundai Kona Highlander Electric

This Car Review Is About: Hyundai dipping a toe into the battery powered waters of electric cars. The Korean company has the Ioniq range of petrol/hybrid/battery, whereas the Kona has no hybrid option.With a range of around 460 kilometres, it’s more than suitable for daily running around in the urban environment, and so it proved during our week-long test.

What Does It Cost?: The range of Kona Electric starts at $59,999. That’s before government charges and dealership costs. The Highlander starts in the middle $60k range, and that puts it within the ballpark of the forthcoming Tesla Model 3. The car comes with a charge cable which plugs into a standard home power socket. For an extra couple of thousand Hyundai will supply an adapter box that gets installed at home. At a rate of around7.2kW per hour of charge, it trickle charges at a rate good enough to avoid range anxiety if plugged in overnight. In the week we drove it, it was topped up just twice.On The Outside Is: A car that is possibly overdone in styling to alert people to the fact it’s an electric car. The Tesla range, for the sake of inevitable comparisons, look like a normal set of cars outside, and have a distinctive yet still normal-ish look inside.

Front and rear lower bumpers have been restyled in comparison to the standard versions. There is a ripple, wave like, motif to them, and the front looses the centrally mounted driving lights. Somewhere in the front guards are cornering lamps, barely visible unless looking for them. Our test car was clad in a two-tone metallic Ceramic Blue and Chalk White body and roof styling, with a number of exterior colours and combinations available, at a reasonable cost of under $600 for the metallic paints. The wheels are bladed five spoke items, with the blades sporting a heavily dimpled design on one half of each of the slabby five spoked design.These reflect the nose of the Kona Electric. As there is no need for a traditional cooling system, the front has the air intakes replaced with a plastic insert that draws attention to itself by virtue of these dimples. The colour highlights these quite strongly too. This nose section houses the charge port, and here Hyundai has a solid win.

Press lightly and the cover pops open. Insert the Type 2 Mennekes charger device which is found in a sturdy bag in the undercover cargo section, attach to an extension cable, a green loop lights up, and charging is underway. To remove the charger requires nought more than a push of a simple press-stud. It’s more effective and far more simple than Tesla’s overthought system.The overall look is very close to the normal Kona but the dimpled look is probably a non-necessary addition. The dimpled wheels are unnecessary too. Normal looking wheels would have toned down the “look at me, I’m electric!” look.

On The Inside: The Kona Electric interior is more sci-fi than traditional in some aspects. The seats are vented and heated, with the car provided having white leather-look material which wouldn’t be suitable for younger childre.. The steering wheel is heated, there are cup and bottle holders, and a wireless charge pad for compatible smartphones, plus a USB port or two. All normal.

Then Hyundai goes to Star Trek inspired designs for the centre console. Its a floating or split level design and not exactly easy to get items into the lower storage section. The upper level is home to four buttons for engaging the drive, a tab for the heated steering wheel, another for three drive modes (Sport/Normal/Eco), and all in a somewhat chintzy looking silver. It’s horribly overdone, visually tiring, and goes past the point of sensible in pointing out to passengers they’re in an electric car.There are some good points: the drive modes change the look of the full colour LCD screen that is located inside an analogue dial. These, at least, look sensible and appropriate. There are different colours and looks to the kinds of information being displayed. There is also a HUD or Head Up Display for safer driving. The touchscreen is slightly revamped to take advantage of the propulsion system and has sub-screens that allow for personalisation and adjustment of the drive modes.

In regards to charger points for public usage, the onboard map system has these preprogrammed. That’s a good thing as this particular kind of charge point seemed to be a little spare on the group using certain apps.On The Road It’s: Soft in the suspension. It’s a well controlled softness, but it’s soft. There’s a lot of travel in each end, with the front exhibiting more sponginess than the rear. It really does feel as if it could do with a dialing up of the stiffness with a corresponding change in dampening to provide a still progressive yet tauter setup for a better ride. Hyundai say that something like 37 different damper combinations and a number of varying spring and anti-roll-bar setups were tried. However, it must be said that the suspension has to deal with 1700 kilos or so, which includes the floor mounted battery pack. That does help with handling by providing a low centre of gravity, so that softness, although the final result of the extensive testing, may not be to everyone’s taste.

