The two cars are almost specification twins. Two peas in a pod or, perhaps, two pods in a parking lot.
Both are about 164 inches long and have identical 102.4 inch wheelbases and 200 horsepower (150 kilowatt) motor ratings. The Hyundai Kona Electric is about 1.5 inches wider while the Chevrolet Bolt EV is about 1.5 inches taller.
A Hyundai media test drive took place in Los Angeles last week. I drove down to it in a 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV. It was time to compare and contrast these two CUV-like cars which are destined to be cross-shopped.
In various ways the Kona improves on the Bolt’s capabilities and fixes a number of its perceived shortcomings.
Both cars have excellent range but the Kona’s combined EPA estimate of 258 miles exceeds the Bolt’s estimate by 20 miles thanks to the Kona’s 64 kilowatt-hour battery pack (four kWh larger). That’s 284.1 EPA city miles or 228 highway miles in the Kona versus 255.1 EPA city miles or 217.4 highway miles for the Bolt.
The Kona’s city efficiency rating is ever so slightly better at 132 MPGe versus 128 on the Bolt. The Bolt’s 110 MPGe highway rating is ever so slightly better than the Kona’s 108. Combined, the Kona edges out the Bolt with 120 MPGe vs 119 MPGe.
Hyundai says they reduced the 0.34 aerodynamic drag coefficient of the gasoline Kona down to 0.29 through some modest restyling, wheel covers, and underbody paneling. That’s a good value given its general shape and size. GM says the Bolt is 0.308. Lowering the drag will help efficiency during faster freeway speeds.
The Kona’s efficiency comes in spite of its extra bulk. It weighs in at around 3,740 pounds (UK spec) due to its predominantly steel construction — the only body parts made from aluminum are the hood and some battery pack framing. The Bolt, at 3,563 pounds, has a steel safety cage and battery frame but uses aluminum for its hood, hatch, doors, and front quarter panels.
Hyundai reckons the Kona Electric can go 0 to 62 mph (0 to 100 kmh) in 7.6 seconds and says they clocked a Bolt EV with the same time although other track results have indicated somewhat better performance for the Bolt. GM states the Bolt can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds.
Top speeds: Kona 104 mph, Bolt 91.
The Kona also has a modestly higher torque rating of 291 pound feet (395 Nm) vs the Bolt’s 266 (360). Plus, the Kona motor has more mechanical advantage in its 7.981 final drive ratio than the Bolt’s 7.05 which would tend to help it launch quicker but then the Kona is still 180 pounds heavier.
Because the Kona motor shares similar power specs with the Bolt motor, and because the Bolt motor is manufactured by LG, some have speculated that Hyundai is buying the same motor from LG. In reality, the two motor designs do not look similar and there is no evidence of major shared components between the cars aside from the LG battery cells which may be closely related.
I got to drive a Kona Electric from the LA suburb of Northridge through the winding hills of Topanga Canyon to the beach and then through stop and go city traffic in Santa Monica.
Like almost all electric cars, the drivetrain was instantly reactive and power could be laid down in a smooth and predictable way without the delayed surging behavior typical of fossil fuel combustion engines.
A low center of gravity helps along with the inherent vehicle body stiffness that results from adding a battery pack under the floor as a structural part of the car.
The Kona has two paddle switches on the back side of the steering wheel that allow the driver to dynamically change the amount of regenerative motor drag or “regen” that happens when easing off of the accelerator. Toggling the left switch increases the regen level and the right switch decreases it. The active regen level (between 0 and 3) is displayed on the driver’s LCD screen. When you start the car the initial level is generally set to 1.
Level 0 is a pure glide. Level 1 is similar to a conventional automatic transmission glide. Level 2 feels somewhat similar to the default regenerative braking with the shifter in ‘D’ in the Bolt. Level 3 is yet a bit stronger again. Each level above zero is very roughly equivalent to an extra .05g of deceleration where 1g is the force of earth’s gravity.
I’m guessing these controls could be useful but I quickly became bored with them. I found myself missing the yet stronger one-pedal regen profile of my Bolt EV.
I tried out the “smart” regenerative braking feature that automatically adjusts the braking intensity based on vehicle speed, road grade, and radar sensing of nearby cars. In the limited time that I drove in that setting it wasn’t clear whether it improved the driving experience.
If a car has relatively strong regenerative braking it is often said to be capable of one-pedal driving. Many cars with larger motors and battery packs can do this but most lose their regen grip below around 5 mph and begin gliding — only a few can quickly come to a full stop without the driver using the brake pedal at all.
Cars with this full-stop regenerative braking ability include the BMW i3, the Bolt EV, the 2018 Nissan LEAF, and now the Kona Electric. Even though these cars can all do full-stop braking they fulfill this in different ways.
The BMW i3 always drives this way. The Bolt and LEAF allow for either a conventional creepy drive mode with mild regenerative coasting or an alternative stronger regenerative braking scenario with a full-stop creepless drive mode. Creepy, as in, the car slowly creeps forward on its own if you don’t keep your foot on the brake pedal.
