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It’s finally happening. All those ominous warnings about the rise of the electric car? Well, this is that watershed moment. The launch of the Hyundai Kona marks the first long-range electric car in the Indian market. We’ve already driven it in Korea, but we have finally gotten our hands on it on Indian roads. We now have a price — Rs 25.3 lakh ex-showroom, with an additional Rs 20,000 if you want one in a dual-tone colour scheme. We also have more details about what the service and network is going to be like, and can finally give you a proper verdict on the Kona Electric is, and what it means for the Indian market.
The Kona Electric doesn’t have an archaic internal combustion motor that requires archaic fuel like petrol and diesel. This isn’t even a hybrid, which seems to be what a lot of people on our social media channels think. What this is is a fully-electric vehicle with a 39.2kwh battery to store energy and a 134bhp motor to do work. The motor transmits torque to the front axle, making this car front-wheel drive.
The batteries themselves are in the floor of the Kona electric, and the motor and the transmission are mounted one on top of the other (transmission in line with the axle and the motor above it) under the hood of the car. These batteries can be charged through AC and DC chargers, through a socket in the nose. The Kona Electric comes with a Level 2 AC charger which must be mounted to a wall and a portable charger that can connect to a regular wall socket as well, included in the price of the car. This Level 2 charger can replenish the car battery from zero to 100 per cent in 6hrs 10mins. The Kona Electric has an ARAI certified range of 452km, however I wouldn’t go around believing that to be an accurate on-road range. You see, the ARAI tests the cars in their Eco+ mode and doesn’t exceed 50kmph during the test. A more realistic real-world range would be around 300km.
Nope, it doesn’t get Blue Link and the whole suite of connectivity features like the Venue does. It was probably left out because adding it would have increased the price even further. The Kona Electric instead gets features on par with other SUVs at the same price. It gets a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system that is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and navigation. There’s a digital instrument cluster, heated and ventilated seats and an electrically adjustable driver’s seat. There are a few EV-specific features too. The Drive Mode button on the centre consoles allows you to choose between four modes — Eco+, Eco, Comfort and Sport. There’s a ‘Driver only’ button to save energy and paddles behind the steering wheel that allow you to set up the regenerative braking.
Hyundai is calling this ‘India’s first electric SUV’ though to my eyes, it looks more like a crossover than a full-blown SUV. The face is certainly distinct. The lack of a traditional grille (since it doesn’t have radiators and intercoolers) means Hyundai could go ahead and design something distinct. It also gets split headlamps, not unlike what we have seen on a slew of recent SUV launches — the Harrier, the Venue and the Hector. However, the overall lines and creases are rather soft and not very aggressive. From the side, it cuts a neat shape with a sloping roof. The rear is another striking angle to look at the Kona Electric from. The slim taillamps, chunky cladding and the lack of exhaust pipes (no faux ones, or elements to hint at them either) give it a distinct design. Whether this appeals to you or not depends entirely on your sense of aesthetic but you will certainly stand out from the crowd.
The interiors are pretty conventional, though the layout of the dash and centre console is a slight departure from the Hyundais we are familiar with in India at the moment. The ergonomics are good — you get a steering wheel adjustable for rake and reach, and an electrically adjustable driver’s seat. Headroom and space up front is good, and there’s nothing to complain about here. The materials used on the dash are a combination of soft-touch and hard plastics. The centre console has a faux metal finish to it. There’s also no gear selector stick, instead, you have to make do with buttons like on the Honda CR-V. The bezels and buttons of the screen are a slight-let down — they feel a little last-gen compared to the rest of the car. The Kona also gets a large parcel tray under the centre console which is convenient for storing things you need to access readily like a wallet or phone.
As for the rear, the space is adequate when it comes to knee room. Headroom isn’t particularly great, owing to the low roofline and shoulder room is a bit tight for three abreast. What I found particularly disconcerting about the rear seats is how high your knees are when you sit there — the fact that the batteries are in the floor means your feet (and consequently your knees) are a few inches higher than in a conventional car. It also means the seats end up providing little by way of thigh support. The boot space was being eaten into by the bag that held the charging cable. However, I’m sure you can chuck the bag and store the cable somewhere where it won’t occupy as much space.
All that they say about electric cars and their instant torque is true. The Kona Electric makes 395Nm, available almost instantly and this shows when you step on the err… accelerator pedal. Acceleration is instant and fairly aggressive for what looks like such an unassuming car. It is seriously quick and hits 100kmph from a standstill in 9.7 seconds. At higher speeds, it isn’t as efficient, but it can still pick up speed with ease. As for its top speed, I hit 159kmph on the back straight.
Dynamically, the Kona Electric actually surprises. It changes direction well, probably due to the weight all being low down within the floor. It does tend to understeer when you chuck it into a corner, and with the electric drivetrain, a slow in-fast out approach will leave you much happier. Where it suffers when it comes to dynamics is the steering, which doesn’t feel particularly direct and is dead when it comes to feedback. I’m also going to withhold commenting about its ride quality at the moment, at least until I can drive it on regular Indian roads. The Kona Electric obviously lacked the noise and drama of a regular car, but this is something that you can get over — especially if you look at the sort of car the Kona is. It isn’t a sportscar, and isn’t trying to be one. As a car to get you from A to B, it actually does the job rather well, with more refinement and quietness than any conventional alternative.
For urban use, most definitely. Think about it — you set up the 7.2kW Level 2 charger at your home and can juice the Kona up in just over 6 hours, giving you around 300km of range, which could last a week for the average urban user. If you’d like, you can also purchase another charger to set up at another location, say your workplace, for an additional Rs 75,000. Hyundai has also tied up with the Indian Oil Corporation to set up the fast-charging infrastructure. As of now, there are DC chargers in Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi and these can charge the Kona up to 80 per cent in 51 minutes. The Kona can actually replace a conventional car without too much of a compromise, and provide cheaper running and maintenance costs too.
Where it will suffer, though, is long-distance travel on the highways. India simply doesn’t have the fast charging infrastructure on its national highways to support long-distance travel in EVs yet. However, if you plan your trip well enough, a drive from Mumbai to Pune or Delhi to Agra may still be possible.
Hyundai is selling the Kona in 11 major cities across the country through a total of 15 dealerships to start with. They also offer warranties on the car and the batteries — a three-year/ unlimited km warranty on the car and an eight-year/ 1.6 lakh km warranty on the battery. They are also investing in this network with IOCL, though they didn’t reveal any roadmap other than the four chargers planned initially.
Sure, at 25 lakh, you do get more spacious cars and cars that offer more value at the time of purchase. But you must remember that electric cars have far fewer running and service costs. I would actually say that it is well priced competitively for the technology it is offering. The Jaguar I-Pace and Audi e-Tron are on their way to India too but it will be a while before we see another ‘relatively’ affordable long-range EV in India.
It’s pretty simple. The Kona cannot be your only car. You’ll still have to compromise because the infrastructure isn’t entirely up to the mark. But as a second car, it can actually work. It offers you novelty, a zero-emission drive and doesn’t compromise when it comes to range. In the urban environment, there’s very little on which you will have to compromise on.