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Its chassis is tripped up by the huge torque output, but the slightly pricey Kona Electric isn’t as lifeless to drive as other EVs
25 July 2018

What is it?

By introducing the Kona Electric, Hyundai has demonstrated a third type of electric vehicle.

The first two are straight-forward. There are cars that were designed from a blank sheet to run on battery power alone, like Teslas, and cars that have had their combustion powertrains ripped out and an electric powertrain dropped in, like the Volkswagen e-Golf.

The advantage of purpose-built electric vehicles, of course, is that they make good use of the packaging benefits of a compact, relatively simple powertrain. They also tend to have higher-capacity batteries. An adapted EV, meanwhile, suffers all the same packaging disadvantages as a conventional car and will typically have a smaller battery.

The Kona Electric sits somewhere between the two. It isn’t quite a dedicated electric vehicle, because there are versions of the Kona that share this platform and derive their motive force from the combustion of fossil fuels. But an EV model was always part of the plan.

What's it like?

The most apparent manifestation of that is the location of the batteries. They're spread out across the floor beneath the passenger compartment, just as they are in Teslas. That’s precisely where you want them, because the car’s centre of gravity is kept close to the road and boot space is left well alone. Plus, with them spread out like that, there's room for far more battery cells than could be squeezed into an adapted car.

Armed with the larger-capacity 64kWh battery, the Kona Electric can cover 300 miles on a single charge (the cheaper model, with a 39kWh battery, has a range of 194 miles). The e-Golf, by way of comparison, will cover just 124 miles.

In that particular way, the Kona Electric is a bit like a purpose-built EV. But in another way, it's much more akin to an adapted electric car. That is torque steer. Flatten the accelerator pedal at low or medium speeds and the car drags itself left and right across the width of the road, recalling the sort of frantic on-boost behaviour that made certain performance cars of the 1980s and 1990s such a handful.

This handling trait is a very long way from being dangerous, but it can take you by surprise. It happens in every one of the Kona Electric's driving modes, too – even the most sedate Eco. Wheelspin away from the line is another problem. It’s all to do with torque. The Kona Electric’s motor puts out 291lb ft of it, all to the front wheels, and does so instantaneously. The solution, of course, is to drive with a lighter right foot, but driving around a problem doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

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The simple fact of the matter is the Kona’s chassis doesn’t feel up to the job of delivering close to 300lb ft of electric torque to the road through a single axle. In that sense, it's a bit like an adapted EV.

Feisty torque steer and wheelspin aside, this is a likeable car. Hyundai says it’s fun to drive, which might be a stretch, but there certainly is an eagerness to the chassis, a keen balance, even, that you simply don’t expect of a compact EV. It's far less flat-footed than the Renault Zoe, for instance. It also feels lighter than its 1685kg, whereas many electric cars feel conspicuously heavy. Below 60mph or so, the Kona Electric has a brisk turn of pace, which means you can zip past slower traffic quite happily.

There are some hard and scratchy plastics inside, but mostly it feels very well built. Interior space is pretty good, considering the car’s compact dimensions, which make it very wieldy around town.

There are four levels of regenerative braking, which you scroll through using steering wheel-mounted paddles, from one-pedal driving to none at all. Regardless of which mode you have engaged, the brake pedal is strangely inconsistent, dancing up and down beneath the ball of your foot whenever you apply any pressure. The steering, too, is afflicted by an unusual tugging characteristic just around the straight-ahead, as though your passenger is gently pulling on the wheel.

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Should I buy one?

If you've decided that you want an electric car and the Kona suits your taste and budget, that small handful of unusual dynamic traits shouldn’t be enough to put you off.

The Kona Electric is that rarest of things - a compact electric vehicle with character.

Hyundai Kona Electric specification

Where Oslo, Norway Price £33,995 On sale now Engine electric motor Battery 64kWh Power 201bhp Torque 291lb ft Gearbox single-speed Kerb weight 1685kg Top speed 104mph 0-62mph 7.6sec Official range 300 miles CO2 0g/km Rivals Renault Zoe, Nissan Leaf

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