Hyundai Kona: My vote for North American Utility Vehicle of the Year

By Mark Phelan

Price range: $19,990-$34,650

Buyers have been aching for an affordable electric SUV, and Hyundai delivered with the Kona EV, which compliments gasoline-powered versions of its attractive subcompact SUV.

The EV has an EPA-rated range of 258 miles and a charging time of 9 hours, 24 minutes at 240 volts. That’s better than some vehicles that cost far more than the Kona EV’s base price of $34,650 — $28,950 after tax credits.

The EV sealed the deal, but the gasoline-powered Kona has a lot going for it, too. The base price of $19,990 gets you standard touch screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, forward collision alert, braking assist, lane-keeping assist and drowsy-driver alert.

The Kona has plenty of room, eye-catching optional two-tone paint and backup camera.

It’s a lot of car for the money, particularly considering that the top competing non-EV starts at $28,900.

Though I voted for it as the NACTOY Utility Vehicle of the Year — the winner of which will be announced Jan. 14 at the Detroit auto show — it is not my choice for Free Press Utility of the Year. 

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2nd place: Jaguar I-Pace

Price range: $69,500-$89,500

Jaguar’s first all-electric production vehicle wraps the classic brand’s style, luxury and comfort around a zero-emissions drivetrain in the traditional auto industry’s most direct challenge to Tesla yet.

The I-Pace’s styling is sleek and new, but true to Jag’s heritage, as it the luxuriously trimmed interior. Acceleration to 60 mph takes just 4.5 seconds. Ride and handling have Jag’s traditional balance of comfort and response.

The EPA rates the electric SUV’s range at 234 miles, with a charging time of 13 hours at 240 volts.

I gave the I-Pace a negative review when I was provided with an inaccurate list of its features and performance earlier this year. If you’re looking for features the SUV actually has, it delivers admirably.

3rd place: Acura RDX

Price range: $37,300-$47,400

Acura’s bestselling model added a responsive turbocharged engine and larger interior this year. The third generation of the compact luxury SUV is the first RDX engineered  and designed in America.

A 272-horsepower 2.0-liter engine is mated to 10-speed automatic transmission and optional all-wheel drive for good performance.

Passenger and cargo space both increased from the old model, and the new interior benefits from upscale materials and modern design. The SUV also offers a full-color 10.5-inch head-up display and 16-channel 710-watt ELS audio system.

The RDX is the latest vehicle to try using a touchpad for automotive controls, with a system that aims to be easy to use in a moving vehicle.

Contact Mark Phelan: mmphelan@freepress.com or 313-222-6731. Follow him on Twitter @mark_phelan

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