There’s an unexpectedly high amount of road noise too. There’s a sensation of wind coming in via a door left open in respect to the noise level. The ecofriendly rubber adds to the ambient noise levels also.Acceleration is decently quick with a sub eight second 0-100 time, and there’s a gauge in the dash that tells you the percentage of normal, economical, and aggressive driving. Even with our drive routinely seeing hard launches, never did that aggressive driving gauge get above 2%.

To engage Drive, one places a foot on the brake pedal, presses the normal looking Start/Stop button, then presses one of the four drive buttons to get underway. Drive, Reverse, Park, Neutral are the choices.

Actual physical engagement of the drive gear is instant here, and the system does insist upon the brake pedal being used, for example, when selecting Drive from Reverse. Here Hyundai go a little more sci-fi in the aural side. There is an eerie whine, an almost subliminal sound that has people wondering if they’re hearing it or not, as it never goes beyond the level of a faint background noise.

There is a question mark about the drive system. The car reviewed was the Highlander model, meaning it came with the HUD in the dash, heating & venting in the seats etc. However the drive system was front wheel only. This meant that the front rubber would scrabble for grip off the line in those same hard launches.

There are three drive modes, which seem redundant for an electrically powered car. They’re activated via a selection tab in the console and Hyundai do provide personalisation of each for items such as climate control and recharge via the touchscreen. Regeneration levels are also changeable via a pair of paddles behind the tiller. These same paddles allow for bringing the vehicle to a full halt if the left paddle is held.The steering itself is heavier than expected in normal driving. That’s more to say it’s not as assisted as expected, feeling more akin to the front rubber being deflated by around 20 to 30 percent. All up, though, the Kona Electric, for all of its perceived deadweight, is nimble enough, with rapid and unfussed lane changing when required, a definitive sense of weight transfer when lifting off the accelerator, and the mid range urge is enough to raise a smile. Punch it whislt using the heated seats and steering wheel though, and watch that expected range figure drop, and rapidly.

It’s otherwise a delightfully enjoyable cruiser but “suffers” from a peculiar quirk. Although the electronic brains engage the drive systems almost instantly between Drive/Reverse, from a standing start there’s a small but perceptible hesitation before the actual drive kicks in. Think of that momentary lag along the lines of a diesel’s slight intake of breath. It’s an unusual sensation however once knowing it happens all of the time, adjustments on driving style make for smooth progress.

The brakes are an integral part of the drive system and they’re just on the fine side of grabby in normal driving. Downhill descents have them gently squeeze and you can feel the retardation the regenerative system endows.

Hyundai adds extra tech in the form of the smartphone app called Hyundai Auto Link Premium SIM. By tying in with the car’s telematics you can look at driving history, driving efficiency, general battery information, plus it allows a user to book a service remotely. Items such as hazard lights, or lock/unlock can also be performed by the app.

And The Safety? As expected, Hyundai’s full range of SmartSense active safety tech is here. AEB is standard, radar collision alert, Blind Spot Alert, Lane Keep Assist, and active cruise control are all here. The actual safety rating is five star.

Warranty and Services? Service intervals are once a year of every 15,000 kilometres. That second figure is appealing for some as it means they’re more likely to do less than the 15K…For those that aren’t frightened by range anxiety, and drive it as they would a petroleum fed machine, it’s a figure easily achieved. Hyundai have also capped the first five service visits at $165. Warranty wise there is a five year standard figure and the battery pack has eight years.
At The End of the Drive.

Hyundai is part of the growing band of brothers that have joined the fully electric powered car family. It’s a technology that has history against it, and the future on its side. But there’s no need for today’s cars to be made to look like something from 200 years in the future. Aside from the Star Trek meets Jetsons looks, it’s a capable enough chariot. Pricing is something that will change for the better but for now, it’ll have to do.
Hit up Hyundai here for more info.

2 comments

  1. Gary Holloway says:

    G’day. I like the article as I am after an SUV size EV because I need the head room for access, having had my neck fused in two places. I presently drive a diesel Hilux ute but am considering changing to EV. I haven’t read anywhere about the capability of an EV when pulling a trailer. Do you have any references on this please.

    June 24th, 2019 at 4:21 pm

  2. Dave Conole says:

    https://thedriven.io/2019/06/10/towing-a-caravan-with-an-electric-car-can-it-be-done/

    June 27th, 2019 at 11:11 am