Hyundai has given the Kona Electric a reworking for 2021, giving it new looks and making changes to afford it a claimed 484km of range on paper – but can it truly match those claims on tarmac?

What is it?

With the ‘normal’ 2021 Hyundai 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 in the ever-growing EV segment – something 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 lineup, the version on test here is the Extended Range model – the new name for the sole 64kWh version offered before – in range-topping Highlander specification, which despite the upgrades sees its price slashed by over a grand to $64,000 before on-road costs.

Why are we testing it?

We’ve tested the Kona Electric Highlander in this exact specification every year since the launch of Drive Section, so in both 2019 and 2020. Having this much experience with the pre-facelift model, naturally, we were keen to have a go in this updated one to see just how big an impact the many minor changes have made.

What’s new on the outside?

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 of it such as the sporty N Line 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. I doubt that’s a mere coincidence.

While I don’t actually mind it that much, I still see one glaring issue with the front-end – the charging port flap that was one concealed indistinguishably there is now on full display and looks a bit silly to me. Try to ignore it, though, and all is fine – especially when you consider that this improves its aerodynamics considerably.

The new 17-inch all-alloy wheels look pretty good to me 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 on the WLTP test cycle, 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 grey plastic of before. The headlight and taillight housings have had some minor tweaks made as well, so irritatingly-obvious charging flap aside, it all looks pretty smart to my eye.

What’s new on the inside of the Hyundai Kona Electric?

Similarly to the 2020 model, the 2021 Hyundai 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 to look a bit slicker, while there’s a new digital instrument cluster as well.

A big 10.25-inch display, it replaces the smaller 7.0-inch display of before which was flanked by LED charge and power usage indicators. It’s more of the times, but it is an off-the-shelf part seen in plenty of other Hyundais, and I feel it looks like a bit of a square peg in a round hole in place of the old bespoke cluster. 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 I criticised the 2020 update for lacking as practically all other Hyundais already had it, so it’s nice to see it finally in the mix.

The other notable change is the option of a grey and black interior on the Highlander, replacing the grey and blue option of before, which was fitted to my tester. If you reckon you can stay on top of keeping it clean, it’s well worth the insignificant $295 additional cost as the leather, particularly in places like on the door cards, does feel to be a bit softer and plusher. Plus, it looks more intriguing and premium than plain black or the all-grey plastics of the old optional interior.

One other minor change worth noting is the Highlander’s new Harman Kardon audio system, replacing the Infinity system used before – although both are ultimately Harman International brands. The new system sounds great, though, which is worth mentioning as I’ve been disappointed with some other Harman Kardon systems in cars at this price point as of late – one example being the BMW 128ti.

Beyond these additions, though, it’s all same-old inside. It’s tighter than an i30 or Ioniq inside, but there’s still enough room both front or rear for someone of my 6’2″ stature to fit front or rear in relative comfort. Boot space is a little compromised at 332 litres – down on the petrol Kona’s 374 litres – but it does at least have an easy flat-loading floor and likely offers enough space for the vast majority of buyers. 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, heated outboard rear seats, and a heated steering wheel ensure the whole family won’t freeze on a chilly morning. 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.

What’s the Hyundai Kona Electric like to drive?

With my tester being the Extended Range model, what’s under the bonnet remains unchanged from before, meaning a single electric motor driving the front wheels through a single-speed reduction gear with a 7.981 ratio. Producing 150kW and 395Nm, it’s fed by a 64kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack that runs flat along the Kona’s floorpan, and with those outputs can get from 0-100km/h in a brisk 7.6 seconds.

Step on the throttle, and it’s certainly a punchy thing, with the throttle response feeling unsurprisingly instantaneous. Thanks to its strong torque figure, even at highway speeds it will still accelerate encouragingly, not feeling gutless at these triple-digit speeds like some EVs of this ilk can tend to.

What I hope to experience at some point to see how it compares is the new Standard Range model. Its electric motor produces only 100kW but the same 395Nm of torque, and it has a smaller but 150kg lighter 39.2kWh battery pack, affording it a range of 305km. Its 0-100km/h time is a far less impressive 9.9 seconds, but I imagine for those never straying far from the city, it’ll still feel punchy at lower speeds.

With 150kW on tap, though, the Extended Range models feel positively fun should you hit a backroad in it. With independent suspension all around – front-wheel drive petrol Konas have a torsion beam in the back – it feels pretty composed through the bends. The Michelin Primacy 4 tyres are a massive improvement as well, feeling grippier than the Nexen N Fera aiding not just handling but also seeming to reduce wheelspin from the instantaneous torque 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.

With a lower rolling resistance, 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 the excellent ride quality thanks to the small wheels and ideally-setup Australian suspension tune.

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

How do the numbers add up?

According to the more accurate WLTP test cycle, 484km is the range claim of the Kona Electric Extended Range, marking a 35km improvement from before – a small rise, but ever kilometre counts in an EV. Over the course of my 420km behind the wheel, I saw energy consumption of 14.1kWh/100km.

To do the maths on that, I’d have managed 454km on a single charge – 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. My first 150km in it, which was divided 50:50 between the freeway and the city, saw me using just 13.3kWh, which would have seen me get 481km had I have continued to drive it like a normal person. 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 five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, although the battery pack is covered by a separate eight-year/160,000km warranty, putting it on par with most other EVs out there. It also has lifetime capped price servicing (required every 12 months/15,000km) with the first four priced at just $180 per visit, although the fifth is a steep and anomalous jump to $725.

When it comes to the list price of $64,000 before on-road costs – plus $595 for my tester’s Surfy Blue paint and $295 grey/black interior – which is cheaper than it’s ever been, the actual final number will depend entirely on where you live.

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

So, what’s the verdict?

The 2021 Hyundai Kona Electric Extended Range is easily among the most logical and accessible EVs out there right now. Based on an ordinary SUV from Hyundai’s range, it might look a bit funky but it feels conventional, and with an impressive and realistically-achievable 484km range from its big battery, 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.

However, how good a deal it is depends entirely 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 an additional tax on 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 – with the Ioniq sub-brand set to handle the bulk of Hyundai’s EVs from now on – 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.

2021 Hyundai Kona Electric Extended Range Highlander List Price: $64,000 | As Tested: $64,890
  • 8/10
    Performance - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Ride & Handling - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Tech & Features - 8.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Practicality - 8.5/10
  • 8/10
    Value for Money - 8/10

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

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Hyundai Motor Company Australia for a week with a full charge upon collection.

Patrick Jackson
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