Nissan calls their full-stop creepless mode “e-Pedal” and you invoke it persistently via a dashboard switch. Instead of a dashboard e-Pedal switch, Chevrolet has an additional forward driving ‘L’ shifter position that accomplishes the same thing. They call it ‘L’ because the stronger regen feels somewhat like driving in a low gear in a conventional gasoline car.
The Kona has only a conventional creepy drive shift position engaged by the ‘D’ button and no e-Pedal mode but the driver can temporarily switch to a full-stop creepless drive mode by holding the left regen steering wheel paddle instead of just pressing and releasing it.
Truth be told, the Bolt actually has this as well. In either the Kona or the Bolt you can be in the conventional ‘D’ shift mode and if you hold the left paddle it engages stronger regen braking and can bring the car to a full stop and then hold the car in place rather than creep forward. In both cars, once you come to a stop you can release the paddle and the car will remain stopped until you press the accelerator.
So, the Bolt can act like the Kona but the Kona cannot act like the Bolt (or LEAF) because it has no notion of always being in one-pedal mode via an e-Pedal dash switch or a distinct one-pedal shift mode.
It’s too bad that it’s missing an “e-Pedal” switch equivalent because the Kona, like the 2018 LEAF, has excellent full-stop ability sans brake pedal.
I veered my Kona Electric slightly off the planned driving route through Topanga Canyon and glided up a quiet residential street for some steep one-pedal tests up and then back down.
The i3 and Bolt can stop and hold themselves on a flat road or modest incline but when stopping on a decline or a steep incline they will slowly slip unless the brake pedal is used.
Even when the Bolt will stop and hold on a less severe incline it tends to slightly roll back before catching itself and holding. The Kona, like the LEAF, comes to a smooth assertive stop and holds without the use of the brake pedal even on fairly steep grades heading either up or downhill.
The new LEAF blends in the hydraulic brakes to bring the car to a full stop and hold but the Bolt’s implementation uses no friction brakes unless the brake pedal is pressed. Instead, the Bolt uses active motor torque at the very slowest speeds where the motor loses its regenerative powers.
I’m guessing that Hyundai, like Nissan, is getting some help from the friction brakes but I wasn’t able to confirm that with the company.
I found it annoying to have to pull and hold the left steering wheel paddle as the only way to engage the Kona’s otherwise excellent full one-pedal stopping ability.
One piece of good news is that although holding the Kona’s one-pedal switch engages the car’s highest level of regenerative braking, you can smoothly blend that to be whatever you want by simultaneously modulating the accelerator pedal.
So, to come to a smooth stop at an intersection you can use the left paddle and adjust the accelerator to control exactly how quickly, or slowly, you come in for the landing. The Bolt’s left paddle switch on the steering wheel works exactly the same way when it is used during that car’s conventional ‘D’ drive.
The braking or deceleration strength of Kona’s one-pedal mode is about 0.25g and is the maximum level of regen available so it is as if there were a level 4 of regenerative braking but its only active while you hold the left paddle.
While, the peak regenerative deceleration in the Kona is about 0.25g, the Bolt EV is capable of up to 0.3g (which can generate up to 70 kW back into the battery at highway speeds) and the Jaguar I-PACE is capable of up to 0.4g (which may be able to briefly generate up to 150 kW due to the car’s heavier weight and momentum).
Both the Kona and Bolt use a similar mostly-flat “skateboard” battery pack layout mounted under the floor between the wheels and both use an extra stack of cells under the rear seat area to gain extra capacity.
According to the car’s emergency responder guide, the Kona Electric contains 294 LG 60 Ah “lithium-ion polymer” pouch cells. Hyundai has confirmed that these cells use an NMC 622 cathode chemistry meaning that the ratio of metal is 60 percent nickel and 20 percent each of manganese and cobalt. The anode side of the battery is believed to be a typical mix of graphite.
Three cells are connected in parallel to make a cell group and then 98 cell groups are connected in series. The nominal pack voltage is either 356V or 352.8V depending on which Hyundai document you read. In other sales regions the Kona is also available with a smaller and cheaper 39.2 kWh pack which contains 90 pairs of the cells in series.
They are believed to be roughly similar in chemistry, energy capacity, size, and shape to the ones that LG supplies for the Bolt and Jaguar I-PACE, although Hyundai has apparently not yet published a photo of one of the bare individual cells.
Both the Kona and Bolt pack designs (and the I-PACE and Audi e-tron) circulate a water-glycol liquid coolant through cooling plates or channels under the pack of battery cells to keep them at a happy and consistent temperature.
While the cells and cooling approach appear to be similar the specific design and construction of the battery packs are each unique. GM has LG assemble the pack as well as the cells while Hyundai arranges its own pack assembly in South Korea using LG’s cells.
The circulation architecture of the liquid coolant loops is also different. The Bolt pack has a dedicated cooling loop with its own electric battery heater for use in cold temperatures. A completely separate cooling loop takes care of the motor, inverter, and other power electronics.
