2019 Hyundai Kona Electric.
2019 Hyundai Kona Electric.

Hyundai launches electric car with 400km range

AS Hyundai's new Kona Electric silently rolls into showrooms, it's apparent that saving the planet won't come cheaply.

Brilliant as this small SUV is in terms of zero-emissions driving range, style, safety and connectivity, there's no avoiding its $59,990 plus on-roads sticker price.

In 2019 at least, the electric car premium remains vast for those who contemplate joining the battery-powered revolution.

Alongside the Kona Electric in Hyundai showroom is the petrol-powered Kona, not dissimilar in form. This fossil-fuelled version in matching 2WD Elite trim retails for $29,500 - rather neatly, half the price of its plug-in stablemate.

The Hyundai Kona’s green credentials come at a cost.
The Hyundai Kona’s green credentials come at a cost.

Does the electric version price itself into irrelevance? Not so. Buyers of the Kona Electric have little in common with combustion engine Kona shoppers.

Fleet sales are key, the obvious customers being government outfits chasing zero emissions targets. Then come businesses, particularly in urban areas, that are keen on planet saving or on appearing so.

Private shoppers are still in the mix. The brand is after tech lovers and environmentalists willing to pay a premium for electric motoring.

It's a big ask. Yes, the Kona Electric has on-trend small SUV styling but is a chunky $15,000 more than Hyundai's equally practical Ioniq Electric.

What you're buying with the Kona is the brand's flagship electric propulsion: more power, better acceleration and far greater range than the liftback Ioniq.

The Kona EV has a practical range of over 400km.
The Kona EV has a practical range of over 400km.

Range anxiety is minimised with a "real-world" range of 449km. That's nearly double the Ioniq Electric's, and roughly 180km more than Nissan quotes for its $49,990 Leaf EV, due in August.

Beyond price, range anxiety is the hurdle EVs need to overcome. Really, 449km is plenty for practically every driver in Australia. How many travel further than that without an overnight break, which is when it could be charged?

Behind a flap in the Kona's grille-free nose is the port that feeds a sizeable 64kWh lithium-ion polymer battery (it's the expensive bit, by the way), which takes 54 minutes to go from zero charge to 80 per cent charge using a 100kW DC fast charger.

Good luck finding one of these; the same battery fill takes 75 minutes with a more common 50kW public charger.

A household power socket is your tardy alternative but most owners will opt for Hyundai's home charger ($1950 installed in your garage), which gives 100 per cent charge in 9 hours 35 minutes.

The Kona feels and drives like any normal SUV.
The Kona feels and drives like any normal SUV.

On the road

As a mode of transport, the Kona Electric serves excellently. On a longer journey - once you get over the pure fun and novelty of scooting silently around town - it soon feels like any normal, comfortable and enjoyable car.

For more than a century we've been perfecting the experience of driving with a combustion engine. To help ease us into this brave new technology, an electric car must match it.

Performance helps. The Kona's electric motor is good for 150kW and 395Nm, and all that torque is delivered through the front wheels almost the instant you press the accelerator.

There's immediate, grin-inducing surge and you gallop from rest to 100km/h in warm hatch-time - 7.6 seconds. Overtaking is comically rapid.

Tyres are designed for energy saving and noise reduction rather than race-car grip, so they chirp in protest if you get too eager on the throttle or when cornering, though this is rarely an issue for city use.

Regenerative braking help charge the battery as you go.
Regenerative braking help charge the battery as you go.

Steering wheel paddles regulate the amount of regenerative braking, from zero to level 3. Select the latter for most energy recuperation; as you lift off the accelerator the Kona slows itself, meaning with a bit of brain retraining you need not touch the brake.

Radar cruise control also makes city traffic tolerable, the Kona aping the moves of the car in front for more pedal-free driving.

We set off on a 250km rural excursion from Adelaide, the Kona's display telling us our full battery was good for 449km, or 409km with climate control on.

Using the aircon for the whole trip (this is Australia), we bettered expectations with 176km charge remaining after 242km travelled, giving a net 418km in our "real-world" driving conditions.

With no engine noise, the tyre roar is quite pronounced as we cruise along, though it's never invasive. There's minimal body roll in corners due to the low-down battery weight.

Controls are a bit light and suspension too soft to be truly engaging but the rapid acceleration never gets tiresome.

No engine noise leads to more noticeable tyre noise.
No engine noise leads to more noticeable tyre noise.

Hyundai Australia's expert team set up the Kona's suspension for the perceived user, with plushness and comfort paramount in this instance. As expected, town and highway trips are smooth affairs and bump absorption is impressive.

The experience inside is mixed. Rear seats present usable space for two adults and the boot is a reasonable 332L, a bit less than a conventional family hatchback.

Equipment is generous with a lengthy list of active safety gear, eight-inch screen with satnav, digital driver display, leather seating and a solid feel to buttons - including gear selection - in a classy centre console.

The Kona has a classy interior.
The Kona has a classy interior.

A higher spec $64,490 Kona Highlander adds LED lights, wireless phone charging, glass sunroof (or two-tone roof), power, heated and ventilated front seats and a head-up display.

Feeling less like a $60,000-plus car are hard plastics for the dash top and doors, plus there are no rear air vents. It's an elegant cabin but by no means plush.

Verdict 3.5/5

The Kona Electric looks stylish without over-emphasising its electric heart. Performance, range and ease of driving are standouts and it makes incredible sense as a city commuter. Five-year warranty (eight years for the battery) and minimal $165 annual service charge sweeten the deal. But as with every other electric car on sale, the purchase price restricts entry to all but the wealthy or most enthusiastic environmentalist.

The Kona is the brand’s second EV on sale in Australia.
The Kona is the brand’s second EV on sale in Australia.

Which electric car should I buy?

Private interest in the battery-powered Ioniq hatch stablemate, launched in December, has been gratifying, says Hyundai Australia future mobility manager Scott Nargar.

It's available as a hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure electric vehicle and, Nargar says, the sales split was close to predicted - respectively 18, 37 and 45 per cent. The brand had been "expecting more government and fleet sales. We've been really surprised with the level of private take-up."

So far this year the Ioniq sales tally is 102. Nargar expects to see a steady growth in Hyundai electric orders with the battery-powered Kona's arrival.

"A lot of people have been waiting for Kona pricing so they can compare apples with apples," he said. "The Kona's more expensive with a larger battery, so customers can see what technology best suits their needs.

"Government fleets for example, where a car will do maybe 20-30km on average - do they need an electric car with a 450km range? Maybe the Ioniq would suit them better."

Hyundai Kona EV

Price: From $59,990 plus on-roads

Warranty/servicing: 5 years/unlimited km, $825 for 5 years/75,000km

Engine: Electric motor, 150kW/395Nm, 64kWh battery

Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB, rear camera, rear sensors, forward collision warning, blind spot warning, driver attention warning, lane keep assist, rear cross-traffic assist, radar cruise control

Range: 400+ km

Spar: Repair kit

Boot: 332L

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