21 Sep 18

Hyundai Kona Electric - Range anxiety: a thing of the past

The journal of a prospective EV adopter, featuring the Hyundai Kona Electric 64kWh during the European Mobility Week.

Thursday September 13. A red Kona Electric awaits me at the Belgian Hyundai importer. Fully charged, the range indicator reads 450 km. The most reassuring number I have ever seen on the dashboard of an electric vehicle. Off we go. First thing that catches my attention: the buttons to control the gears. Sheer brilliance and yet so simple: one switch for every position. Why did nobody think of this before?

The motor hums happily while the car picks up speed at a very enjoyable pace. This is going to be a fun week. First stop: Mechelen business park. Hooray, there are charging points! Not that I need one – I have only driven 15 km, but practice makes perfect. A panel to the right of the front Hyundai logo pops open at the press of a finger. The AC charging cable goes in the top connector at one end and in the charging station at the other. Easy peasy. I hold the Eneco charging card against the terminal and a few seconds later, charging begins.

Two hours later I return to the car, only to find three people circling the Kona, clearly showing a keen interest. “Is it new”? “How much range does it offer?” “How much does it cost?” Questions I answer with “Yes. More than 400 km. About €33k excluding VAT.” Of course, this being a test vehicle, it is the top-spec model that carries a price tag of 38k.

That’s indeed a lot of money. But for that amount you get every luxury imaginable in a B-segment crossover – and more. Ventilated and heated leather seats with electric adjustment, a head-up display, a panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, a heated steering wheel, you name it.

It’s just a pity that Hyundai, like every other Asian brand, offers very limited flexibility in terms of equipment. There are three levels to choose from, with no personalisation options apart from the body colour and a sunroof. If you want all the safety kit, induction charging for your smartphone and a head-up display, you have to take the top model, which automatically comes with leather seats – something eco-minded customers would rather see deleted.

The motorway test

I head home, a journey that involves 90 percent motorway. Should be interesting to see what higher speeds do to the range. Hyundai announces an average consumption of 14.3 kWh per 100 km. The battery can hold 64 kWh, meaning that 450 km should be feasible under normal circumstances. There is also a model with a 39 kWh-battery – similar to the Nissan Leaf – which gives you a bit less than 300 km of range in theory. 

The Kona Electric is very nippy. In fact, 150 kW and nearly 400 Nm seem too much for the front wheels and the steering wheel, which needs constant adjustments to keep the car going straight. What also strikes me is the fact that the suspension is rather bouncy on low-frequency road irregularities. Nothing to worry about, but just something that sets this electric version apart from the standard Kona, which we tested last year in Spain.

Exactly 100 kilometres later I am home. Anxiously I check the range indicator. Surely, it won’t read 350 km (450 minus 100 km), but how much will it have dropped? Much to my surprise, I see the number 352 km. That is amazing. I did encounter some traffic on the Antwerp ring road and at the roadworks on the E34, but the average speed was still 68 km/h.

Charging options: from slow to fast

Friday September 14. The Kona is fully charged again, this time using a standard socket in my garage which allows 10 amps of single phase AC at 230 V. That means I can charge the Kona at 2.3 kW per hour. An empty battery holding 64 kWh would therefore take 28 hours to charge. A 7.4-kW wallbox would reduce that to 9 hours – a good night’s sleep, let’s say. The thing is, a battery of this size is unlikely to ever become depleted entirely. Which in theory is good news for its longevity.

If you can find one - they are still pretty scarce - you can charge an empty Kona at a 50 kW DC fast charger in 75 minutes. You could do that while shopping, or having lunch, or a meeting. I tried the DC charger at Athlon Belgium, which feeds the battery at 20 kW per hour. Unfortunately, there seemed to be a communication error between the Kona and the charging device. When I returned to the car, it had charged zero per cent.

Not the most silent one

Three days later, I have grown quite fond of the Kona Electric. Contrary to other EVs I have tested, you do not really need to plan ahead to avoid running empty. There are just a few things that bother me. The NVH, for instance. Compared to a VW eGolf and a Nissan Leaf, the Kona Electric's cabin is less protected against noise. Especially road noise enters the interior and is all the more audible because there is no engine noise to cover it up.

The audio system is nothing out of the ordinary either and active noise cancelling is not provided. Also, the aspect of the materials used is not in line with its price tag. The eGolf is miles ahead in this respect. But it doesn’t offer the reassurance of 450 real-life kilometres. Neither does it come with all the standard spec of the Kona. A similarly equipped but less powerful eGolf would set you back at least 5k more.

Competitive pricing, unrivaled ease of use

Based on online lease rates available from LeasePlan, residual values are in line with that of the European market leader: the Nissan Leaf. So is Hyundai’s warranty package of 8 years on the drive battery. There is only one question to answer: would I buy one? Even with my driver profile – lots of motorway, 100-km trips on average – the answer is yes. In theory, the Kona Electric would allow me to travel from my home to the office in Antwerp and back twice without having to recharge.

Clearly, not having to worry constantly about finding a charging point is a huge plus. And so is its crossover body, which allows clever packaging of the battery, leaving plenty of boot space. I can think of just one practical drawback, but not one that is specific to the Kona: the fact that you have to take out the cable every time you charge and stow it away again afterwards. After a while, you have the tendency to just throw the cable in the boot rather than roll it up - which will get your hands dirty - and put it in its bag.

A solution for this issue is under development: inductive charging. No more clumsy cables, you just park the car over a charging pad. Once this technology is available, EVs will become even easier to use. Who knows that in a few years from now, driving to a petrol station with your ICE-vehicle to fill up will seem absurd.   

Picture copyright: Dieter Quartier, 2018

Authored by: Dieter Quartier