No wonder Hyundai NZ staff are feeling fizzy about their prospects in coming months. They’ve just launched a vehicle tailor-made to appeal to folk seeking a family-friendly electric car with a livable range. And ignoring utes, their sales are strong in this country’s most popular market segments despite Santa Fe being on runout, pending its replacement in October.
That family friendly car is the electric-powered Kona, which should strengthen Hyundai’s position as ‘number one’ electric brand here.
General manager Andy Sinclair expects gradual but steady EV growth fuelled by new arrivals and by used cars, the latter boosted by EVs coming off fleets at three years old. And he thinks fleet and private sales can only improve when brands competing in this area have better explained running costs to potential buyers – electric cars still cost more up front, but less to maintain and to refuel. As for residual value, he says when Meridian sold some of its EVs on the local market, they returned 88 per cent of new value after a year. Not bad.
So, Kona. Billed as an SUV, but available only as a 2WD, it’s visibly a little different to its conventional siblings. For a start there’s no grille — it doesn’t need one, and a smooth nose cuts drag. A low-mounted aperture assists an aero flap to help cool the electric motor. Active side air curtains channel air to the specially designed 17-inch wheels, while the rear is pretty standard – bar the absence of a tailpipe.
This car uses a more advanced electric system than the Ioniq EV – which may get this set-up soon as an update. The version launched first delivers 150kW and 350Nm, with the time taken for a full recharge depending on the type of plug used – naturally your ordinary household version needs longest. Stop for 10 minutes at a fast charger while you grab a coffee or use the loo and it’ll take you 55km, you don’t need to do a full charge each time you plug in.
A standard three-pin plug will deliver enough charge for most commuters overnight, but Hyundai hopes buyers won’t rely on those and instead will fit a wall charger at home, for around $2500, which will deliver a full charge in five to six hours – get home, plug in, and you’re good to go come morning.
There’s inbuilt Wi-Fi, so if you have preferential charging you can set it to start when power’s at its cheapest, always bearing in mind that additional factors, like ambient temperature, will affect how far a full charge may take you.
The electric Kona has similar dimensions to conventional versions, but inside, front occupants won’t experience compromises. It’s the rear passengers who lose 4mm of head room and 32mm of leg room while the boot drops 30 litres to 332, thanks to space taken by batteries and related equipment.
The cabin features an unfussy layout with a high centre ‘bridge’ carrying cupholders and buttons, with spacious storage beneath it. Specification is generous, especially in the Elite, with plenty of techie features – as you’d expect in a car this price – though you’ll have to wait until early 2019 for Satnav.
Other features include blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, forward collision avoidance assist and warning, smart cruise control, lane keep assist, rear park assist plus a reversing camera, auto climate air, and – for the Elite – lane following assist, high beam assist, rain sensing wipers, front park assist, a leather interior instead of cloth, a 10-way adjustable driver and six-way adjustable passenger seat that are both heated and ventilated, a heated steering wheel, wireless smartphone charging and a head-up display, plus a techie sound that plays from a speaker behind the front bumper when the car’s doing under 28kph, to warn pedestrians of your approach.
You can’t tow with a Kona, but can fit a roof rack that’ll carry 80kg, though the increased drag of that bicycle up top will reduce range.
Speaking of which, what about Hyundai’s 400km ‘real world’ claim? Our test drive took in 330.6km from Mt Wellington to Raglan on back roads, returning to Highway 1 via Bridal Veil falls. We drove mostly in the ‘normal’ rather than Sport or Eco options among four possible settings, had the heating on, as well as the heated seat and steering wheel at times, and all the electronic nannies were active, so any warning chimes made their own small claim on available power. And we returned to base with 70km of potential range remaining, to deliver exactly 400km of real-world range. This despite the fact a rural drive doesn’t play to the system’s strengths – like a hybrid, braking and lifting off the throttle regenerates power, and you do little of either while tooling along at 100kmph – Kona will go further if most of your driving is round town.
Either way the car’s 1743kg weight (236kg heavier than the 1.6T petrol Kona) will be just noticeable, though the low centre of gravity meant this vehicle felt stable and predictable through even the tighter corners.
As for braking, that was excellent – as is often the case with cars using regenerative braking, and you can even use steering wheel–mounted paddles set how much regeneration you want, the effect being clearly noticeable when you lift off the throttle.
Hyundai plans to ensure its full line-up is green before 2020, by improving powertrains, cutting weight, and expanding the eco range by refreshing 70 per cent of the current powertrains. Smaller capacity, turbos and an eight-speed transmission will be key until electric-car prices come down, plus a few wild cards in the mix, perhaps including a hydrogen-fuelled Nexo.
But first, a 39kWh Kona will follow this 64kWh Kona electric and electric Elite later this year. It boasts the same power and torque, but a reduced, 250km range, a slightly lower top speed and a marginally extended charge time.