Electric cars are a whole new experience; Hyundai wants to demystify them.
The idea of buying an electric car is appealing, but there’s a lot to learn. Even those of us who drive a lot of cars for our jobs are learning. So, Hyundai brought a group of journalists to Nashville to learn about their electric car lineup and to talk about what’s in the works for consumers. Since I drive a 2019 Santa Fe, I was really excited to meet her younger, snazzier, plug-in hybrid relative, as well as her EV cousins. This is our family’s second Santa Fe and it’s been fun to see how the brand is progressing.
I drove these Hyundai electric cars in Nashville Tennessee: The Ioniq 5, the Kona Electric, the Tucson PHEV, and the Santa Fe PHEV.
Do I have a favorite? Of course I do.
How Did it Go?
In addition to the Santa Fe plug-in hybrid electric, or PHEV, I also drove the Tucson PHEV, the Kona Electric, and the new all electric IONIQ 5, which just won three of the World Car Awards at the New York Auto Show. I was assigned a driving partner and the Hyundai team provided us with a driving route and a timetable. We started out in the Tucson PHEV and had three pit stops to switch into the other three cars. We put all four cars through their paces with a mixture of city driving and exploring the Nashville area’s beautiful backroads.
Here’s what I learned about these cars in the order I drove them, and I’ll rank them in my order of preference (so keep reading!).
Hyundai is Taking on the Hurdles of Going Electric
According to Hyundai, an estimated 1/3 of auto buyers are prioritizing eco-friendly for their next car purchase. The company plans to have 11 Hyundai EV options by 2030 and is working to address common pain points buyers have about electric cars: anxiety over range, or how far the car can drive on a single charge, slow charging time and lack of public infrastructure, i.e. not enough public charging stations or charging stations not in a convenient location. Public stations are important because they provide level 2 and level 3 charging. Level 2 generally replenishes the battery at a rate of about 20 miles per hour of charging (so, good for all day or overnight charging). Level 3 charging, which you can only use on all electric cars and is only available at public stations, 5 miles a minute, depending on the car. Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 can recharge about 80% of the battery in 18 minutes.
To help work toward their goal of adding seven more EV options to the Hyundai lineup, the company has recently announced plans to build a new manufacturing facility in Bryan Country, Georgia. This 5.4 billion dollar project will be dedicated to manufacturing electric vehicles to meet buyer demand with full production expected in early 2025.
The Hyundai Tucson PHEV
I recently drove a conventional Tucson and found the drive experience in the Tucson PHEV identical. The things that I love about a Tucson – good looking, sporty, functional, roomy – are all the same.
As a PHEV, the Tucson has an all-electric range is 33 miles before the hybrid gas/electric motor takes over. It has a combined 35 MPG. At a level 2 charge it takes less than two hours to fully recharge.
We looked hard at the Tucson before ultimately deciding to buy our Santa Fe and decided it was too small. 2019 was the last model year where Santa Fe’s had a third row and we were convinced we had to have that third row seating. We don’t really use our third row and our recent test drive with the Tucson convinced me it has enough space and we probably should have considered it.
Although we have a history of hanging on to our cars for a long time, I’d absolutely consider buying the Tucson PHEV as our next car. I’m hesitant to go fully electric because of the current infrastructure where I live but a PHEV meets my needs for everyday driving. My short time with the Tucson PHEV was enough to solidify that I continue to really like this car.
The Hyundai Ioniq 5
The Ioniq 5 was the clear favorite of the fleet of 20 journalists present. It’s Hyundai’s latest initiative toward being a leader in electrified mobility.
My first impression of this car was “Holy interior space.” This crossover is uniquely engineered – the phrase “open floorplan” comes to mind. There’s a ton of legroom everywhere. The console adjusts and there’s a surprising amount of room in back. The door handles are flush, which contributes to the sleek and streamlined look of the Ioniq 5 – they pop out when you approach with a key.
The Ioniq 5 has a range of 303 miles and super speedy charging – 10% to 80% in 18 minutes. For anyone still hanging on to the notion that you can’t get very far on a charge and that charging takes a ton of time, Hyundai is working to chip away at those misconceptions.
We took more pictures of the Ioniq 5 than the other three cars combined. I guess that’s your spoiler alert on which was my favorite.
The Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV
As I mentioned earlier, I have a 2019 Santa Fe. The 2022 model is very similar on the outside to what I drive but the upgraded interior console is more tech forward than my everyday ride. The most notable difference in the exterior was the grille – the crisscross pattern adds a touch of sophistication that I don’t have on my car. These upgrades that began with the 2020 model year are the same in conventional Santa Fe’s and Santa Fe PHEVs alike.
A Santa Fe PHEV has an all-electric range of 30 miles and a combined fuel economy of 33 MPG. Depending on what your everyday driving looks like, you can drive quite a bit on the battery charge. My husband and I both work from home. Our average weekday driving is less than 10 miles a day, so that alone makes this car attractive. When the car needs to switch to using gas, the MPG is still solid.
The Santa Fe is roomy and comfortable and meeta the average family’s need for space and tech. I was pleased with this drive, as I expected to be.
The Hyundai Kona Electric
The Kona Electric is powered by an LG-Chem/Lithium Ion Polymer battery. It has an estimated range of 258 miles. A level 2 standard charge takes approximately 9 hours. A level 3 fast charge takes approximately 47-64 minutes* depending on the kW level of the fast charger.
I think the Kona Electric would work for anyone wanting an eco-friendly small-size crossover. It was comfortable for a small car and does well for city driving. It’s easy to maneuver in traffic and easy to park. If you regularly need to transport older kids or adults in the back seat or need a lot of rear storage room, the Kona Electric might fall short.
Related: 2022 Hyundai Kona N First Drive: The Crossover That Will Remind You Why You Love Smaller Cars
So, What Did I Like Best and Why?
In order of preference from wow to just okay:
- Ioniq 5
- Santa Fe PHEV
- Tucson PHEV
- Kona Electric
The Ioniq 5 is sleek and modern and surprisingly spacious. As I teased above, it easily topped the list.
The Santa Fe PHEV and Tucson PHEV are in second and third place, although their standing is easily interchangeable. I think owning either of these comes down to how well the style and size fits your life. I drive an older (although not that much older) Santa Fe and driving the 2022 PHEV was like hugging a familiar friend who’d just had a glow up. It’s got the same features and space (although the 2022 is a lot sexier than my trusty 2019 model) as a conventional Santa Fe. I noticed little difference in my drive experience. Ditto for the Tucson. I drove a conventional Tucson recently and noticed no difference in driving experience.
The Kona Electric was my least favorite to drive. This had zero to do with its electric status and more to do with a subcompact crossover just not being able to wow me. It would make an eco-friendly first car or a commuter car. I didn’t dislike the Kona Electric. With four cars in the lineup, this is what landed on the bottom for me.
Car buyers are all over the place when it comes to their views on electrified vehicles: Some are all-in, some are curious, and some are dead set against the idea. I fall in to the curious and mostly won over bucket. It will be interesting to see how attitudes and technology shift over the next several years.
Disclosure: I was Hyundai’s guest for this test drive; travel and accommodations were provided but all opinions are my own.