What is the Hyundai Kona Electric prototype like to drive?
On the move, our test car rode with decent suppleness at town speeds and with reasonable isolation on the motorway, in spite of its efficiency-boosting tyres. But while the car corners flatly, its grip levels are quite modest — even on bone-dry Tarmac — and are such that, even though its traction and stability control systems make the car easy to keep control of, you couldn’t call it fun to drive. Weighty steering and vertical body control that can run away a little unchecked over bigger lumps and bumps combine to make the Kona Electric feel like a bigger, heavier car than its dimensions might suggest.
You can certainly feel the effects, at times, of that 291lb ft of torque (a figure that’ll be common to both versions of the car) being transmitted to the road exclusively through the front wheels. There’s a pervasive numbness to the car’s steering, but it can’t quite mask the effect of all that tractive force interfering with your chosen steering line when you accelerate hard from lowish speeds. We should add, however, that while our test car wasn’t quite production-spec in terms of interior finish, neither was it quite representative of the finished version in terms of suspension tuning.
The Kona Electric’s performance level feels strong – although, due to its weight, perhaps not as strong as its headline power and torque lead you to expect. Hyundai quotes a 0-62mph showing of 7.6sec — which beats any comparable rival save for BMW’s i3.
But like all directly driven EVs, the Kona Electric feels much stronger when speeding up from town speeds than it does on the motorway, where it remains only adequately responsive and quiet. There is, of course, excellent throttle response and linearity to enjoy about the way the car responds to your right foot, but there's also a slight sense of fussy oversensitivity to the accelerator feel that can make the pedal tricky to modulate when using Sport driving mode; we much preferred driving the car in Comfort mode.
And for those primarily interested in whether the car’s battery range is really as good as Hyundai claims, there’s encouraging news. Our test route included town, motorway and mountain roads, and intensive driving as well as touring. While the car’s indicated average energy efficiency, tested over extended distances, was as high as 7.0kWh per 100km and as low as 16kWh at times, our overall experience suggested that you could easily average the 12kWh per 100km necessary to make good on Hyundai’s 300-mile real-world range on a mix of urban and extra-urban roads. At times, you could even improve on it.
While price may therefore make the top-of-the-range 64kWh version a tough sell to some, to others it’ll earn consideration for its battery range alone. On this evidence, it’ll be a car with strong performance and refinement, as well as respectable if undistinguished handling.
But it’ll be the 39kWh version of the Kona Electric that could represent the greater threat to the market’s bigger-selling battery cars, whose near 200-mile range should also be believed on this evidence. Its positioning could represent a tempting proposition to customers clearly predisposed towards a crossover bodystyle, who are ready to make the jump to an electric car with just enough usability to meet their needs.
Hyundai Kona Electric 64kWh prototype
Where Frankfurt, Germany Price circa £36,000 (TBC); On sale Summer 2018; Engine AC electric motor, front-wheel drive; Power 201bhp; Torque 291lb ft from 0rpm; Gearbox direct drive; Kerb weight 1610kg; Top speed 104mph; 0-62mph 7.6sec; Fuel economy tbc; Electric range 300 miles (WLTP); CO2 na; Rivals Nissan Leaf Tekna, Volkswagen e-Golf