Up until now, if you wanted a somewhat reasonably priced electric vehicle that had more than 200 miles of range and decent space for four people, you only had one real choice: the Chevrolet Bolt EV, the brand’s groundbreaking clean-sheet EV design that went on sale for 2017. You could get EVs that seat more and go farther, but you’d be spending twice as much for a new Tesla — until now.
Behold, the arrival of the new 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric, a direct challenger to the Bolt EV and the latest in a new wave of electric cars meant to be both practical and affordable. So, how does Hyundai’s new electric subcompact crossover stack up against GM’s pinnacle of electric engineering prowess? Read on to find out.
The Specs Couldn’t Be Closer
On paper, these two small CUVs are practically identical (compare them yourself here). The Kona has a 201-horsepower electric motor; the Bolt EV has a 200-hp one. Both take about nine hours to fully recharge their batteries on a 240-volt charger, and both have the ability to fast-charge using a 480-volt DC charger (although the Bolt EV’s system is optional). Battery capacity is roughly the same (60 kilowatt-hours for the Bolt EV, 64 kwh for the Kona). They both sit on a 102.4-inch wheelbase, and they’re within an inch of each other in overall length. Both have 94 cubic feet of passenger room, and even the starting prices are within $500 of one another ($37,495 for the Bolt EV, $37,995 for the Kona Electric).
But there are some differences in the specs, and they’re not insignificant. Predicted range for the Kona Electric is 258 miles, while the Bolt EV comes in at 238 miles, according to EPA ratings. The Kona outguns the Bolt EV in the torque department, too, packing 291 pounds-feet compared with the Bolt EV’s 266 pounds-feet. The Kona is a tad wider than the Bolt EV, but the Bolt EV has more backseat legroom than the Kona. It also has more cargo room than the Kona Electric, with 56.6 cubic feet of total cargo space with the second row seats folded versus the Kona’s 45.8 cubic feet.
They Drive Remarkably Similarly
The driving experience isn’t all that different between them. Both are lightning-quick off the line thanks to the characteristics of electric motors — all of your torque is available at zero rpm, making both of these cars short-distance sprinters of some serious ability. Either one of them will embarrass more powerful gas-powered cars off the line with neck-snapping acceleration that comes as quite a surprise. They also both handle well, for what they are — rather heavy, subcompact, tall-riding wannabe SUVs. Yes, both companies classify these things as crossover SUVs, but they’re really just tall subcompact hatchbacks. Neither one of them is going to win any autocross awards as they still have rather numb steering, but they both have a low center of gravity thanks to the batteries located low in the floors.
The Bolt EV is the lighter of the two at 3,563 pounds, while the Kona tips the scales at 3,715 pounds — lithium-ion battery packs this big ain’t light. That weight does help translate into a decent ride for both of them, however. The Kona feels a bit harsher but has the more sophisticated suspension — a multilink rear compared to the Bolt EV’s torsion-beam setup.
Of the two, the Bolt EV has far better braking characteristics. Both will grip and stop in a hurry, but the Kona’s system is impossible to modulate at low speeds, always leading to a sudden jerky stop in the last 5 mph, sending passengers’ heads bobbing. No such problems in the Bolt EV, making its driving experience a bit more enjoyable. They both employ variable regenerative braking, with the Kona giving you a bit more adjustability than the Bolt EV, but both providing a paddle button on the back of the steering wheel to engage a strong regen-on-demand system instead of requiring you to hit the brake pedal in some instances.
A Different Approach to Packaging
Where these two really start to differ is in their interior packaging. The Bolt EV is a completely new design, not based off of an existing gasoline car, and its packaging reflects that: The batteries are all located in the flat floor, underneath the passengers, in a kind of “skateboard” structure. The Kona Electric, meanwhile, is based on the conventional Kona and must package its batteries in the space vacated by the no-longer-needed gasoline components.
So, despite both manufacturers claiming to have identical interior passenger volume numbers, the benefit in person that the Bolt EV has over the Kona Electric is starkly clear. It may be a little narrower, but it has a far more usable backseat; the Bolt EV can carry four or even five passengers comfortably, whereas the Kona struggles to fit two people in the backseat without the front passengers needing to significantly reposition their seats forward. The Bolt EV is taller, too, providing a boost to usable head and cargo room.
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But while the Bolt EV is more comfortable and spacious, the Kona Electric makes up for that deficit by being made of much nicer materials and providing more standard equipment than the Chevy. A lot of safety systems that are optional on the Bolt EV (like forward collision alert, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and blind spot detection) come standard on the Kona. It has a much more conventional dashboard design, not all that different from a standard Kona, with an easy-to-use touchscreen, simple electronic gauges and plenty of storage room. The Bolt EV struggles in this department, as it’s obvious that the interior appointments are where GM cut some cost out of the Bolt EV in order to preserve profitability (those big lithium-ion battery packs ain’t cheap, either).
Can We Talk About That Noise?
You’d think that electric cars would be silent runners given there’s not much on board that makes noise aside from the audio systems — but you’d be wrong. Automakers are putting noisemakers in their EVs to make sure pedestrians in urban settings who are visually impaired can hear them coming. The Bolt EV’s is pleasant and musical, and shuts off after you reach a certain speed.
The Kona Electric’s is a minor-key wail that changes pitch depending on your speed, also up to a certain velocity before it, too, shuts off. But around town, that ghoulish tone that sounds like the cursed souls of the damned emanating from under the hood is unsettling at best. Hyundai needs to rethink their “future-car” noise — maybe something more “The Jetsons” and less “Stranger Things.”
Which Is Best?
I’d have to give the nod to the Bolt EV on this one, but it’s a closely matched competition. Working in the Bolt EV’s favor are its far better passenger comfort (especially in the second row), better braking characteristics and superior cargo room. Working in the Kona Electric’s favor are its nicer interior, higher level of standard features and safety equipment, and slightly longer range. You’ll be paying a few thousand dollars more to get a Bolt EV that has all the equipment that a Kona Electric comes with as standard, but I think the packaging benefits outweigh the extra cost, especially if you ever carry anything more than two people. And you won’t have to listen to the tormented spirits scaring the pedestrians as you cruise through town.
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