The Kona has a single overall coolant loop for both the power electronics and the battery pack but valves allow the battery portion to circulate on its own in a sub-loop. When the pack is cold, the valves can be opened to allow heat from the motor and inverter sub-loop to help warm the battery.
Just like the Bolt, the battery coolant loop has a heat exchanger (chiller) connection to the HVAC coolant lines normally used to air condition the cabin.
In some areas of the country with especially cold climates the Kona will be configured with a dedicated battery heater similar to the Bolt’s. Cars with the dedicated heater can optionally be configured to enable a “winter mode” that actively warms the battery to improve regenerative braking ability and speed DC charging rates.
Most other EVs, like the Bolt, typically only bother to warm the battery pack when plugged in and actively charging. Batteries cannot charge quickly when cold and a large cold battery pack can take dozens of minutes to warm up. The Kona’s winter mode feature, when enabled, will “waste” some energy warming the pack but winter charging times may be substantially improved.
Hyundai confirmed that the Kona Electric is limited to DC charging at no more than 200A.
This results in charging at about 70 to 75 kW on the latest CCS chargers rated as being “100 kW” capable (up to 500V at 200A). The actual usable charging power is lower than 100 kW because the charging happens at the car’s pack voltage which never exceeds around 400V.
This all works out to a claimed time of 54 minutes to charge from near zero to 80 percent full. On a “50 kW” charger limited to 125A the charge time would be closer to 75 minutes.
By contrast, Hyundai said they measured zero to 80 percent DC charging time on a Bolt as taking 79 minutes on a “100 kW” CCS charger. That’s because the Bolt limits itself to 150A.
The Kona can charge at up to 32A at 240V AC for slower charging at home or at work. A full overnight charge starting from empty would take almost 10 hours.
In the US, Electrify America plans to have an initial 40-state coast to coast “150 kW” highway charging network up and running by summer or fall of 2019.
Another charging provider, EVgo, has over 1,000 DC charging locations supporting up to 50 kW in the US although most are in cities and suburbs rather than along rural stretches of highway. Thousands of public AC charging sites are also available through ChargePoint.
Hyundai, like just about every car maker other than Tesla, is still big on big buttons and knobs. Both cars support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to integrate smartphone apps into the center display. The Bolt has a larger 10-inch screen while the Kona gets by with a 7-inch screen or 8-inch if you upgrade to the higher trim.
The HVAC system has a driver-only feature that can efficiently focus its output.
The Kona made for the US market will use less efficient, but cheaper, resistive cabin heating like the Bolt rather than utilizing a heat pump like the Nissan LEAF. Cars destined for Canada will reportedly get the heat pump.
I did not carefully measure decibels, but the Kona sounded generally about as quiet as the Bolt but with less noticeable motor noise during acceleration.
The Kona seats are conventionally constructed and are more comfortable whereas the Bolt front seats can feel a bit firm and narrow and are constructed to have thinner seatbacks.
The interior dimensions of the Kona and Bolt are very similar except for storage space and rear legroom.
The Kona’s rear legroom is an okay 33.4 inches versus the generous 36.5 inches in the Bolt. Perhaps that has something to do with those comfy front seats. The Kona does a bit better on hip and shoulder measurements because its outer width is 70.9 inches vs the Bolt’s 69.5 inches.
The Kona measures in with 19.2 cubic feet with the rear seats up or 45.8 with them down. In the Bolt it is 16.9 cubic feet or 56.6 down, according to GM.
There is no under-the-hood “frunk” storage space as there is in some EVs. The Kona shares its basic design with a gasoline engine model. With the electric drivetrain installed there is a relatively uncluttered feel to the motor compartment.
The Kona has options that the Bolt doesn’t get.
The Limited trim adds an 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat and a motorized tilt and slide glass sunroof. All seating surfaces are changed to leather.
The Ultimate trim gets rain sensing windshield wipers, the radar-based adaptive cruise control, the heads-up display, and the ventilated front seats. The European version of the Kona gets an auto-steering feature as part of its adaptive cruise control system but apparently not in the US market.
Pricing in the US market is not yet announced.
With Hyundai distributing the Kona Electric across Europe, South Korea, and the US it isn’t clear how available it will actually be at dealers in the near future. US distribution is targeted for the first half of 2019. The Ioniq Electric is a great car but only a few dozen have been made available through US dealers each month.
Plans call for the US marketed Kona Electric to appear first in California and then in the dozen or so states that track California’s emission standards.
Canadian cars are configured differently with two instead of three trim packages.
I always drive in one-pedal mode and it’s now almost a must-have feature for me. Others prefer a more conventional driving experience with lower regenerative drag and more brake pedal use.
If Hyundai were to add a dedicated one-pedal driving mode as in the 2018 LEAF or the Bolt I think I would prefer the Kona over either of them. It could be as easy as a software update — press ‘D’ to enter drive mode and then any subsequent press of ‘D’ while still in drive toggles between one-pedal mode or back to standard ‘D’ drive.
Sure, I would miss the Bolt’s camera-based rear view mirror but I could get over that.