Is India ready for electric vehicles? It is a question I fired off on social media before getting behind the wheel of the Hyundai Kona EV and by the time we got to our coffee stop I had a ton of responses — most saying yes! Let’s face it, climate change is all too real. This summer has been the hottest I can remember. The lakes are dry, the fields are parched. The monsoons started not in the gentle manner they usually do, but with a whipping cyclone. And even though cars aren’t the biggest polluters, not by a long shot, their exponential increase on the road is the most visible sign of the change we are experiencing — and the reason why cars are the favourite punching bag for politicians and greenies. The automotive industry, though, is responding. Mahindra and Tata already have electric cars. Maruti Suzuki is testing an electric Wagon R for imminent launch while heavily investing with Toshiba for a huge battery plant. Jaguar will bring its i-Pace electric SUV to India next year. And next month you will be able to buy an electric Hyundai. The Kona EV will be launched in India in July and we got behind its wheel in South Korea.
The first electric SUV
You can buy an electric car today, Mahindra have the e2o and the e-Verito, but the Kona will not only be the first electric SUV but also the first sophisticated and premium electric vehicle you will be able to buy. In fact, Hyundai had decided to bring the Ioniq electric car they showcased at the Auto Expo to India, but the Kona EV is a more sensible option for our SUV-obsessed country. And the Kona EV runs on a platform designed with electric propulsion in mind, unlike the Ioniq EV that I switched to after driving the Kona and which I discovered to be rather dreary to drive.
Range and power of the Kona EV
Like most modern electric cars the Kona has a ‘skateboard’ architecture, with a lithium-ion battery pack offered in two sizes, 39kWh with a range of 300km and 64kWh with a range of 480km. The former is coming to India, the latter is what we are testing and it delivers a startling turn of pace, packing in 198bhp and 400Nm — the latter available almost instantaneously. 0-100kmph takes under eight seconds and the mid-range acceleration, what we’d call in-gear acceleration in ‘normal’ cars, is immediate and rapid. You can tone it down in Comfort and Eco modes but Sport mode is quick and it gets the front tyres to squirm (it’s only FWD), steering wheel to wriggle in your palms and the passenger’s head smashing into the headrest. It’s super easy to keep ahead of city traffic.
The obvious question: charging time. Using the 7.2kW on-board charger and a wall box (that Hyundai will provide Kona EV customers in India) a full charge will take nine hours and 35 minutes. The charge port is conveniently located in the nose and on a 240V AC three-pin socket at home it will take you 31 hours. And if you find a 100kW fast charger (I believe Delhi has a couple) it will juice up to 80 per cent charge in 54 minutes (75 minutes on a 50kW charger).
Like all EVs, the Kona has regenerative braking and the level of regen can be adjusted via paddles behind the steering wheel. Three levels are offered, the most aggressive delivering one pedal driving, the retardation being so aggressive that when you step off the throttle (you don’t step off the gas in an EV!) you don’t have to brake unless you want to come to a complete stop. It is easy enough to adapt to but if you don’t like it you can remove regeneration altogether. The regen cuts out below 10kmph so you have to use the brakes to come to a complete halt.
Dynamics of the Kona EV
The handling is rather flat, thanks to the (heavy) batteries mounted low and spread out evenly, but the limitation are the low rolling resistance tyres that start to squeal and understeer early. The steering is notable for its absence of any feel. And the ride is rather stiff, too stiff for Indian roads in this setup, with body movements being quite pronounced over sharp cuts and ruts.
What the Kona is, is a very easy SUV to drive. Electric cars are inherently more easy to drive and the Kona is very much in that mould, making for an excellent, stress-free, zero-hassle commuter. It is actually quite a pleasant little thing to drive, if not very engaging or emotional.
Now with EVs being very silent, the Kona has what is called a ‘Virtual Engine Sound System’ that creates an artificial noise to warn pedestrians at low speeds and shuts off after 20kmph from where on it has a faint whine that you expect of an EV. If you find the noise irritating you can switch it off but it defaults to on every time you start it in the interests of safety.
Visually not too different
The Kona, also available with conventional powertrains, is a wee bit smaller than the Creta and a fair bit funkier. The grille is filled-in to give it that EV-look, the wheels are different and with no engine to cool the air dam in the bumper is also cleaned up. The boot has ‘electric’ on it but that’s about all the differences you get from the regular Kona. For India it doesn’t really matter for the Kona will only be available with the EV powertrain and it will be a rare sight that will turn heads.
On the inside there’s no gear lever, only a push-button control to get it into drive. It looks conventional but not premium enough for what it will be priced at.
What will it be priced at?
The Kona EV will be assembled at Hyundai India’s plant in Chennai and that will bring the costs down compared to what it would be were it to come fully imported. But even then it won’t be what you’d call affordable, and we estimate it to be between Rs 22-25 lakh, if Hyundai is being aggressive! There are no incentives for electric cars over Rs 10 lakh in any case so FAME benefits are out of the window, though I do think it will attract a lower registration tax. Of course once you’ve shelled out all that cash your daily running costs will be next to nothing and that has to count for something.
Anyway, the price will be high, only the top 15 – 20 Hyundai dealers nationwide will be allowed to sell it and volumes will be low. The Kona won’t have the country switching to electric cars overnight. But this is the start. Unlike the EVs currently on offer, the Kona EV will sensitise the Indian car buying public to a modern and sophisticated electric car that has good interiors, lots of equipment, turns heads (for the right reasons!) and in most respects drives better than a normal car. There’s also enough range, even in the 39kWh version, to make range anxiety a non-issue. But ultimately what makes the biggest case for the Kona EV is the novelty factor and for early adopters that was always a good enough reason to splurge.