Electric car choice arrives in Australia: Tesla Model 3 vs Hyundai Kona | The Driven
kona electric vs tesla model 3

EV choice arrives: why I held a Tesla Model 3 reservation from week 1, but bought a Hyundai Kona electric.

I could add to the above headline that I am a longer-term member of the Renault Car Club of Victoria: so why didn’t I buy a Renault Zoe? Well, the short answer is that I chose a full battery electric vehicle (BEV) that suited my needs from a BEV market in Australia that now actually offers choice in different vehicle segments.

For me, choosing a Model 3 (or a Zoe) would have caused me to make too many compromises on both my needs (and my likes) in a day-to-day driving car that could replace all of my ‘fossil miles’.

I say ‘fossil miles’ (and deliberately use the anachronistic imperial measurement system in my name for unavoidable driving of an ICE vehicle) because despite having owned and driven EVs for over six years (and was building them for others another six years before that) – I still had to keep an ICE vehicle for (in order):

  1. day trips if they were just over 100km if I needed a fast turn-around,
  2. longer trips within Victoria (where I live),
  3. point-to-point interstate trips (i.e. longer distances per day than sightseeing/tourist trips),
  4. local load carrying to replace my elderly BEV van,
  5. any load carrying involving the first three criteria and
  6. towing small trailers.

On top of these practical considerations, I also had a set of personal ones, these being (also roughly in order):

  1. not too big (loosely defined as no longer, and preferably shorter that my Leaf),
  2. a better EV drive than my 2011 Leaf (they were a brilliant first-generation EV),
  3. easy to load longer or bulky items inside,
  4. had driver controls and readouts that were easy to see and access (my biggest gripe with the Model 3 is its central touchscreen and no knobs/buttons to find by braille instead of looking down and across: how can that NOT be ‘distracted driving’???),
  5. able to carry longer items on the roof and (deliberately last) –
  6. something I could reasonably afford to buy without living on tinned and dry goods for the rest of my life…

Mind-you, I am not inflexible on most of these – I just wanted my new EV to meet enough of them to happily live with the compromises I would inevitably have to make.

Of the crop of EVs available in Australia before this year – the Jaguar I-Pace and the Tesla Model X probably came closest, but they failed on too many criteria still: size, cost (even if I wanted to buy one of these, I could not afford it) and for the model X, no ability to roof carry.

Ah, those beautiful – but wildly impractical – falcon wing doors. Surprisingly to some people, the Zoe was a failure on too many of my criteria as well: it was nowhere near as quick off the mark as my 2011 Leaf (nor as happy at 100km/h), no ability to DC fast-charge (meaning interstate trips would always be a pain) and no tow-bar that would fit. (More on that later).

So until this year no BEV available here met enough of my criteria to justify the ‘EV Stretch’ to spend big on a new car. As a result, I kept an old internal combustion engine (ICE) car to do long trips, tow and carry tools and materials on longer trips. (And becoming increasingly frustrated at the percentage of my driving involving those ‘fossil miles’).

So to 2019 and both the Model 3 and the Kona electric arrive on the market here. Both have excellent range and DC charging capability – but they are in quite different vehicle segments as well as having competing features.

Both were coming very close to bringing me to my buying tipping point (the Model 3 after all was enticing enough to put a deposit down in week one when Tesla opened for Model 3 reservations back in March 2016). So which would I pick? And why?

Well, I picked the Kona electric – and it came down to this: The Model 3 was close, but it meant more compromises than a Kona electric. (The Model 3 is a large car to me at 4.660m long, has a small boot opening rather than hatch, uses un-ergonomic driver controls and, in base model form, has a shorter range that the Kona electric).

The Kona met almost all of my criteria (a shorter vehicle, flat floor and large hatch for easy loading/unloading, roof rails fitted, well designed driver controls with front-of-driver readouts, plus a better range that the base Model 3 – to which it is closest in price).

On the Kona compromises – it is a taller ‘crossover’ car, not my preference – but overall decided it is more ‘wagon’ than ‘SUV’, so could live with that.

Also Hyundai do not recommend the Kona electric for towing whilst the Model 3 has a tow rating.

The trick there is although the Kona electric is not recommended for towing, the ICE Kona is … meaning the ICE Kona tow bar will fit. (Unsurprisingly, several Kona electric owners have already done so).

I had by all reports also passed up in the Model 3 perhaps the best driving consumer car on the market today – but you can’t have everything!

I could probably summarise the key choices for me as the Kona electric being a wagon style shape, comes with a more ‘conventional’ driver layout and has a better driving range (and $10k cheaper) than a similarly specified version of the currently available ‘base’ model 3.

So over to you, dear readers: I am sure to many of you the Model 3 is a better choice according to your personal criteria, as may be the Ioniq BEV, I-Pace, Tesla Models S or X, Renault Kangoo ZE van or even the Zoe for that matter.

The real winner is the BEV market itself: finally the Australian BEV market is reaching a level of maturity to offer choices in various vehicle market segments.

Now we await the arrival of more BEVs in each segment to provide competition within them too.

The Australian ACE cargo van may begin starting deliveries late this year (offering competition to the Kangoo ZE as well as opening up the tradie BEV market in general) and the VW electric ID family begins production late 2019, beginning with ID deliveries in the USA and Europe and hopefully in 2020 here.

On top of this will be the Tesla Model Y in 2020, offering competition to the Kona electric, coming Kia offerings of the e-niro and Soul electric, plus the VW ID Crozz due in the US and Europe in 2020.

The existing EV players are not hanging around either: Nissan are about to launch their latest Leaf here, and the new (2020) Zoe will bring it back into the pack on features and range (quicker acceleration, 53kWh battery and optional DC charging) – hopefully we will also see it here in 2020.

A dark horse on the horizon is that the first of the Chinese offerings to escape the mainland may be about to happen sooner that we think, offering ‘cheap and cheerful’ competition in the lower end of the market too (more on that soon).

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