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2021 Hyundai Kona Electric Extended Range Highlander (car review)

WITH the ‘normal’ 2021 Kona fresh off the back of a facelift for this soon-to-end year, Hyundai has turned its attention to the Electric version of its second-smallest SUV, giving it new looks and some other minor tweaks to make it a more compelling prospect.

That’s important given some new, similarly-priced arrivals like the Mazda MX-30 E35, Kia Niro EV, and Hyundai’s own Ioniq 5, which sits on a dedicated EV platform, are now here to challenge it.

While a new Standard Range variant with a smaller 39.2kWh battery and less powerful motor has been added to the line up, the version on test here is the Extended Range model – the new name for the 64kWh version offered before – in range-topping Highlander spec.

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Despite the myriad of minor changes that have been made to the new version, the price has even been slashed by over a grand to $64,000 before on-road costs. Having previously tested the 2019 and 2020 offerings, I was keen to have a go in this updated one too.

It’s at the business-end of the Kona – the front – where the bulk of the changes have been made, both on this and the petrol-powered versions, such as the middling Elite or sporty N Line models we tested earlier in the year.

The original front-end with a visibly blanked-out grille panel has now been removed in favour of a smooth, grille-less nose that looks very much akin to a Tesla. We doubt that’s a mere coincidence.

2021 Hyundai Kona Electric Extended Range Highlander

We still see one glaring issue though – the charging port flap that was once concealed indistinguishably at the front is now on full display, and looks a bit silly. Try to ignore it though, especially when you consider that this improves aerodynamics considerably.

The new 17-inch alloy wheels look pretty good as well, especially without any plastic aero additions like those before, and come wrapped in new Michelin Primacy 4 tyres.

A huge upgrade over the old Nexen rubber, the lower rolling resistance of this new compound, combined with the altered aero, increases range to a claimed 484km, up from 449km before.

A few other minor visual changes can also be noticed, with body-coloured wheel arches one of the wisest changes, looking far smarter than the previous grey plastic. The headlight and taillight housings have had some minor tweaks as well.

The 2021 Kona Electric goes largely unchanged on the inside, with the same floating centre console and steering wheel design carrying over from before. The dashboard design remains practically unchanged as well, although the air vents have been redesigned.

There’s a new digital instrument cluster as well, with a 10.25-inch display replacing the 7.0-inch one, which was flanked by LED charge and power usage indicators. It’s an off-the-shelf part that looks like a bit square peg round hole in place of the old bespoke offering.

2021 Hyundai Kona Electric Extended Range Highlander

On the tech front, it does finally add lane centring assist to its otherwise complete active safety suite. Enabling Level 2 semi-autonomous driving, the system was one thing criticised in the 2020 update as lacking.

The other notable change is the option of a grey and black interior on the Highlander, replacing the grey and blue option, which was fitted to our tester. If you reckon you can stay on top of keeping it clean, it’s well worth it, as the leather feels softer and plusher.

It looks more premium than plain black or all-grey plastics of the old optional interior. One other minor change worth noting is the Highlander’s new Harman Kardon audio system. The new system sounds great, and is better than the similar one in the BMW 128ti.

Beyond these additions, it’s all same-old inside. It’s tighter than an i30 or Ioniq inside, but there’s still enough room both front and rear for someone of my 188cm stature to sit in relative comfort. Boot space is a little compromised at 332 litres.

There’s some under-floor storage to keep things like charging cables out of the way, which helps as well. The 10.25-inch infotainment screen added last year keeps it right up to date, while power-adjustable front seats with heating and ventilation are a nice touch.

You’ll also find heated outboard rear seats and a heated steering wheel, while the standard sunroof also helps lighten up and open up the tight cabin as well – just don’t get the optional black roof if you want it, as that deletes it for some inexplicable reason.

2021 Hyundai Kona Electric Extended Range Highlander

Under the bonnet is an unchanged single electric motor driving the front wheels through a single-speed reduction gear, that produces 150kW and 395Nm. It’s fed by a 64kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack that runs flat along the Kona’s floor pan.

It gets to 100km/h in a brisk 7.6 seconds. Step on the throttle and it’s certainly a punchy thing, with the response feeling unsurprisingly instantaneous. Thanks to its strong torque, even at highway speeds it will still accelerate encouragingly, not feeling gutless at all.

With power on tap, the Extended Range models feel positively fun should you hit a backroad in it. With independent suspension all round, it feels pretty composed through the bends.

The Michelin Primacy 4 tyres are a massive improvement as well, aiding not just handling but also seeming to reduce wheelspin as well. When tyres screeching like nails on a chalkboard is something you’ll hear all the more clearly in an EV, the less of it, the better.

The Michelins are also quieter on the open road, in addition to their inherent range benefits, meaning it’s a fairly serene cabin on the move, especially when factoring in excellent ride quality thanks to small wheels and ideally-setup Australian suspension tune.

Given it has the sort of claimed range to be able to cover the longer distances you often need to in this Great Southern Land, it’s perhaps unsurprising that it feel at home on the open road. Whether it can actually match the claims, however, is another question entirely.

