What you often read in a glossy brochure is not often transmitted in technicolour detail to the real world. Human beings are natural skeptics and even more so when a revolutionary technology comes knocking on our doors.
There has been a lot that has been discussed with the Hyundai Kona and electric cars in general. Here we will not discuss whether India is ready for electric cars; instead, we will judge the Hyundai Kona as a normal car and drive it in the real world to see whether a proper electric car actually works.
Does it look the part?
Do bear in mind that the Kona costs Rs 25 lakh and that is a big amount of money no doubt. However, there is a novelty factor regarding its space-age design. It is not big and cannot match other similarly priced SUVs in term of size, but makes up for it through its futuristic detailing.
It is a crossover (shorter than the Creta), but has a distinct face that separates it from other Hyundai cars. The car has an eye-catching crossover design — everywhere we went, people craned their necks to catch a glimpse and whipped our their mobiles to take photos. Try saying that for any other Rs 25-lakh car!
Does the interior pass muster?
Do remember the price, though, and that means that the Kona is in competition with many big SUVs with conventional engines. The interiors help the Kona score a genuine victory — they are an all black affair with silver detailing. This sort of goes with the vibe of this car. Also, we liked the quality, especially the soft touch materials in the cabin. There is plenty of 'wow' factor here.
There is no conventional gear selector; instead, you get some buttons — there is no conventional instrument cluster as it's all digital. The touchscreen is big and while the icons/usability are like other Hyundai cars, there is obviously more info on tap.
What we also like is the features list, as it certainly beats other cars at this price point. A big sunroof, ventilated seats, powered driver seat, heads up display, and wireless charging. I also like the audio system and the fact that the air conditioner direct the air flow to the driver only if need be.
Is it practical or spacious?
The biggest issue with the Kona is the lack of space. A Creta is more spacious at the back but four can fit and the boot is pretty decent. The front seats are good and have a nice driving position.
Does it drive like a normal car?
Push the start/stop button, select 'D' and well... nothing. No sound and yet you start moving. At first it is a shock as no conventional engine can ever compete with the silence of an electric motor. Then, as you keep driving, there is little doubt that the Kona feels quick. Quicker than I initially thought.
Even though India gets the smaller 39 kWh version, it is still good enough to make 136 bhp and 395 Nm. Read that torque figure again as that is the magic ingredient. With an electric motor, you get all the torque instantly and that is plain addictive in traffic. 0-100 km/h in under 10 seconds and that means a mere flex of the accelerator pedal is enough. The Kona is also light and easy to drive with no complaints. You quickly get used to it.
There are, of course, drive modes to create an ideal compromise between range/performance. Here is where I was surprised the most. I expected Eco to be sluggish but boy was I wrong! Eco mode is pretty quick and more than enough to satiate your quick traffic overtakes and occasional highway runs. Comfort adds in more punch while Sport should be strictly for highway runs/ short bursts as there is so much torque immediately put in that there in wheels-spin in the Kona and it can barely keep up. You will find Sport as too sharp and quick- best stick to Eco or Comfort.
Do note that the air con used in Eco was enough to cool off the car on a humid Delhi day.
Onto the highway for a high-speed run and the Kona, overall, felt stable with decent steering feedback. Yes, the steering has the typical Hyundai lightness, but it's direct and not sloppy. In terms of ride quality the Kona came across as slightly stiff if ultimately having a better poise over other Hyundai cars.
It feels tight and reassuring with a European stiffness to the car. It is not as soft as a Creta for sure and that means over bad roads, the Kona felt a touch stiff and tends to display a bouncy ride. It is also not an off-roader in any sense but I drove it through mildly flooded roads courtesy an hour's rain and there was no issue with the car's ample ground clearance doing decent work.
What are the steering paddles for?
They are not for changing gears manually as they are to modulate the regenerative braking. The left and right paddle can used to increase or decrease over three levels of regen braking. The third level is the strongest and in that when you leave the accelerator the car slows down as if you have braked. You can also use the left paddle as the brake. It works and you get used to it as it is not very sharp or takes you aback.
Probably the biggest bone of contention regarding electric cars and the most debated issue. Hyundai does its best here as you get two chargers along with the car – a portable charger and an AC Wall Box Charger. The portable charger can be plugged into any normal 3 Pin 15 Amp socket and charge the vehicle.
Enough for a 50 km charge under 3 hours. The AC Wall Box charger (7.2 kW) can charge the vehicle within 1 hour for running 50 Kms or 7 hours for a full charge. Basic domestic charging is not recommended as that will take too long.
Now, I picked the car with 75 percent charge and added in 80 kms on day one. At the end it was showing 42 percent charge left. Roughly stating I got an average range of 250/260 odd km however there is a caveat as my first day involved lots of acceleration runs, short journeys, traffic and driving in sport mode.
On the second day, I took it for a longer cruise with a stable speed and Eco mode which resulted in getting a range of 300 km plus easily. Yes, not quite the 450-odd km but still simply brilliant and actually removes range anxiety so much so that after the first day, I did not even bother charging it as 40 odd percent was enough. Add in the cost per unit and it is just over a rupee per km which any petrol/diesel car cannot compete here.
The Kona is actually less expensive to service than any other Hyundai as there is nothing much that needs upkeep anyway. Expect a service bill of less than Rs 7k and the battery has a 8 year warranty while the car has a 3 year unlimited km warranty. Priced at Rs 25.3 lakh, I will say that the Kona has blown me away. Hyundai is not making any money on the car and that shows how expensive EV tech is. But at this price, the Kona is within reach of at least a decent percentage of the car buying public.
It has more features than other similarly priced cars and I think looks better with a 'wow' factor. However, the bit that's impressed me is the EV technology and how well integrated it has been.
It works in the real world and the ample range kills any anxiety issue, as I found out. While lack of infrastructure is still a sore point; as an everyday car for the urban jungle it simply makes sense. It has no rivals at the moment and it will not for a long time. The fact that it has 120 bookings already shows that. Time to plug in? I think, yes!