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Turn it on, push the throttle, brace yourself.

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

Hyundai Kona Electric

The metallic grey paint job didn’t help. Neither did the ordinariness of the dog kennel-on-wheels SUV outline. The absence of a grille and aero type wheel covers also triggered the thought that the Kona Electric wasn’t quite ‘all there.’

Once inside, the impression improved as the cabin was replete with features and comfort options that pandered to the sensitive, but didn’t quite reach the luxury lounge feeling that $65,000 should buy.

But then came the action part. Turn the car on - you don’t start it - Belt up, check mirrors and wheel etc, foot on the brake and press “D.” Kona glides away smoothly in Eco mode with a slight but harmonious whine from the electric driveline up to around 20 km/h that made me think the radio was on. Then it’s road noise only, and quite a bit of it I might add.

The fun part is when you squeeze the throttle pedal. Boom! Absolute instant reaction, and in Sport mode it tests your neck muscles as Kona gets up and boogies on call, steering wheel wriggling in your hands as torque steer arrives in bucketloads. I still marvel at the way transmission delays and turbo wind-up is totally absent with an EV. Overtaking in particular is instant go.

Kona has three levels of energy regeneration, and the maximum rate is so strong it requires a new driving technique. Basically, while avoiding the brake pedal you can go deep in almost any corner, confident that you’re not going to turn in with wheels locking and massive understeer.

The regen rate is set by what would normally be shift paddles, and a bit of experimentation will reduce brake wear substantially. I found balancing the throttle to adjust the braking effort was a skill easily acquired.

The only hiccup is disengaging the cruise control system when regen is set at maximum. The nose dips noticeably until you can get back on the throttle to ease the rate.

Getting used to the system meant I was hitting corners a bit faster and this uncovered a little bit of suspension tangle as the Kona seemed to kneel into the outside of the bend. I was probably going faster than I should - not uncommon - but I was surprised to feel somewhat top-heavy, when in fact the centre of gravity of Kona is lower than its petrol compatriots. A quick look under the bonnet, along with a gander underneath reveals a motor unit only occupying half the height of the engine bay, and a flat floor underneath the car covering the batteries.

On that note, this revealed the difference between electric vehicles from the established manufacturers, and Tesla. On the one hand, the electric versions of vehicles designed for petrol or diesel are really replacement drive lines rather than new designs, while Teslas are all born from a clean sheet with everything focused on the comfort and space opportunities delivered by transaxle motors and skateboard battery arrangements.

Under the hood is the first hint. There’s a conventional ‘engine’ cover and playing spot the component is a happy game with mostly “no idea what that is.” But in good Korean style, everything is high quality manufacturing and placement and the RAC technician will be able to access anything that causes trouble - even if he has no idea how to fix it.

The range in Kona allows you to run the car virtually the same as you would petrol wheels. On a full battery the dash data advises 478kms, but that is based on your driving profile for the last trip. A better gauge is the conventional looking battery level on the right of the dashboard.

Kona is the first electric car I didn’t feel compelled to put on charge every time I got home. Every few days, when the ‘tank’ dipped below 50 per cent, I plugged in during the day and let my excess solar power do the job for me.

I think this is the best all-rounder of the current crop of electric cars, excluding Tesla, which is on another level entirely, and signals even better things ahead. If other brands can adapt an existing platform into an EV as well as this, it’s going to be so much easier to consider an EV for your parking spot at home.

Models: Hyundai Kona Electric Elite and Highlander - FWD

Prices: $60,740; $65,290

Engine: Permanent Magnet Synchronous motor

Output: 150kW and 395Nm

Transmission: Single speed reduction gear

Battery: Lithium-ion Polymer, 64.0 kWh

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