2021 Hyundai Kona Electric Extended Range Highlander

Over the course of our 420km behind the wheel, we saw energy consumption of 14.1kWh/100km. To do the maths on that, yours truly would have managed 454km on a single charge (against its claimed 484km).

That’s an impressive figure not only as that’s still up on the old model, but because that included long stints of me pinning the throttle on Adelaide Hills backroads. The first 150km of testing was an even better 13.3kWh, which would have delivered 481km.

Impressively, that means the actual claim is entirely accurate and achievable – something tests done by other journalists who’ve run these down to the very last ounce of electricity in the battery also backs up.

Like all Hyundai models, the 2021 Kona Electric is covered by a 5-year unlimited kilometre warranty. The battery pack is covered by a separate 8-year/160,000km warranty, putting it on par with most other EVs out there.

It has lifetime capped price servicing (required every 12 months/15,000km) with the first four priced at just $180 per visit. The fifth is a steep and anomalous jump to $725. With no federal EV purchase incentives, it’s all state-by-state when it comes to rebates.

Currently, as Gizmodo reports, New South Wales offers $3500 back along with no stamp duty, South Australia offers up to $3000 in rebates, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory waive stamp duty, and Queensland lowers stamp duty.

2021 Hyundai Kona Electric Extended Range Highlander

Western Australia and the Northern Territory offer zero incentives for private owners. Victoria will charge you an additional mileage-based tax for owning an EV, with South Australia planning to introduce a similar policy in July 2022.

The 2021 Hyundai Kona Electric Extended Range is easily among the most logical and accessible EVs on the market. Based on an ordinary SUV, it might look a bit funky but it feels conventional, and has an impressive and realistically-achievable 484km range.

The argument of range anxiety and lack of usefulness can’t be applied at all here – especially when it outshines everything this side of a Tesla, even doubling the range of the slightly more expensive Mazda MX-30.

How good a deal it is depends on where you live. If you’re in a state (or other country) that offers a competitive rebate or tax waiver, you could save thousands; if you live in a place like Victoria, it’ll cost you even more given you’re paying additional tax for owning it.

Whichever way you measure it up though, this is one of the most usable electric vehicles currently on sale. It might not be as attractive, futuristic, and fast as the Ioniq 5, but it still offers even more range than it does.

The Kona might be a bit weird and a bit small, but it certainly makes a big deal of sense for those looking to take the plunge. If you’re ready to take it, you can check out PriceMyCar to get the best deal possible.

This article originally appeared on drivesection.com and has been republished with permission. Our test vehicle was provided by Hyundai Motor Company Australia. To find out more about the Hyundai Kona Electric, contact your local Hyundai dealer.

REVIEW OVERVIEW

Driving experience
8.0
Exterior styling
7.5
Interior look and feel
8.0
Technology and connectivity
8.5
Family friendliness
8.0
Value for money
8.0

SUMMARY

Pros – increased range only makes it even more usable; Michelin Primacy 4 tyres are a big upgrade; plenty of standard kit; finally scores semi-autonomous capability.
Cons – new styling does make it look a bit like a try-hard Tesla; not as roomy as the old Ioniq or new Ioniq 5; the actual cost to buy and run will depend greatly upon on where you live.
Patrick Jackson
Patrick Jacksonhttp://www.drivesection.com
A car fanatic from a young age, Patrick has put a childhood spent obsessing over car magazines and TV shows to good use over the past six years as a freelance motoring journalist. In addition to managing Drive Section, a website he founded in 2019, he has been a contributor to many other online and print publications including DriveTribe, Vehicle History, WhichCar, ForceGT, and the Adelaide Hills Herald.

3 COMMENTS

  1. How long for a full recharge? 30 mins? An hour? More?

    These cars need a 1000km range to enable travellers to do a day’s driving and recharge at their destination or overnight at a motel.

    There’s a fantastic fix for FWD traction issues. Fit an extra motor to also drive the rear wheels.

    • 54 minutes at a fast-charger, which would align fairly well with the lunch break most would take on a long drive.

      1000km range would be great, but I feel it’s overkill for the vast majority of EV buyers. These are really inner-city vehicles – it’s where they are most efficient anyway – and the number of people who’d road-trip them would be very small. Plus, can you imagine the size of the battery you’d need for that much range, and the amount of materials required?

      Certainly don’t disagree when it comes to adding an extra motor for extra traction, though. However, as mentioned, these new Michelin tyres solve practically all of its traction issues.

  2. Thanks Patrick. I guess we’re waiting for a breakthrough in battery technology for a number of reasons. Two biggies: Increased EV car range (preferably with lighter batteries). And a more economically viable battery backup system for rooftop solar systems.

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2021 Hyundai Kona Electric Extended Range Highlander (car review)<strong>Pros –</strong> increased range only makes it even more usable; Michelin Primacy 4 tyres are a big upgrade; plenty of standard kit; finally scores semi-autonomous capability. <br> <strong>Cons –</strong> new styling does make it look a bit like a try-hard Tesla; not as roomy as the old Ioniq or new Ioniq 5; the actual cost to buy and run will depend greatly upon on where you live.