2021 Hyundai Kona Electric SEL

Thus far in our Buy a Camry or Buy This series, we’ve found a rad sedan, an amazing coupe value, and a rugged midsize pickup as alternatives to the Camry for those who want something beyond the default option. But today’s contender for your not-Camry cash takes things in yet another direction. Meet the 2021 Hyundai Kona Electric.

If you haven’t noticed by now, my regard for EPA size classes and nominally head-to-head “competitors” is not terribly high, at least in this endeavor. Instead, I’m lining these cars up on the single most important factor for most car buyers: price. If you can afford the Camry, you can probably afford the Kona Electric. So, what are the differences? What might persuade you away from the safe choice to take a chance on a car you might not have otherwise? With the Kona, plenty.

2021 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE2021 Hyundai Kona SEL
PRICE: $31,125 (base)PRICE: $38,330 (base)
POWER: 208 hp (net)POWER: 201 hp
TORQUE: 163 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm (engine)/149 lb-ft (electric motor)TORQUE: 291 lb-ft @ 3,000-4,500 rpm
WEIGHT: 3,480 lbWEIGHT: 3,715 lb
0-60 MPH: 7.0 sec (est)0-60 MPH: 6.6 sec
L x W x H: 192.1 x 72.4 x 56.9 inL x W x H: 164.6 x 70.9 x 61.2 in
EPA MILEAGE: 44/47 mpg (city/hwy)EPA MILEAGE: 132/108 mpge (city/hwy)

2021 Camry Hybrid SE vs. 2021 Kona Electric SEL: Price & Efficiency

Right off the hop we can see a few significant differences, especially price and efficiency. The price delta, at least for now, is actually less significant than it seems, because the Hyundai Kona Electric is still eligible for the full U.S. federal tax subsidy of $7,500. With that taken into account, the two prices are nearly identical. The Camry Hybrid isn’t eligible for federal tax credits.

As for the efficiency difference between the Camry Hybrid and the Hyundai Kona Electric, that one’s not so easily handled, at least for the Camry. While Toyota’s all-purpose hybrid does a remarkable job improving on the non-hybrid version’s gas mileage (the non-hybrid Camry SE clocks in at 28/39 mpg city/highway), it’s still not nearly as efficient as the Kona Electric. The Hyundai almost triples the Camry Hybrid’s combined EPA rating, scoring 120 mpge to the Toyota’s 46 mpg combined. Moreover, while the Toyota does employ some electric assistance, it still burns gasoline. The Kona Electric burns none, naturally, so if you’re looking to save the world on your way to work, the Hyundai is the clear winner.

But as impactful as purchase price and energy efficiency are, they’re meaningless if the vehicle doesn’t fit the people and things you need to move around on a daily basis.

2021 Camry Hybrid SE vs. 2021 Kona Electric SEL: Passenger and Cargo Space

If you spotted the size difference between the Camry Hybrid and the Kona Electric in the chart above, well done. The Camry’s additional 27.5 inches of overall length and 1.5 inches of additional width mean the Kona Electric is working with less space for passengers and gear. But just how much?

In the front seat, the Camry Hybrid offers 38.3 inches of headroom (without the optional moonroof), and a huge 42.1 inches of legroom. The Kona Electric, on the other hand, packs 39.6 inches of front headroom, and 41.5 inches of front-seat legroom. Likewise, hip- and shoulder-room are nearly a dead heat. Both vehicles offer plenty of space even for taller and larger passengers.

The rear seat, however, is a bit of a different story. Here, the Camry Hybrid pulls a bit of a lead on the Kona Electric, showing where some of that extra overall length has gone: into the second row. The Kona Electric’s rear seat isn’t tiny at 33.4 inches of legroom, but passengers who are more than six feet tall will likely find their knees at least brushing the seats in front of them. The Camry Hybrid, however, like the standard non-hybrid Camry, has plenty of rear-seat legroom even for six-footers, at 38.0 inches. The rear-seat area accounts for most of the difference in the total passenger volume, with the Kona Electric offering 92.4 cubic-feet of passenger space to the Camry Hybrid’s 99.9.

When it comes to cargo space, the Kona Electric gains back a bit of ground on the Camry, fitting 19.2 cubic-feet of stuff behind the rear seats, or 45.8 with the second row folded down. The Camry Hybrid offers 15.1 in the trunk. While it’s no surprise a crossover has more useful cargo area than a sedan, it’s worth keeping in mind if you routinely have to move lots of gear while also moving three or more people.

2021 Camry Hybrid SE vs. 2021 Kona Electric SEL: Equipment and Features

Being so close on price, and both being the base trim levels of their respective model lines, you might expect these two vehicles to offer similar equipment and features, and, largely, they do: both vehicles come with automatic climate control (though the Kona’s is single-zone versus the Camry’s dual-zone system), and both also get a standard 7-inch touchscreen display for their infotainment systems, which include Bluetooth audio, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, satellite radio capability, one USB media port, and one USB charge port. The Camry Hybrid’s system is also compatible with Amazon Alexa, if you have a use for that.

Both also get a high level of standard safety equipment, including a full package of air bags, LATCH anchors for child seats, and pre-collision sensors. On top of that, the Camry Hybrid SE comes standard with Toyota Safety Sense P, a pre-collision system that can detect pedestrians, steer the car back into its lane, automatically engage the high beams, and also includes full speed-range dynamic adaptive cruise control. The Kona Electric sweetens its deal with most of the same features the Camry adds, with a few notable exceptions. Though the Kona lacks the pedestrian detection and high-beam assist of the Camry Hybrid SE, the Hyundai comes standard with blind-spot collision warning and rear cross-traffic alert, which are optional extras on the Toyota.

2021 Camry Hybrid SE vs. 2021 Kona Electric SEL: Which Should You Buy?

While you can’t go wrong with either car, as both are pretty evenly matched in terms of quality and equipment, the Hyundai Kona Electric SEL has one thing on its side the Camry Hybrid SE just can’t match: It’s simply a whole lot cooler and more interesting to most people. Why? For starters, it’s electric, so a lot of the same wow-factor you get with a Tesla is present in the Kona. It includes things like instant-on torque that makes the cute crossover feel more like a performance vehicle, at least on initial take-off. And as refined as the Camry Hybrid’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder is, it’s still a combustion engine, so it’s noisier and creates more vibration than the Kona’s electric motor.

Finally, there’s design. The Camry is a handsome car, even in hybrid form, but it’s such a familiar design that it literally blends into the crowd (which, statistically, is composed largely of other Camrys). The Kona Electric, on the other hand, borrows the surprisingly good proportions of its combustion-powered Kona siblings, but takes its look into the near future, with all-electric details like a mostly blanked-out grille telling onlookers that you’re driving something out of the ordinary.

Ways the Hyundai Kona Electric Beats the Toyota Camry Hybrid

  • All electric, zero emissions
  • Much more energy efficient
  • More futuristic design
  • Instant-on torque provides fun factor
  • Larger cargo capacity

Ways the Toyota Camry Hybrid Beats the Hyundai Kona Electric

  • Much larger rear seat
  • Generally roomier cabin
  • Refueling is still much quicker than recharging
  • Apartment-dwellers need not worry about plugging in
  • Can be more affordable in lower-tier trims

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