Regardless of Powertrain, 2024 Hyundai Kona Benefits from EV-First Design Plan

Hyundai’s new entry-level SUV was planned to have an electric powertrain, with the ICE powertrain taking the back seat.

The 2024 Hyundai Kona blends design elements from both the ICE and EV worlds. (Hyundai)

The 2024 Hyundai Kona will be sold in the U.S. with either electric or ICE propulsion, while a hybrid option will be available in other markets. The new Kona isn’t the first model available with a choice of powertrains, but Hyundai’s small SUV is different because there’s an unusual story to how the fresh-and-freaky, youth-oriented SUV was designed and engineered. The 2024 Kona is, first and foremost, an EV.

The 2024 Hyundai Kona Limited trim uses a 1.6-L direct-injected engine that produces an estimated 190 hp and 195 lb.-ft. (Hyundai)

As Hyundai was starting design work on the new Kona in March 2020, the company decided to focus on making the SUV’s design work for the EV version, with the idea that, later on, the ICE and hybrid powertrains could be adapted to fit.

“Normally, you look at ICE and you have an EV version,” said Kevin Kang, senior design manager for Hyundai Design North America. “The EV design is kind of an afterthought, but for the Kona, we decided to design it first as an EV model, and that really let us break free from the norm.”

Designing a vehicle around an electric drivetrain while keeping in mind room for ICE components resulted in two main areas of improvement, Kang said: better aerodynamics and more interior space.

The outgoing Kona Electric, while successful, “almost looked like a facelift. It was like a band-aid kind of a thing,” compared to the gas model, Kang told SAE Media. He said the 2024 Kona has a more cohesive front end, with a right-sized grille and an overall aerodynamic and efficient shape.

“Duality is probably a better way to phrase it, where we tried to capture characteristics of both EV and ICE,” he said. “It’s like a new way to design a car, almost. We thought that’s something that we wanted to play around with.”

Kang said his design team took input from the engineers to define the height of the suspension shock towers to ensure that the hood was low and sleek, for example, and to determine the minimal possible size for the grille.

“When you design an internal-combustion SUV, for example, one of the typical things you do is actually exaggerate the height of the hood,” he said. “I mean, even if there’s nothing in there, you want to make sure that it looks really brutal and almost very masculine. But we wanted to go the other way, and it actually does start from mechanicals, where we talk to the engineers and optimize [the design] so that the front of the hood is as low as possible. Because we went in the EV-first direction, both EV and ICE are able to benefit from a basically lower drag coefficient.”

The 2024 Kona will have a cD of 0.30, compared to the previous model’s 0.32. The Kona Electric also has active grille shutters for improved aerodynamics. Kang said the EV-focused design work found that the grille’s sweet spot, sizewise, meant it didn’t have to be as large as other OEMs use for their SUVs.

“We were kind of happy to find out that ICE vehicles don’t need a big grille,” he said. “Believe it or not, internal-combustion engines and EVs actually share a lot of things that go in front of the hood. But when you calculate all this mass, you end up at a certain point where it’s very similar between the modern ICE and EV, so we just set a direction and then locked down aesthetics that way.”

The ICE-powered 2024 Kona will use one of two engines in the U.S. The base model has a 2.0-L Atkinson-cycle 4-cyl. that produces an estimated 147 hp and 132 lb-ft (179 Nm). The more powerful option in the N Line and Limited trims is a 1.6-L direct-injected, turbocharged 4-cyl. that produces an estimated 190 hp and 195 lb-ft (264 Nm). The Kona Electric’s motors produce either 99 kW (133 hp) and 188 lb-ft (255 Nm) in the shorter-range model with a 48.6-kWh battery or 150 kW (201 hp) and 188 lb-ft In the extended version with a 64.8-kWh battery.

Bigger inside

The center console of the 2024 Hyundai Kona provides more storage due to the SUV’s EV-first design brief. (Hyundai)

The EV-first design also resulted in more interior cargo space, Kang said. Since EVs can have a completely flat floor, the design team asked the powertrain engineers if they could optimize the transmission tunnel for height. That meant playing around with the size of the battery pack, the thickness of the carpet and the sheet metal beneath.

“When you look at a big, all-wheel drive vehicle, there’s almost no console storage because the tunnel is so high because all of the drivetrain is in there,” he said. “But for this car, we’re able to push that down and optimize the console storage so that it conveys a sense that it’s more airy. [We tried] to sandwich and squish it as much as possible. And, of course, when you talk to the engineers, we have to basically give them the guideline: is it possible to drive it down 100 millimeters? If not, then how much can we gain back? What will it take? How much money is it going to take? How much time? It’s complex, but I’m proud to say that, in the end, it’s a lot better than a typical ICE, all-wheel drive vehicle.”

The 2024 Hyundai Kona will be available with both an all-electric or a gasoline powertrain. (Hyundai)

Hyundai started designing the 2024 Kona in March 2020. That particular start time led to the vehicle being referred to internally as “our COVID car,” according to Hyundai Motor America product planning manager Melvyn Bautista.

“Our designers had to pack up their computers, their monitors, their VR goggles, and pretty much set up shop in their kitchen, closet, garage wherever they could get,” Bautista said. “What you see today is a collaboration between Korea, Germany and California.”

For Kang and his team, the shift to remote work turned out to be exciting once the company procured VR goggles for the designers.

“We now have this flexibility where if people can’t work from the studio, we’re completely capable of sculpting stuff in the digital world,” he said. “We would find a sweet spot in time, then put our goggles on and be able to tweak digital design on the spot.”

Kang said the EV-first design brief that created the new Kona might apply to other models, but he would not give any details. “Stay tuned,” he said.