Hyundai Kona Electric review: Range finder
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Hyundai’s solution to the “range anxiety” experienced by many electric vehicle owners is an obvious one: fit a bigger battery. Hence two of the three models of the new Kona Electric SUV range come with 64kWh’s worth of lithium-ion energy storage.
That’s more than double the size of the battery of New Zealand’s most popular new EV — the IONIQ Electric eco-pod that Hyundai released to much acclaim and decent sales last year.
There’s no doubt that this multiplication of energy reserves works. My driving partner and I absolutely thrashed the new Kona Electric over 330km of the tortuously twisty roads of the western Waikato hinterland during the launch.
Every exit from a corner, and every overtake, was conducted at full Jandal; yet the trip computer of the Kona Electric was still showing 50km of range left at journey’s end.
Hyundai Automotive New Zealand says the compact SUV will travel 400-plus km before needing a recharge. The humming Kona therefore offers a compelling buying proposition to wean us off more characterful yet more poisonous combustion technologies: Tesla-like range at a well-below-Tesla price.
Next model down the range is another $72,990 version with a 64kWh battery, but with the leatherette seats of the Elite exchanged for cloth upholstered pews, the 8in touch screen downsized to 7in, and minus the Elite’s trick energy-saving heat-pump-based cabin comfort system.
You’ll also have to adjust the front seats and monitor low/high beam headlight operations yourself in that one.
HANZ is, for now, keeping mum about the price of the entry-model Kona Electric model, which will come with a 39.2kWh battery still capable of providing 250-plus km of range (the factory says 312km).
With the smaller, 120kg-lighter battery, the maximum power delivered by the permanent magnet electric motor that drives the front wheels via a reduction gear drops from 150kW to 100kW.
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However, the 395Nm torque peak is shared by all the models of the range. Outright performance drops marginally with what is likely to be the most cost-effective Kona EV.
It’ll top out at 155km/h instead of 167km/h, and sprint from stationary to 100km/h in 9.7 seconds instead of 7.6.
That 39.2kWh Kona Electric model is already confirmed as the more efficient user of energy according to the new Worldwide harmonised Light vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP) about to be enforced in EC markets.
According to that test, the Kona Electric with the smaller battery uses 13.9kWh’s worth of juice per 100km, whereas the heavier models use 14.3.
The safety credentials of the electrified Konas have already been confirmed by a five-star crash rating from the Australian New Car Assessment Program (Ancap), which didn’t actually crash test the car but collated data from Hyundai’s own crash tests.
An impressive feature of the new body construction required to accommodate the all-electric powertrain is the ultra-strong side sills that protect the under-floor battery in side impacts. These feature ultra-high-strength steel outer rails, reinforced by an internal aluminum honeycomb that dampens crash energy.
Helping drivers avoid accidents are the forward collision alert, active cruise control with stop/go, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, blind spot monitors, and rear cross traffic alert systems fitted to all Kona Electrics. There’s also a button-operated sound projector that alerts pedestrians at speeds up to 28km/h of the presence of the Kona Electric. (Don’t worry, the volume is kept at a reasonable level.)
The Kona Electric Elite proved an accomplished drive, the ride improved with speed, and the steering felt as athletic and responsive as the willing powertrain. But there was an over-riding impression of weight as well. The Kona Electric may be a size-AO SUV offering similar luggage and cabin space to a Suzuki Vitara, but it weighs a hefty 1.8 tonnes.
The caveat with the 64kWh battery is that you’re going to have use a public DC fast charger if seeking to keep recharging times to reasonable periods. Even then, an 80 per cent charge will take 75 minutes, extending the queue of disgruntled Nissan Leaf import owners at the charging station.
Using one of Hyundai’s fast-AC wall chargers at home from partner supplier Transnet ($2000-$2500) will allow the 64kWh battery to reach an 80 per cent charge in 8-9 hours, whereas simply plugging the car into your home socket will extend the time for that 80 per cent charge to an incredible 43 hours.
The still-to-come 39kWh Kona Electric will drop these 80 per cent recharge times to 45 minutes, 5-6 hours, and 26 hours respectively. So it’s probably better to wait for that model if seeking to become a habitual home charger of a Kona Electric.