Hyundai Kona Electric SUV First Drive Review: The Future is Surprisingly Familiar

Everyone is talking about electric vehicles. Those who are against pollution are talking about it, government officials are talking about it, industry experts are talking about it, everyone is talking about electric vehicles. But here’s the thing, while everyone keeps talking about it, can you associate a car with this ‘electric vehicle’ conversation? Is there a car that comes to your mind which you would say is perhaps the go-to car and maybe even a no-brainer choice for those wanting to hop on to the electric revolution bandwagon? Well, the Hyundai Kona might just be it.

Launched at an introductory price tag of Rs 25.30 lakh (ex-showroom), the Hyundai Kona has a lot to offer but more importantly, it has even more to live up to. We get our hands on a Hyundai Kona to test around India’s best race track – the Buddha International Circuit and try to get a sense of what the car is all about.

If the word Hyundai Kona sounds familiar to you then that is because there is a regular version of the Hyundai Kona which comes with regular petrol and diesel engines and is available internationally, being on sale in some countries since last year. India, however, gets the electric version of it.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The first thing that will catch your attention is the face of the car which is different because there is no grille at the front, as there is no need of a radiator as since it doesn’t have a regular combustion engine under the hood. What you get instead is fine detailing at its place that looks fantastic and also houses the charging port which can only be opened when the car is unlocked.

The Daytime Running Lights are housed up top which is seamlessly connected to each other and the headlamps are placed down below.

Coming to the sides, you will see a lot of body cladding which gives it a bit of a rugged look, adding to that SUV persona.

But the highlight is the wheels which look terrific and almost as if they belong to a concept car.At the back, you get smart-looking LED tail lamps. The indicators, reverse light and the rear fog lamp are housed down below and is encompassed by a huge amount of body cladding. Overall, the car looks amazing and futuristic and yet, not so different and out of place as if it is screaming that it is an electric car.

STEPPING IN

And this continues even when you step inside the Kona as there is nothing weird or different, except that there is no gear lever protruding out of the centre console.Instead, you operate the car through four buttons which are meant to select between Park, Neutral, Drive and Reverse.Other than that, the cabin feels familiar to a high-end Hyundai car and the build quality, finishing and the quality of products used is top notch as well giving the cabin a premium feel. There are enough compartment spaces all around and it gets the ergonomics spot on. You also get things like a push-button start, electronic parking brake and a wireless charging pad for your smartphone that is cleverly concealed when not needed.Then, there are heated as well as cooled seats for both passenger and the driver which is a great addition. Lastly, the seats are electronically adjustable, the outside rearview mirrors are heated and in case you are wondering, yes you get a large electric sunroof as well.But it is not all perfect inside the Hyundai Kona. You see, with all that body cladding it does have the appearance of a big SUV in pictures but in reality, it isn’t exactly that big. To give you an idea, it is only marginally wider and longer in length than the Hyundai Venue and in terms of height, it is even shorter! And this is evident when stepping into the back seat and notice the amount of space inside. At the back, the legroom on offer is something that you would expect out of a decently sized hatchback, and the while the boot space can be extended by folding down the split rear seats, the 332-litre boot capacity is nothing to write home about.

THE ‘ELECTRIC’ PART

What the Kona does make up with, however, is the fact that is in an electric car that probably will not give you range anxiety.

It gets a 39.2 kWh battery that makes the equivalent of 136 PS of power and 395 NM of torque.As per Hyundai, the battery can be charged up from 0-100 per cent through the complimentary wall-mounted AC charger that you get with the car in about 6 hours of time and can charge a range of 50 km in one hour. You also get a portable charger that can be plugged into any regular power socket that gives a range of 50 km in three hours and takes 19 hours to charge the battery completely.And finally, there is the DC fast charger that will be placed at Hyundai showrooms and select fuel pumps that can charge the car from 0-100 per cent in just an hour.

What’s impressive is that Hyundai is claiming a range of 452 km with this battery and that sounds fabulous. However, we drove the car at Buddha International Circuit which is far from an ideal city scenario so we will have to take the Kona out for our road test review to see what kind of a range the Kona offers in real-world driving conditions and how easy is it to keep it charged through everyday usage.

HOW IS IT TO DRIVE?

But, since we were driving at the Buddha International Circuit, what we can talk about is driving dynamics.

First, the only thing different that you have to do while driving this car is to remember that the paddle shifter on this one doesn’t actually shift between gears, because well, this is an electric car and it does not have a transmission. What they do instead is that they alter the level of regenerative braking which can be adjusted to a total of four levels.

The left paddle turns it up, the right one turns it down.

If you turn it down to zero, the car will feel as if it is coasting when you let go of the accelerator. If it is at 1, it feels like a regular combustion engine powered car giving the feel of engine braking. Level 2 takes it a step further and level 3 feels as if the car is braking gently whenever you let go of the accelerator pedal.

Interestingly, you can also simply brake the car by using the just the left paddle shifter if you keep it pulled. This means you can drive the Kona using just the accelerator pedal and one paddle shifter. How cool is that?

Coming to the driving part, well, the Hyundai Kona actually drives like any other car that you are used to. The only difference is that the car feels extremely refined and smooth as there are absolutely no vibrations whatsoever anywhere in the car. If you bring it to a standstill, you wouldn’t even know if the car is turned on or not – it is that refined. There is no typical engine sound either but instead, there is this mild humming sound that comes from the engine bay, something similar to a turbine engine on a plane.

The only sound that you get, when you drive, is from the tyres and while at first everything feels eerily silent, it is actually pretty calming and something you may not mind at all. Think of it as how you feel when you put on some really good noise cancelling headphones.

In the corners too, the Kona is very stable due to the low centre of gravity thanks to its mid-mounted battery pack. There is only slight body roll but the car feels planted and the brakes on it are fantastic. Keep in mind that the Kona’s tyres are designed to create low rolling-resistance which basically means, the tyre swaps a little bit of grip for better range. This is something that would be evident in say, rainy conditions or when you are at a race track.

We know what you might be thinking, the price of the Kona might seem expensive at first but remember, electric vehicles are generally more expensive than combustion engine-powered cars. Considering that, and given the list of features and the looks that it is offering, the prices don’t seem all that of an overkill.

VERDICT

So to sum up the entire Hyundai Kona Electric SUV experience. Well, it has almost everything going for it. First, it’s electric, so those who are concerned about pollution can have a clear conscience. Second, it offers a fantastic range so those who are concerned about that can sleep well at night. Third, it is an SUV which we Indians love and finally, it is a great value for money option not only when you look at it as an electric car but even as just a car in general. Its biggest positive is that it feels nothing out of the ordinary. It will not stand out awkwardly on the road with a gimmicky, over the top design and it takes only a few minutes to adapt to. The future is not that different after all.

What remains to be seen is how well it is accepted in the Indian market as that would be a clear indication of just how ready we are for electric vehicles as this, right now, is pretty much as good as it gets.

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