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Hyundai’s first electric for India feels like a no-compromise crossover

S Muralidhar | Updated on June 20, 2019 Published on June 20, 2019

The Kona gets a compact screen, ensuring that the centre console isn’t overwhelming

A virtual engine sound is generated behind the grille using speakers to warn pedestrians

Kona EV is very much the regular compact sports utility vehicle in terms of design and performance despite its battery-motor powertrain

Many international publications and news wires already have a section for electric vehicles and there is news everyday in India too about electrics. In the start-up space and amongst OEMs, in the two-wheeler and in the passenger vehicle segments, the buzz around electrics is reaching a crescendo. The numbers are still too small to even mention and the charging infrastructure for supporting an ecosystem of electrics is even less worthy of mention. But, let us hope that the government will match its targets and promises with action on that front in the years to come.

In the meantime, manufacturers like Maruti, Hyundai, MG Motors, Ford, and Kia Motors have announced plans to launch electrics in the future. Mahindra and Tata already have electrics on our roads. The success of electrics in India will depend on two important factors — one will be the availability of an easily accessible public charging infrastructure and the second will be the car itself mustn’t seem like a compromise in any department when compared to its internal combustion engine (ICE) equivalent. An electric that will fit that profile perfectly is the Hyundai Kona and it is coming to a showroom near you by the second week of July. To get a first-hand experience of how the Kona EV actually feels on the road, I travelled to Seoul last week to sample the car before it lands on our shores.

Design and build

The Kona will potentially be the first electric sports utility vehicle to be launched in India. At about 4.2 metres in length and 1.8 metres in width, the Kona is nearly as big as the Creta. It’s design is not the classic boxy-SUV style. Instead it is more a curvy crossover with a few modern flourishes like the slim LED DRLs at the headlamp position and the pronounced rear haunches, which pair well with the black plastic side cladding to give the Kona a squat SUV look. The Kona’s proportions are just right — not like just an oversized hatch and not as unwieldy as a big SUV, which will be important to keep it practical in its EV avatar. Range anxiety will be an issue that needs to be addressed by any vehicle attempting to convince buyers to loosen their purse strings. The Kona’s design is quite aerodynamically optimised for its size and segment. It gets a pleasing mix of features that involve brand identity and character, and also elements specific to the model. The Kona is also offered as a conventional ICE model. It design is pleasing and that works for an electric, though the fact that it is not really exciting makes the ICE version less attractive compared to peers. Some identification of the Kona EV comes from the solid bonnet grille — in the absence of an IC engine, there is no need to feed cold air into the bonnet. The charging port is hidden behind a small panel just above the front fender.

Cabin

Like many other EVs, the Kona EV’s body is also based on a skate-board platform construction with the batteries spread out below the floor of the car. The proportions of the car enable it to have an upright SUV-style stance, above average ground clearance for its size segment and at the same time gives the cabin a decent leverage in terms of occupant room. The interior of the Kona is a mix of quality materials with a very premium finish and feel. The design and layout of the dashboard has a European minimalist touch. With the gear stick being replaced by buttons, the centre console has been given a steep gradient. It houses other control buttons including the drive mode selector and other seat controls. The centre stack features the climate control buttons and at the top is the Kona’s infotainment screen with menu options in the form of an array of buttons on either side.

Unlike other EVs with their exaggerated screens taking up most of the mind space inside the cabin, the Kona’s compact screen means that the centre console isn’t overwhelming. The Hyundai EV also gets other regular premium features such as a head-up display, sunroof and seat cooling and heating. The seats themselves are quite comfortable and the trim variant I was driving in Seoul sported a mix of materials for upholstery. There is enough legroom at the rear seat even for tall passengers. But the boot volume is only average for a compact SUV, though it is more than you would get in a B+ segment hatch.

Performance

Internationally, the Kona EV is offered with two different lithium-ion battery rating options to choose from, which are paired with a permanent magnet, synchronous motor powering the front wheels. I was driving the one with the larger 64 kWh battery rating that delivers a peak output of 204 PS and peak torque of 395 Nm.

 

 

However, the one that will come to India will be the 39.2 kWh battery pack, which generates an output of 134 PS and an identical torque of 395 Nm. The range rating for the Korean-spec I was driving was 450 km, and that of the India-bound smaller battery pack version is 312 km. The rating under Indian driving conditions is likely to be lower, though it might still be closer to 300 km per charge. That could well be a deal clincher for many who have been put off by the average 100-140 km range that we have seen in EVs of the past.

On the road, the Kona EV feels very much like a regular compact crossover. I started out from the centre of Seoul and headed out to the hills surrounding the city. On the highway and sweeping suburban roads, the Kona EV picks up speed easily. With peak torque available instantly, the vehicle feels agile, leaping forward instantly with every tap of the throttle. In fact, the wheel squeal and spin every time I accelerate out of turns and merging lanes. Thanks to the low CG from the position of the battery pack, the ride is stable and there is no body roll that really affects performance. The suspension is quite firm, so while that helps in the overall dynamics of the Kona EV, the ride itself gets quite bumpy and harsh over broken patches of road. Some of the rural roads in the suburbs featured uneven black top roads and the over-firm set up of the suspension transmitted much of the road onto the seats. The India-spec’s suspension will certainly need to be more pliant.

The dynamics of the Kona EV I drove were also affected by the over-light steering and the low rolling-resistance tyres it came with. Both of these are relatively inevitable in an urban EV, which is meant to offer city dwellers an eco-friendly alternative to conventional fuel vehicles. But, for a vehicle which stands out in its ability to seem convincing and uncompromising despite being an EV, the dynamic abilities seem a bit mechanically disconnected with the rest of the performance.

Bottom line

EVs are going to be a tough sell in the Indian market. There are still a number of variables that remain unresolved like the charging infrastructure. Hyundai plans to offer the Kona EV with a home charger station much like Tesla does and that should help. It is also comforting to know that the Kona EV can be charged up to 80 per cent within an hour using a 100 kW fast charger. Many Hyundai dealerships are expected to be equipped with charging stations; and in the years to come, hopefully, a more widespread public charging infrastructure will be available. Charging it through a regular wall socket at home will take a much longer 30 hours-plus.

The Kona EV, like other electrics, gets to charge up on the move too, using regenerative braking. You can also adjust the level of regen braking using the paddles mounted on the steering wheel. The high level 3 almost feeling like the vehicle can be driven without using regular brakes; though it will be required to stop completely, since regen stops at 10 kmph. The drive modes are predictable in terms of the change in behaviour of the car. Sports mode is the quicker, more likeable one. Comfort is default mode and Eco mode is best used if you are desperately trying to stretch the range. Throttle behaviour is the most noticeable change in character.

The Kona EV is likely to be priced in the ₹22 lakh to ₹25 lakh range. It is unlikely to get any FAME benefits because of that high price, but it will still be at a relatively acceptable premium over cars in its size class. One also does need to factor in the near-negligible running costs. Finally, the Kona would have set a benchmark for future EVs in India, even though its volumes are unlikely to be very high.

Published on June 20, 2019
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