Kona, Hyundai's new electric car, shows that future is around the corner

What do you call a compact crossover the same size as the Ford EcoSport but twice as expensive? Hyundai's new city SUV, the Kona Electric. The car doesn't come at an exponential cost because Hyundai is veering into the luxury segment. It costs what it does because this is an electric vehicle brought in as a CKD (complete knock-down) kit and assembled at a factory in Chennai. Call it the price for clean fuel.

As the first mass production vehicle to hit Indian roads since the government’s big EV push, this version is derived from the Kona sold in the US and Europe where it runs on gasoline. Now what does Kona mean? In Hindi, it’s “corner”. In Hawaiian, it's a strong southwesterly wind as well as a reference to the gourmet coffee from the region. And, in Norwegian it means "wife". 

The Kona is a novelty because though electric cars like the Reva have been around for a decade, when it comes to factors such as road safety, top speed, ride comfort and performance handling, this one is the first to include all.

It also looks different, owning to its grill, or the lack of it, and what seems to be an extension of the bumper. In actuality the grill is a compartment that pops open and houses a charging socket. So, the owner better drive it super carefully because if it gets knocked by traffic it would be more than just fender damage.

Design wise, the Kona is pert and crafted in rounded fluid lines that come together smartly. If you're not impressed by the exterior, the edgy rotor-blade shaped rims will get your attention. Once inside, a driver is greeted by well-appointed panels and consoles built in high quality plastics set with controls simple enough for a 10-year-old to operate. 

Hyundai Kona. Photo: Sanjay K Sharma

Weighing almost 1,600 kg, the door thunks shut in a manner akin to European cars. I hit the start button. Nothing happens. Actually it does, but I just can't hear it. 

The tachometer lights up and signals 221 km on a 75 per cent charge. Which means when fully juiced up, the car should give an owner at least 300 km of range — depending on driving conditions.

That is lower than the 400-plus km attested by the Automotive Research Association of India, but it is still substantial for any city driver.

I took the Kona on a trip to the DLF Golf Club in Gurugram from South Delhi and back, and found the suspension solid and ride quality on par with almost anything in its price or size. And, it still had 172 km in driving distance left. Some glaring differences: there's no gearstick —  just a set of four square buttons on the panel in the centre with the markings D (drive), P (park), R (reverse) and N (neutral). 

The climate-controlled front chairs are a nice touch and reminiscent of Toyota's hybrid Camry. Carmakers, however, must realise that most cars will also be driven by chauffeurs and, therefore, mechanised seat controls are a must for both front seats. 

Hyundai Kona. Photo: Sanjay K Sharma

In motion, the eerie silence can be deafening as the car slips on to the highway amidst a mild subdued whirring sound, like when a jet is on cruise control. That, plus the tyres on the road, is all you get. Punch the accelerator, however, and the car will instantly zip into speeds that you'd normally come to expect with the change of gears and rumbling sounds. Here you glide into silence, and in a strange way, it's relaxing.

The Kona comes with two drive trains: a 39.2-kWh and a 64-kWh battery version. India for now has got the smaller one, but it’s appropriate in terms of power and acceleration. 

The Kona also comes with three levels of regenerative braking, which can be activated through paddles behind the steering wheel and can stop the car in flowing traffic. 

Now, where can you charge the Kona if you run out of power? As of now, not the apartment complex I was staying at in Delhi and that means existing infrastructure will need a rethink. 

Hyundai Kona. Photo: Sanjay K Sharma

Hyundai gives two options to charge. One is a 2.8-kW portable charger (AC) that can be hooked up to any 15-amp wall socket. It recharges the car in around 20 hours. There's also a 7.2-kW fixed-to-the-wall charger that slashes re-juice time to around six hours. 

There is a third option as well: an extra 50-kW DC quick-charge box from Hyundai, which does the job in around 90 minutes and costs an extra Rs 80,000. 

Charge boxes can also be installed at homes and offices, subject to certain requirements. Meanwhile, buyers can scour select Indian Oil outlets and Hyundai dealerships for charging their cars. While Hyundai doesn't disclose how much the heart and soul of the car — its battery — will cost to replace, the company does throw in an eight-year warranty for the car, which covers the battery as well. 

For now, think of this as one small step for electric cars and a giant leap for an industry at the crossroads of change. 

Hyundai Kona Electric

Engine: 39.2 kWh advanced lithium-ion polymer battery
Power: 136ps / Torque: 40.27 kgm
Transmission: Automatic (Single Speed Reduction Gear)
Top speed: 155 kmh
No of cylinders: NA (Electric Car)
Displacement CC: NA (Electric Car) 
Acceleration: 0-100 kmh in 9.7 seconds
Kerb weight: 1,585 kg 
Price: Rs 25.3 lakh (ex-showroom) 

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