Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The 39kWh battery option offers lively performance, but our pick is the 64kWh version. That packs enough juice to power the Kona Electric with 201bhp, which is quite a lot. Such a lot, in fact, that on a wet road the front wheels really struggle for traction. That requires you to be jolly delicate with your right foot to avoid the traction control light winking endlessly, as the system tries to manage all the power.
Once you’re on the move, the Kona Electric builds speed almost as quickly as the Ford Fiesta ST hot hatch, with 0-60mph ticked off in around seven seconds. And, being electric, there’s no waiting for the engine revs to rise before maximum thrust is delivered; simply flex your right foot and the car sets off with the immediacy of one of Elon Musk’s space rockets. Speaking of which, the Kona Electric is quicker than an MG ZS EV, Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe, and just as quick as a Kia e-Niro. But it’s not Tesla quick. A Model 3 would leave it for dust.
However, when it comes to electric cars, performance isn’t just about how quickly you can speed up; it’s also about how far you can travel. In our Real Range tests, a Kona Electric with the smaller 39kWh battery managed a real-world distance of 158 miles. That’s competitive, but the 64kWh version managed a mega 259 miles; that’s more than any other car we’ve tested to date. It’s better than the Kia e-Niro by a few miles, which shares the same battery and motor as the Kona, and a lot better than the Peugeot e-208, Leaf, Zoe or ZS EV can manage. It even outperforms the more expensive Model 3.
When you lift off the accelerator you feel the car slowing down quite quickly thanks to the regenerative braking – a system that allows the car to harvest otherwise wasted energy to replenish the battery. You can increase this braking effect if you wish, although not quite to an extent that allows the kind of one-pedal driving (where you only need the brake pedal in emergencies) that’s possible in the Leaf.
In corners the Kona Electric leans less markedly than the Leaf or ZS EV. In most other respects, though, it’s not great to drive spiritedly, with the Leaf and the smaller e-208 proving to be better handling cars. The latter, in particular, has more accurate steering and more grip to exploit if the mood takes you. The e-Niro is also sharper to drive than the Kona.
The Leaf, e-Niro and e-208 are also more comfortable. Whatever speed you’re doing, the Kona Electric jostles around over smaller road imperfections, although never to the point that it becomes truly annoying. It’s a closer-run thing with the Zoe, which also doesn’t ride that smoothly. The ZS EV is quite a bit softer than the Kona over speed bumps, but less well tied down and bouncier over undulating roads.
Naturally, being an electric car the Kona Electric is as peaceful as a cathedral at town speeds. Once you pick up the pace road and wind noise start to increase, and by the time you’re cruising at 70mph there’s more of both than there is in the Leaf or e-208.
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