The Hyundai Kona Electric re-defines the kind of proposition we'd previously got used to affordable full-electric cars being able to provide. The 279 mile WLTP-rated driving range figure of the top version shames the market-leading Nissan LEAF, yet the price being asked here isn't much different. The game just moved on.
Prior to this Hyundai's arrival, the full-electric car market was pretty much divided into a couple of kinds of contender. There were relatively affordable ones, like the Nissan LEAF, developed steadily to the point where their lithium-ion batteries can offer up to around 180 miles on a good day. Or for around twice the money, buyers can graduate to the more sophisticated battery technology that luxury models use - cars like the Jaguar I-PACE, the Audi e-tron, the Mercedes EQC and various Teslas. With these, a driving range of around 300 miles or more is the norm. This Kona's chief selling point is that it offers the kind of range you'd get in a luxury EV for the kind of price you'd pay for a more affordable one.
As selling points go, that's a pretty strong one, though unfortunately for Hyundai, it isn't an exclusive attribute. All the same engineering that features in this car can also be found for a similar price in its cousin, the Kia e-Niro. That car's also a compact SUV but is much less overtly styled as one, leaving this Kona probably better placed to capitalise on the market's current craze for Crossovers. Let's put this car to the test.
The way this car hurls itself away from rest is pretty surprising the first time you experience it. Once you understand the drive dynamics here though, the rush of blood to the head that this Hyundai gets every time you press the loud pedal with any real vigour is only to be expected. There's a lot more pulling power than would be generated by an equivalent combustion engine - 395Nm of torque - and all of it's delivered to you right from the get-go, rather than building, as it would do with a fossil-fuelled powerplant. 62mph from rest takes 9.7s in the entry-level 39kWh version, which has a reasonable WLTP-rated 180 mile driving range between charges. But most Kona Electric customers are going to want the 64kWh variant we're trying here, which manages a WLTP-rated range of 279 miles that sets a new standard amongst affordable EVs.
Conserving that driving range requires careful management of the energy regenerative process that kicks in when you come off the throttle. Like some other EVs, this one provides you with paddleshifters behind the steering wheel that allow you to either intensify or reduce the regenerative braking feel. Alternatively, you can automise things using a 'Smart Regenerative Braking System' that constantly calculates the optimum level of braking regeneration, based on the positioning of vehicle ahead. On the open road, this car struggles a little with weight (it's 300kgs heavier than a conventional Kona) but the even distribution of the battery pack across the floor plan helps with handling and a more advanced independent rear suspension set-up has allowed the engineers to deliver a decent quality of ride.