Priced from £29,000 (est) Release date Summer 2018
The SUV looks like becoming a key weapon to be wielded by manufacturers to get the car-buying public to accept electric powertrains. Over the next couple of years, we’ll see Audi, Mercedes-Benz and a number of others launch electric SUVs onto the UK market, following in the wake of the Tesla Model X and the imminent Jaguar I-Pace.
There is, however, a car that will beat most in that list to the punch – the Hyundai Kona Electric. Given that it’ll arrive in showrooms this summer, there seems little anticipatory buzz – something it probably deserves more of.
The electrified version of Hyundai’s conventional Kona small SUV was planned as part of the car’s model range from the beginning. Unlike many of its direct rivals, it will offer buyers a choice of power output (134 or 201bhp) and battery capacity (39 or 64kWh), with the upper-level version already certified for an electric range of bang-on 300 miles on the new, more realistic WLTP lab test.
That kind of range is a 70% like-for-like improvement on the best that the Renault Zoe and Nissan Leaf currently offer, and it could convince plenty of people that the time is right to make the switch to an electric car. But will the Kona Electric really reproduce that range in real-world use? Hyundai sent us to Germany to test the car in prototype form to find out.
2018 Hyundai Kona Electric on the road
We sampled the 201bhp, 64kWh top-spec version of the Kona Electric, in a form that Hyundai acknowledged wasn’t quite production-specification in terms of its suspension tuning, motor calibration or interior finish. Even so, it gave us plenty of evidence to suggest that Hyundai will be taking a big step forwards on both performance and battery range from the standards set by its first electric car, the Ioniq Electric, when it launches the Kona.
Rather than simplistic rear suspension used by other front-wheel-drive versions of the Kona, the Kona Electric uses the more sophisticated independent set-up normally kept for the four-wheel drive variants. It rides urban roads fairly well, with less of the road noise that can be associated with low-rolling resistance tyres common on electric cars, and compliantly deals with sharp-edged ruts and bumps. At higher speeds, the car’s interior sealing also stands up relatively well to the parallel challenges of upright windscreen pillars and a near-silent powertrain, so wind noise doesn't spoil the serenity delivered by the absence of an engine.
Although it’s a fairly small car, the Kona Electric never really handles or accelerates like one. You only have to look at its specifications to work out why - Hyundai’s bigger battery swells the car’s weight to the far side of 1.6 tonnes, which is around 20% heavier than SUVs of this kind tend to be. So while the car’s electric motor makes it zip along with great response and a strong sense of thrust from town speeds, it doesn’t feel a great deal quicker than the BMW i3 or Leaf most of the time. It’s also worth knowing that, like all single-speed EVs, it doesn’t overtake at motorway speeds with the same gusto that a combustion-engined car of the same power level would.
The Kona Electric handles tidily and doesn’t lean over much through corners, but its low-resistance tyres combine with the hefty weight to limit outright grip and agility to the extent that it feels surefooted but not exciting to drive. You get no sense of connection to the front wheels through the steering, except when you’re putting all of the car’s torque though them. Give the accelerator a firm shove and you’ll feel the steering wheel writhing around in your hands.
2018 Hyundai Kona Electric interior
The Kona Electric has a high standard specification that encompasses an 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system, a digital instrument display, a head-up display and a premium audio system. Our test car’s interior was discouragingly dark but was undoubtedly lifted by the addition of those digital instruments, whose appearance changes depending on selected driving mode, and that freestanding central display.
As it's a prototype, our car's interior wasn’t representative, and we were assured the final production versions will have Hyundai's typically robust fit and finish. It certainly suggests that Hyundai will have its work cut out to make the Kona Electric feel like good value for money, though, with trim quality on the doors in particular looking and feeling cheap. Fingers crossed the production version feels more like a £30,000+ SUV.
The Kona Electric offers marginally reduced boot space relative to other Kona derivatives, down 29 litres to 332 litres overall, which isn’t great by class standards. Usefully, however, there will be an underfloor space in which to stow your charging cable, so every litre of boot space advertised is ready for shopping bags or a pushchair. The Kona is also only averagely practical for passengers by small SUV standards; there’s enough rear seat accommodation for growing teenagers, but for full-sized adults the back seats are a bit of a squeeze.
Page 1 of 2