Hyundai is first to market with a mainstream electric car that almost entirely dispels range-anxiety fears. We take a deeper look at the Kona Electric
On the road
On the road
Things are moving fast with electric vehicle technology. At the beginning of 2018, the new Nissan Leaf launched with a 177-mile range figure that was seen as a potential game changer, and certainly enough range to open up electric cars to a wider audience. By the end of 2018 we’re up to the magical 300-mile official test range from a car that, including the Government’s £3500 plug-in car grant, starts at only just above the £30,000 mark.
The Hyundai Kona Electric comes with a choice of two powertrains, with battery capacities of 64kWh and 39.2kWh. The larger one is the version with the 300-mile range, according to the new WLTP official testing regime. It has a maximum output of 204hp for a 0-62mph acceleration time of just 7.6 seconds, and it comes in only the higher two of the three trim levels – Premium and Premium SE – with a P11D of £33,940 for Premium, and another £2300 for Premium SE. Don’t forget that the ULEV grant isn’t included in the P11D price.
The smaller battery still manages a 194-mile range that puts almost every other electric vehicle to shame, and its 136hp powertrain breaks the 0-62mph dash in a still-decent 9.7 seconds. It’s available on the bottom two of the three trims – SE and Premium. The Government grant gets that model’s purchase price below £26,000 for the entry spec. With the extra 100 miles of range costing an extra £3125, Hyundai expects the higher share of sales to go with the longer-range version of the Kona.
- The display of regen. achieved in miles put back into the range is a great efficient driving incentive, but it’s a shame it’s not cumulative for the journey.
2. However cutting edge EV tech is, there’s still no getting away from having to plug in a car in the pouring rain, or storing a wet charging lead.
3. It would be useful if the parking brake engaged when you press Park, rather than having to remember to do both before switching off.
It’s fair to say that the car’s range does pretty much end anxiety issues, at least for regular journeys. Obviously, plug-in cars don’t yet suit all profiles, but this will be the first electric car where, for many more drivers, there’s not the itch to recharge at every possible opportunity, and multiple decent-length drives can be undertaken without stressing about finding recharge points.
Predictably, given it’s quoted at 204hp, the Kona electric is very rapid off the mark, almost to the point where it’s too instantaneously fast on full throttle, given that the chassis and suspension are not set up to be sporty. Indeed, in slippery conditions it’s easy to get more wheelspin that might be expected from a small crossover model.
But it rides nicely, something that isn’t necessarily true for all electric vehicles, and the whole package belies the extra weight of the electric model. It’s lugging more than 300kg more than a diesel Kona, and is also more than 100kg heavier than the Nissan Leaf or VW eGolf.
The regeneration levels – energy recuperated under deceleration to replenish the battery – can be set by the driver using what would be the gearshift paddles behind the steering wheel on a conventional car. There are three levels, the most severe of which negates the need to use the brake pedal in most driving situations, and the car can even be brought to a complete halt by a longer tug on the paddle. There’s also a dashboard display that highlights how much energy, in mileage terms, has been put back into the battery with each slowing. A controlled and gradual stop from 70mph, for example, will add more than half a mile. It is a shame, though, that the readout only seems to show that specific instance, clearing the display once the car’s accelerating again. It would be more interesting, and more of an incentive to drive with regeneration in mind, to see how many miles good driving had added across an entire journey.
Inside, the cabin is pleasant, especially with the leather seats of the top-spec Premium SE trim level. There’s a big centre stowage bin, plus two central cupholders, a forward area to take a phone that also, on Premium and above, has a wireless smartphones charging pad, and an additional storage spot under the ‘floating’ centre console that isn’t the most convenient space to get to, but is somewhere wallets can be placed that is pretty much out of sight.
Above that space is where the buttons that control the drive system are housed. Rather than a gear lever of any kind, it’s a case of pressing the buttons for Drive, Reverse, Neutral or Park.
Rear space isn’t great, with adults likely to find legroom limited, although that’s true of most small crossovers, and the boot space, while not impacted particularly by battery packaging, isn’t great at 332 litres, two litres shy of the regular Kona models. It’s about the same as an electric VW Golf offers, but a Nissan Leaf will give you an additional 88 litres.
Equipment-wise, all Kona Electric models get 17-inch alloy wheels that, while being more energy efficient, aren’t the nicest to look at thanks to the plate-effect to make them more aerodynamic. The SE gets adaptive cruise control, rear parking sensors and camera, keyless entry, autonomous emergency braking and Smartphone integration through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but you have to go up to Premium to get sat-nav, as well as auto wipers, front parking sensors and the blind spot detection, lane-follow assist and rear cross-traffic alert safety systems.
