Hyundai Kona Electric first drive
Hyundai's Kona Electric has plenty going for it. Popular compact SUV styling; check. Plug-in powertrain; check. Long electric range; double check. And finally, affordable price tag . . . you guessed it - check. Available in two battery configurations, it is the larger 64 kWh version tested here on the Kona Electric's UK launch. NGC takes part in a rather thorough test route to see how it gets on.
Review by Chris Lilly
With the choice of two batteries comes two different electric motors. The 64 kWh Kona Electric gets the more powerful 150 kW (204 hp) unit, and with it performance that can safely be described as sprightly. A good slug of torque is available from the electric motor, as you might expect, with 395 Nm on hand to help pull the Kona Electric along. Power goes to the front wheels, and Hyundai uses a single-gear set-up - all providing a 0-62mph time of 7.6 seconds in this configuration. It's not lightning quick then, but it will surprise a fair few on-lookers at the Traffic Light Grand Prix, and the Kona Electric makes light work of driving both in town and out on the open road. The instant response from that punchy electric motor means the Kona Electric often feels quicker than performance times suggest, with 'in-gear' acceleration both properly quick, and a bit of a giggle. In the confines of built-up areas, the quick turn of pace can prove handy when nipping out of junctions, or running about a car park. Equally though, there is plenty of grunt on faster roads, and the Kona Electric has no sense of feeling out of its depth on the motorway. It sits surprisingly well at speed, for an EV, and feels just as comfortable tackling a long drive as it does popping to the shops.
Although the Kona Electric is a sprightly thing in a straight line, there isn't any element of hot-hatchery carried over to the handling. Here, Hyundai has - admittedly understandably - opted to be sensible, and made the Kona Electric a comfortable car to drive. The suspension is soft and better suited to dealing with life in town than sweeping through a series of S-bends. There's an element of disappointment here, since the Kona Electric could have been a really enjoyable car to drive - though we can but hope for an N-Division version in the future to cover enthusiastic driving tastes and rival BMW's i3s. As such, stick to a gentle driving style, and the Kona Electric will perform very nicely. It's relaxing to drive, and is almost silent for much of the time. The suspension will cosset occupants from all but the worst or Britain's road surfaces, though it will pitch and roll a little if cornering faster than planned. It's to be expected really from a car that is heavy for its class. With a large battery pack - admittedly placed low in the car for a better centre of gravity - the Kona Electric weighs in at almost 1.7 tonnes. Combine this with a fair amount of power going through the front wheels only, and low-rolling resistance rubber, and it feels as though it wouldn't take too much for the Hyundai to struggle to grip the road. It has to be said though that we didn't test this sort of harsh cornering style at the launch. Over some very bumpy country roads at times though, there was little sense that the Kona Electric would prove uncomfortable to drive.
The Kona Electric is a good looking compact SUV in my opinion. It's nicely proportioned, has plenty of interesting design elements, and looks good on the road. With a closed off grille, it looks rather different to the conventionally-powered Kona too, yet still obviously part of the family. Despite having a relatively compact footprint, the Kona Electric is reasonably practical inside. There are more spacious crossovers on the market for those prioritising boot space or rear seat room. However, the Kona Electric has ample space in the rear for a young family, and will seat a couple of tall adults for shorter journeys without fuss. Kids will be better off in the rear, particularly as there isn't a great deal of leg room on offer. The boot is large enough for a week's luggage, or a weekend away with a pushchair for example, but you're not going to get a family's worth of camping kit in the back without making a ew compromises.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
As is often the case with electric vehicles, because of the higher upfront purchase costs, the manufacturers throw in loads of equipment. The Kona Electric is no different, particularly with the 64 kWh model tested. The dashboard looks clean and tidy thanks to a large touchscreen operating most of the car's systems. Those controls that remain are ether set low down on the centre console, or placed behind the gear selector - which follows the Hyundai Ioniq Electric's principles of using buttons rather than a gear stick. The driver gets an instrument binnacle with one large dial, and surrounding digital displays. This means there is a wealth of driving information available for those behind the wheel, and switching between various displays can keep the driver on top of everything - particularly if they are pushing the Kona Electric's range. Switchgear feels well put together and nicely damped, but not of the highest quality. It feels more than good enough for the price of the Kona Electric though, which isn't pitched as a premium product but a mainstream model.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
The range of the Kona Electric is very good; really, properly, seriously good. The official figure is quoted at 300 miles for the 64 kWh model, based on the WLTP cycle, which is tougher than the previous NEDC cycle. To put this into context, that's the same range as is quoted by Jaguar for the I-Pace, but with a battery around two thirds the capacity, and a price of around half of the executive SUV. As we've already calculated, on a cost-per-mile of electric range basis, the Kona Electric 64 kWh is the best value EV around. That's all in theory though, and real-world driving is something quite different. However, we put the Hyundai to a stern test, with the challenge on the UK launch being to see how far we can drive an EV in 12 hours - with various challenges and tasks to complete on the way. Completed overnight, we covered 475 miles between 8pm on Thursday 30th August and 8am on Friday 31st August. Sharing with another driver, we found that the quoted 300 mile range on a single charge isn't far off, and achievable with a fair wind and light right foot. Climbing hills or driving faster, that would drop to around 275 miles by my reckoning, though these are all calculations done on the fly. We were working on 285 miles being out 'standard' during the event, though will put the Kona Electric to a more traditional test soon. It's encouraging to know that Hyundai is pretty much on the money with the Kona Electric 64 kWh's range. It's more than long enough for the majority of drivers, and most wouldn't need to charge even once a week. It's a real watershed car, offering much of the range that previously only premium models like the I-Pace or Tesla's line-up could, but at a far more accessible price. The 38 kWh model is cheaper, and still looks to offer a range that challenges the Nissan Leaf et al in the mainstream market, but those needing more range can opt for this 64 kWh version.
