• All-electric version of Kona subcompact SUV to debut in California in 2019
  • Range tops rivals at 258 miles
  • Hyundai Kona EV pricing expected to compete with rivals like Chevy Bolt
     

If you want an electric SUV that goes over 250 miles on and charge and don’t want to spend nearly $80,000 on a Tesla Model X, you’ve pretty much been out of luck lately.

That is, until now.

While it won’t exactly be a direct competitor to the larger Tesla SUV, an all-new, all-electric crossover is about to debut in the 2019 Hyundai Kona EV. This new electric vehicle is set to arrive at California dealerships early next year, but we had a brief chance to drive it around the Los Angeles region last week.

Hyundai’s first electric crossover

The Kona EV is Hyundai’s first all-electric crossover, and follows this year’s launch of the standard, gasoline-powered Kona subcompact SUV. For the EV variant, Hyundai swaps the Kona’s standard 4-cylinder gasoline engine options with an electrified powertrain that is juiced by a 64-kWh lithium-ion battery pack.

Output is rated at 201 horsepower and a stout 290 lb-ft of torque. Unlike the Kona, all-wheel drive isn’t available -- the Kona EV is front-drive only. Recharge times range from around an hour on a high-output Level III charger to over 9.5 hours on a standard Level II system.

Quick, nimble, and small

For our test of the 2019 Kona EV, we drove from the northern end of Los Angeles, up and over the coastal mountain ranges, and down to the famed beaches of Santa Monica. The Kona EV drives much like other electric vehicles in that it is quick and fun. If you’ve never driven an EV, they are like a light switch: Acceleration is instantaneous and can take you by surprise. Several times we chirped the tires when gunning the accelerator pedal from a stop.

Moving from the normal “Comfort” mode to “Sport” further intensified the electron-frenzy, making the Kona feel even quicker. An “Eco” mode is also available for drivers seeking to eke out the most range. Furthermore, like other EVs the Kona has multiple levels of brake regeneration, which can be switched on the fly via steering wheel-mounted paddles.

At its most aggressive setting, the Kona EV enables nearly one-pedal driving. Time the signals and traffic right, and you won’t need to use the brake pedal. To come to a complete stop however, you will need to step on the pedal eventually.

Because the Kona EV is based on its gasoline-powered counterpart, it has the same nimbleness and tight turning circle as its petrol-powered sibling. Where it differs is in its ride quality. The Kona EV can feel choppy at times and a bit heavy, no doubt because its floor houses the substantial battery pack. Combine that extra weight with the small wheelbase, and it’s an equation for a somewhat-stiff ride that was noticeable on the extra-bumpy portions of L.A.’s infamously poor roads. On smoother sections, however, it was smooth sailing. And on the flip side, the battery pack lent a lower-center-of-gravity for a planted feel. The Kona EV is actually kind of fun to throw around corners, as we did on the twisty, mountainous roads above the Southern California coast.

Also: Get your first look at the new and redesigned cars of 2019

X factors

The 2019 Hyundai Kona EV has a couple of X factors that make it appealing to those shopping for a new electric vehicle. One is its SUV-like profile. Just like the standard Kona, this 2-row/5-passenger crossover SUV boasts the higher ride height and extra cargo space inherent in a crossover body, even a small one. The second factor is the Kona’s range. At 258 miles, it beats the range of the Chevrolet Bolt (238 miles) and even some Tesla models.

That 258-mile characteristic should be a salve for the range-anxious. Among the caveats with this new EV is its availability. Unlike the 50-state Chevrolet Bolt, when the Hyundai Kona EV goes on sale at the beginning of 2019, availability will be limited to California. However, Hyundai says that will eventually expand to “ZEV-focused states in the western and northeastern regions of the U.S. market.”

Another question is price, though this should be answered in the coming days. As this First Review is being written, Hyundai has yet to announce the pricing of the Kona. At the press launch, company officials only inferred that it would be “competitive” with rivals. As a refresher, the Chevrolet Bolt starts at $37,495 before incentives. If the Kona is close to that target, it will be an appealing alternative in the fledgling high-range EV segment.

Update: Hyundai announces pricing for the 2019 Kona EV 

Find out why the Hyundai Kona is the KBB Subcompact SUV Best Buy of 2019

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