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This is ‘Kona’ make an impact

S Muralidhar | Updated on September 27, 2018 Published on September 27, 2018

Brand new The Hyundai Kona Electric is being introduced into the American market in early 2019. - S MURALIDHAR   -  S Muralidhar

Hyundai is bringing the Kona in electric form next year. Here is how the fossil fuel version feels like to drive

Next year, Hyundai Motor’s presence in India will change in more ways than one. It will be the first full year after the return of the new generation Santro — the small car that first launched and turned the spotlight on the brand more than 20 years ago. It will be the year when Hyundai group brand Kia Motors officially launches in India and possibly sets the stage for a new rivalry. And, it will also be the year when Hyundai will launch its very first all-electric car, setting the tone for the brand’s future direction in the country.

By May next year, Hyundai Motor India would have brought in the Kona EV. It’s decision to bring the Kona instead of the Ioniq, which was originally being bandied about as the EV that was coming, could have been influenced by the need to be unique and also be one of the early entrants. The EV game promises to heat up quick in the next two years. The Kona could also have been chosen because it is a more affordable platform compared to the Ioniq; and one that can be assembled with ease at Hyundai’s Chennai plant.

Recently, I had the opportunity to drive the next best version of the Kona — the conventional turbocharged, direct injection petrol version introduced last year and currently sold in the Turkey market.

Design

Born of the same platform as the new i20, the Kona looks much more like a hatchback with a raised stance than an upright crossover. However, it shares a number of design cues with Hyundai’s SUVs like the Tucson. It’s size and footprint might bunch it together with large hatches, but its style and versatility certainly makes it feel like a crossover. The thin pilot-lamps with their array of DRL LEDs at the front give the Kona a radical look, a design feature that is also found in the new Tucson. The main headlamps are located midway down on the flanges, framing what Hyundai calls the armour of the Kona. The shape of the grille is a version of the now familiar cascade design.

Design elements at the side reinforce the car’s tough and functional qualities. The contrasting black ‘armor’ that provides a protective skin and visually connects the front to the rear is a strong design element. The rear has similarly unique LED elements and is connected to the body side cladding. The roof is dual tone and some customisation is possible.

The Kona Electric will of course sport design differentiators, though it will retain the fossil fuel version’s overall design. For example, with the engine missing under the hood, and hence there being no need for air intakes, there is no bonnet grille. It is simply a smooth, solid front fender. Under the floor of the Kona electric instead of mechanical parts and fuel tanks, there will be an array of batteries, electric motors and energy management systems.

Cabin

The cabin of the test mule I drove sported a black interior theme with contrast trim in the same shade of fluorescent green as the body paint. The interior sports a clean finish with a simple, functional layout. It could have had a tinge more of modernity, but fit and finish quality is really good. The seats are comfortable and well made with contrast stitching. The pop-up heads-up display and the infotainment screen on top of the centre stack are both meant to deliver critical operational information.

The cabin feels airy and well-lit thanks to a low shoulder line and large greenhouse. Space available is also good with decent legroom and above-average headroom for both front and rear passengers. My test mule also had a four-wheel drive mode selector button on the centre console.

Performance

The Turkey-spec I was driving featured Hyundai’s Gamma 1.6T-GDI (turbocharged, gasoline direct injection) engine which generates 177 PS of power, and boasts a 0-100 kmph time of 7.7 seconds and a top speed of 210 kmph. The engine delivers a maximum torque of 265 Nm from 1,500 to 4,500 rpm and is mated to Hyundai’s efficient and responsive seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (7DCT).

Gear-shifts are really quick and the engine’s refinement is excellent. However, though the Kona didn’t feel underpowered, it also didn’t feel like there was 177 PS of power on tap and that too for a not-too-heavy sub-compact SUV.

But, despite its slightly raised stance and higher ground clearance, the Kona gets the advantages of the platform’s relative stiffness. So the ride quality and handling is much better than the other Hyundai cars that we have been driving. The steering is more precise and there is even a bit of feel and weight. The route I drove through took me out of Istanbul’s Bosphorus bridge area to a beachside university town to the south of the metropolis.

The route was a mix of four-lane highway and single-carriageway rural roads. The roads were mostly clean black-top tarmac, but there were sections with broken patches and even some ‘kutcha’ roads. The Kona’s suspension comes through as being firm and well-balanced, much like many of Hyundai’s current B and C segment cars and SUVs.

Bottom Line

Hyundai Motor India is planning to locally assemble and introduce the Kona Electric by May next year. The car will benefit from the affordability of the platform, allowing Hyundai to price it more aggressively even though it is an electric. The Kona’s petrol version itself could also be a good addition to HMI’s portfolio, but there are no plans currently to bring it in, according to company officials. The electric version, though, will help Hyundai be an early adopter beating Maruti, which plans to introduce an EV by 2020.

Kona ideal choice for electric vehicle

 

For Hyundai Motor India, the Kona Electric will be a technology demonstrator, a showcase of the brand’s prowess and at the same time it will also be a differentiator since most of the other EVs will be hatches or sedans. Hyundai is not expecting to clock big numbers with the Kona Electric, but a lot of the success of EVs as a category will depend on the flexibility and support provided by the Government and EV related legislation.

The Kona’s platform, construction and design also makes it a ideal choice for a electric vehicle. Interior space has been maximised by optimizing the underfloor layout, including the 4WD drivetrain and exhaust system, leading to a reduction in central tunnel intrusion. The suspension component layout is optimized at the rear, allowing for a lower floor and seating position to deliver class-leading levels of headroom and ease of access for rear occupants.

The conventional Kona also features a whole bunch of safety and driver assistance systems. So, extending some of that functionality to offer more assistance and autonomous functions in the Kona Electric should also be relatively easy for Hyundai.

The Kona Electric features a 67kWh battery pack that is capable of offering a driving range of about 250 km.

Published on September 27, 2018
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