Does the new Hyundai Kona electric vehicle rival petrol models? We took it on a road trip to find out.
The Hyundai Kona has “over 400km of pure electric vehicle (EV) driving range”. That’s a big deal when one of the main barriers to driving electric is range anxiety. There’s no magic to this – Hyundai has lifted the range by adding more batteries under the floor. While the latest generation EVs top out at a battery capacity of about 40kWh, the Kona packs a whopping 64kWh: more battery capacity equals more driving range.
The Kona is a “crossover SUV”, a bit bigger than a city car. For my trial, I loaded it with two people, two mountain bikes (inside the car with rear seats folded), and enough gear for a four-day trip. Our destination was Rotorua – 450km from Wellington.
So, “over 400km of pure EV driving range”? Yes, the Kona Electric is next level – there was no range anxiety. I never charged it to more than 85%, and never dipped below 100km remaining. I could drive for three or four hours without getting close to empty. When the “tank” got down to about a third full, I thought about which of the 10 fast DC chargers between Wellington and Rotorua I would use. On our way to Rotorua, we stopped for lunch at Taihape for an hour. On the journey home, it was a half-hour break at Turangi to stock up on snacks and a stop at Levin Adventure Park.
A downside of more batteries is longer charge times. The Kona can be charged from a regular home power socket, but it takes ages: a full trickle charge takes about 24 hours. However, trickle charging for 10 hours overnight puts almost 200km into the battery – more than enough for daily travel. Installing a faster home wall charger (which’ll cost about $2,000) cuts the time for a full charge down to about 6 hours.
Longer range isn’t just about letting you drive a car further, it also future-proofs your car from battery degradation. EV batteries don’t suddenly fail – they gradually lose capacity over time. It’s like if your fuel tank slowly became smaller. If an EV can drive 200km when new, then after 10 years of use, it will only cover about 140km – 70% of the new range. However, when its 10-year battery warranty expires, the Kona Electric will still manage almost 300km between charges. This makes it a viable choice well into a decade of ownership.
EV’s are a lot of fun. They instantly respond to the accelerator and the low-down battery mass and suspension, stiffened to cope with the extra weight, give them go-kart-like handling. Pop the Kona into Sport mode, squint a little, and you might think you’re driving a sports car. Navigating through town, instant “go” and regenerative braking makes stop-start driving smooth and means you hardly use the brakes. At highway speeds the Kona doesn’t run out of puff. Driving over the Desert Road, our loaded-up car accelerated quickly from slow corners, powered up hills and had enough kick to overtake trucks quickly and safely. On the highway, just like in the city, the experience of riding in the Kona was one of smoothness and comfort, though the stiff suspension can feel a little harsh.
On flat, boring bits of highway, engaging adaptive cruise control and lane assist meant the car almost drove itself by adjusting speed to maintain distance from the vehicle in front and self-steering to stay in the lane (there are limits, it doesn’t go around more than a slight corner by itself). You’ll find this driver-assist tech in many new cars, but I think it works better with an electric drive – it’s more integrated and responsive.
With range sorted and cars getting larger and more practical, what’s holding EVs back? Price.
The Kona Electric Elite I trialled costs $79,990 (the base model sells for $73,990). The equivalent petrol Kona Elite sells for $36,990. Electric buyers are paying for new tech and the hefty cost of all those batteries. On the positive side, they’ll pay much less than the petrol model owner for fuel, maintenance and servicing. But that’s not going to add up to $43,000. Factor in the eye-watering depreciation you’re likely to experience (future EVs will have better battery tech and a lower price) and it’s pretty clear that buying a Kona Electric isn’t a cost-saving decision.
However, one thing is certain – the Kona shows EVs are here to stay and aren’t far from tipping into the mainstream. If I had a spare 80 grand, I’d buy one.