The lane-follow assist, while having its uses in some situations, feels too much like it’s fighting the driver, as is the case with many of these semi-automated systems. It also requires you to make too many presses on the dashboard touchscreen to switch on and off while driving, so ends up being turned off permanently.
Top-spec Premium SE gets heated and ventilated electric leather seats, head-up display, high-beam assist and a heated steering wheel.
Hyundai has left the options list very thin indeed; you can choose metallic or pearl paint, and, on the higher two trims, a different roof colour. As well as that , there’s the option of a Pod Point home charger, which is eligible for a Government grant that brings down the cost to £300.
It’s easy to pick out the electric Kona compared to the rest of the range, thanks to those alloys and the filled-in grille that incorporates the charging point, while the rear bumper is also reshaped, along with the indicator and fog light units.
This Kona Electric, with the larger battery, is a pricier option than electric rivals such as the eGolf and Leaf, but that’s repaid by a range that’s in excess of 100 miles longer than they can offer. Drop to the version with the smaller battery, and the range is still more than its rivals can offer, and all at a price that makes it look a comparative bargain.
An electric vehicle with a 300-mile official range, and certainly getting on for 250 miles in the real world if driven sympathetically, opens up the technology to a whole new band of driver journey profiles, and with the Government now only giving grants to full electric rather than plug-in hybrid models, the cost case for pure EVs, backed up by improving residual values that are now over the 30% boundary, is making more sense for more people than ever before. It might not be the best all-round package, and lacks the apps and other innovations that other EVs can offer, but for pure usability for the money, the Kona Electric makes an unmatchable case for itself.
The Kona Electric is the next step in what is a long-term plan by Hyundai and sister brand Kia to have 18 new electrified models by 2025.
Hyundai describes the Kona as the first fully electric sub-compact SUV in Europe, and the car is initially only offered through Hyundai’s own Click To Buy website, at least until supplies free up as we move into 2019. The company thinks around 5% of Kona sales will be the electric version, with most of them plumping for the higher of the two battery capacities that costs an extra £3125 for the additional 106 miles of range. Initially at least, about one-in-three Kona Electrics will go into fleet operation.
The Korean brand was the first to market with a car that offered electric, plug-in hybrid and regular hybrid power when the Ioniq lower-medium hatchback launched in 2016, and it has also led in terms of fuel cell technology, firstly with the ix35 Fuel Cell, and now with the new Nexo fuel cell car (pictured) that is ready to go as soon as markets have the refueling infrastructure.
Having a foot in each camp, Hyundai predicts that plug-in and fuel cell technology will co-exist “for a long time” before one proves to be the dominant long-term solution.
What they said
What They Said
"We’ve created the first truly affordable EV with an independently proven real-world range of 259 miles, although some early customers are achieving considerably more."
"For fleet buyers, Kona Electric could offer substantial savings over combustion-engined cars, especially considering the new BIK rates that will appear in 2020/21. Compare Kona Electric to a competitor petrol fueled B-SUV; in the 2020/21 tax year it could save a higher-rate taxpayer around £1800 in company car tax. Add in the fuel costs and your savings will likely be over £2000 per year."
Michael Stewart, director of fleet, Hyundai Motor UK
Need to know
Three things we like...
Variable regeneration altered by steering wheel paddles is useful
The buttons for drive etc. feel a bit odd at first but are quick to engage
Read-out of mileage recouped under regeneration offers a good incentive
...And one we don't
They may be more efficient, but aerodynamic wheels don’t look as good as regular alloys
There’s huge amounts of acceleration - more than the tyres can handle in slippery conditions - although it’s not a sporty drive, just fast acceleration.
The Kona EV, with the 64kWh battery, is the first electric car this side of a Tesla to really offer range that removes the constant need to top-up at every opportunity.
Rear-seat and boot space aren’t great, although the luggage area is only a couple of litres short of that in the regular Kona model.
Standard equipment levels are good, though navigation isn’t on the entry car. But the walk-ups are sensible in price and additional kit.
The efforts made to distinguish the electric model from the rest of the Kona range are distinctive, but don’t necessarily enhance the looks - the wheels and filled-in grille aren’t the most stylish.
Comfort and refinement 8/10
There’s zero engine noise, obviously, and road noise is fine. The ride is pretty good, and certainly better than many EVs.
Reasonable stowage space, though the quality is in line with the regular Kona, which costs over £10,000 less than the electric model.
All pretty straightforward without being cutting-edge.
Whole life costs 8/10
High starting price and comparative servicing cost is partially regained by a decent residual value.
CCT opinion 8/10
The Kona electric isn’t perfect, but moves the EV game on another notch thanks to the battery range.
A genuine step forward for EVs thanks to a battery that removes range concerns for a greater size of the driving population, in a car that’s ‘normal’ in every other way.