First Drive: Hyundai Kona EV

28th July 2018
Andrew English

Battery cars are not the only fruit. But they are seen that way by a vocal band of early adopters, legislators and manufacturers, who fervently believe them to be the only viable way of weaning the world off its diet of fossil fuels. 


 Fact is, however, they are heavy, expensive and take a long time to recharge. Getting to that vital business meeting on time is going to mean getting up very early if you've got fill the tank on the way. So far the main need that battery cars have provided for is that of urban runarounds for the wealthy middle classes...

Things are changing, though. Tesla and lately Jaguar have shown that a long range and high amperage charging can bring a degree of practicality to the electric-vehicle (EV) proposition, but at a very high price. Renault Nissan has attempted the same thing at lower prices and now Hyundai has got in on the act. The Kona is a supermini-based crossover, which in conventional form competes against Nissan's Juke, Vauxhall Mokka X, Renault Captur, VW T-Roc and many others in this growing market. Kona is different, though, as it was designed from the off to be a battery car, with its sights set firmly on Tesla's 'affordable' Model 3.

Kona EV goes on sale on August 2nd, with the first deliveries this autumn. The most popular model, the Premium with a 512kg, 64kWh lithium-ion battery gives a 300-mile range. It'll cost £29,495 including the £4,500 Government incentive, which is an excellent price. Tesla's Model 3, has neither a UK on-sale date or a price, but in the USA, the high-range 75kWh Model 3 has a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) range of 310 miles and costs about £32,000.

Recharging a 64kWh battery takes time, though. Using the car's standard 7.2kW on-board charger on an AC wall box a full recharge will take 9hrs 35mins. A 50kW DC charger will give an 80 per cent charge in 75mins, which drops to 54mins on a 100kW DC supply, though there aren't any of these in the UK right now.  


Kona is a good looking car, with decent proportions, especially when you consider the battery sits under the floor and the electric power unit is integrated with the battery inverter and cooling equipment under the bonnet. There's a separate motorised brake-boost system, to overcome the 'stepped' braking feel of many EV rivals and an 'auto' function, which increases the regeneration braking according to the gradient and following distance from the vehicle in front. The latter function can be switched out, however and increasing levels of regeneration braking can be deployed with the steering-wheel paddles. South Korean examples of the car can also be equipped with an external power take off for use to power caravans and the like.

There's a decent level of equipment, with LED headlamps, smart cruise control, lane-following assistance, leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, a premium sound system, wireless phone charging and Android Auto and Apple Car Play. Apart from the driving instruments and the push-button drive, reverse, park and neutral selection, the interior is standard Kona, which means dull charcoal-grey scratchy plastics. The flying centre console is a pleasant touch, though you lose things in the bottom shelf. There's room enough for four adults and though the batteries take a 40-litre bite out of the boot space, at 322 litres it's still just adequate.

Press Drive and Kona fair scorches away. The nose rises and the 215/55/17-inch Nexens chirp loudly. Unlike similar vehicles, though, Kona keeps charging for the horizon. It's not 'ludicrous' fast as with bigger Tesla models, but it's a surprising turn of speed. 

It is weight, however, which limits full exploitation of that performance.

"The vehicle dynamics are about dealing with weight," says Ki-Sang Lee, Hyundai's vice president of R&D, explaining that is partly why the Kona EV gets the more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension rather than the twist beam of some conventional lower-powered Kona models. At almost 1.7 tonnes, Kona EV is almost 300kg heavier than the nearest conventional Kona model. This manifests as hesitancy in the body's reaction to bumps, a ride quality that is sharp and choppy over small bumps and strong roll resistance which tosses passenger's heads from side to side; it just feels very heavy. The steering, which isn't terrific in the conventional Kona, feels lifeless and over assisted and more worryingly, if you accelerate hard, the steering loses its self centring and becomes even lighter still so that Kona feels a bit out of control. The auto regen braking function is highly unpleasant and disruptive, slowing like a spooked horse at what it perceives as risks which aren't. Just as well you can switch it off, then, because without that auto function the Kona's brakes are an object lesson to other EV makers, combining regen and friction brakes smoothly right down to the standstill.


On longer journeys this EV is a perfectly acceptable, if not particularly rewarding, drive, though the relative quiet of the driveline means that tyre and wind noise are quite intrusive, as is the wiper motor and air-con fan.

It's a stake in the ground for Hyundai and within its limitations and bar a few howlers, Kona EV is an affordable and highly impressive electric car. What's more, it more than lived up to its maker's prediction on range and energy consumption (which says as much about the new WLTP test regime as it does Hyundai's honesty). 

The biggest problem with the Kona, however, will be a distinct shortage of supply. In the first six months or so where it will only be available via the Hyundai website with no test drives, despite a 'record number of hand raisers,' initial supplies are likely to be only in double figures. 

Is it an environmental free lunch? If you take the average COcontribution of UK electricity generation at 470g/kWh, then Kona's well-to-wheels contribution is about 62g/km, which is good, but not completely green. What's more, however, even Ki-Sang Lee doesn't think that EV vehicles are likely to be the ultimate answer, citing the increasing price and scarcity of rare metals and elements used in lithium-ion batteries such as cobalt or manganese as potential brakes on the widespread introduction of battery-electric cars.

"But for the future, I have some doubts," he says. "Lithium-ion has improved a lot, but by 2025, it will start to represent a lag in improvement so we will need alternative battery technology."


But he also has another objection to the wholesale adoption of EVs vehicles.

"Thinking about the whole world," he says. "There is a problem in what we do with the old batteries. At the moment, even after a second life [as electricity storage buffers], we are burying them in the ground as lithium has a problem with explosions. Maybe other companies might find a solution to this, or find a way of recycling the cobalt, but at the moment, the fuel cell is recyclable and we have had plenty of experience in doing it as the platinum is the same as that used in exhaust catalysts."

So batteries might be just a stop gap, but even if they are, Kona EV is a mightily impressive lacuna, almost but not quite an electric car you could use as your only means of transport. What a pity it's going to be such a rare sight.

The Numbers

Motor: AC electric motor synchronised with the frequency of the AC supply current

Transmission: single-speed reduction gear driving the front wheels.

Power/torque: 201bhp/291lb ft 

0-62mph: 7.6sec

Top speed: 104mph

Range: 300 miles 

Recharge time: 9hrs 35mins on an AC household wall box with the car's 7.2kW on board charger and 75mins for an 80 per cent charge on a 50kW DC charger.

Price, with £4,500 Govt grant: £29,495   

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