Clearly the Kona Electric is one of the greenest cars around, and it has a host of features to help drivers out. For those concerned that a large 64 kWh battery will take a while to charge, there is the capability to rapid charge at up to 100 kW. This keeps the recharging time down to current EV levels of around half an hour for an 80% charge, but with far more range on offer. Of course, we are yet to see 100+ kW rapid chargers in the UK, but they are coming soon and the Kona Electric is ready for them. Hyundai retains the CCS charging standard so drivers use Type 2 for slow and fast charging, and the CCS connector for rapids. This also means that the soon-to-arrive Ionity 350 kW ultra-rapid charging network will be available to Kona Electric drivers, along with other charge points. Home charging off a 7 kW unit will take up to 10 hours, and often less depending on existing charge. Drivers also have the handy selectable brake energy regen levels, from Level 0 (coasting) to Level 3 (strong) - with drivers having a 'smart regen' option by holding the 'up' paddle. There are a number of displays giving drivers range remaining, energy usage, and driving scores/coaching. The sat-nav also lists charge points for those needing to charge on the move. There are also the almost standard EV features of programmable charging, pre-conditioning, and heated seats/wheel, which help save on energy costs, and also energy usage. If the car is the right temperature before getting in, the driver doesn't need to place a drain on the battery by trying to heat or cool a large body of air. Smart cruise control can help drivers maintain a steady pace, and it helps with regen on downhill slopes too, often capturing energy that would require a very sensitive right foot otherwise. Hyundai also offers drive mode select, with Eco limiting performance and the drain of auxiliary systems on the car. According to our calculations, the model tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 24.
There are three trim levels of the Kona Electric range - two for the 39 kWh model, and two for the 63 kWh version. SE and Premium are available on the shorter-range Hyundai, while buyers of the longer-range model get a choice of Premium or Premium SE. There are two optional extras, which are metallic or pearlescent paint, or a two-tone roof. Everything else is included in a comprehensive specification sheet. Entry level Premium - for the Kona Electric 64 kWh - includes 17-inch alloys, leather multifunction steering wheel, automatic dimming rear view mirror, automatic headlights and wipers, rear LED lights, battery heater, adaptive cruise control, drive mode selector, electric windows, parking sensors front and rear with reversing camera, regen select paddles, keyless entry and start, 7-inch driver's display, 8-inch touchscreen with sat-nav, Bluetooth, DAB, and USB connectivity, Apple CarPlay & Android Auto connectivity, Krell premium stereo, and wireless phone charging. There's a comprehensive suite of safety systems too. Premium SE only adds a few items, including heads-up display, heated steering wheel, high beam assist, LED headlights, cornering lights, heated and vented front seats, leather upholstery, and electric front seats. Some will see the £2,300 extra cost of Premium SE over Premium as worth it - and it's certainly good value - but personally, I'd pick the Premium Kona Electric, which sees prices come in under the £30,000 threshold.
Hyundai has pitched the Kona Electric well, and I suspect the manufacturer won't be able to build them fast enough. There's nothing that can match the Kona Electric when looking at range and purchase cost. It's practical enough for most buyers, comfortable to drive, and the range available from both models - particularly the 64 kWh version - will persuade a large number of drivers than electric vehicles can easily deal with their demands.
Model tested: Hyundai Kona Electric 64 kWh
Body-style: Compact SUV
Engine / CO2: 150 kW electric motor / 0 g/km
Trim grades: Premium, Premium SE
On-road price: Kona Electric range from £24,995. Price as tested £29,495 (inc. Cat 1 PiCG)
Warranty: Five year / unlimited mileage
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 5.0 Stars