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Engine options, speed, acceleration and refinement

The Kona Electric has more oomph than it really needs; quite a lot more. It picks off 60mph from rest in just 6.7sec, almost a second more quickly than its maker estimates. Whisking from 30-70mph in 5.8sec again puts it almost a second ahead, on real-world roll-on overtaking acceleration, of the BMW i3s Range Extender we tested earlier this year. In that latter discipline, it’s also only a tenth behind the latest Ford Fiesta ST.

The powertrain comes with Hyundai’s curious ‘Virtual Engine Sound System’, which broadcasts imitation engine noise at nearby cars and pedestrians at low speeds as a safety feature; it’s easy to turn off, though needs turning off every time you start the car. The car’s actual motor noise somehow seems a better match for your expectations of what an electric car ought to sound like than a Nissan Leaf or a Renault Zoe. It’s almost silent under light loads, but has more of the whistle-cum-whine of a giant-sized, radio-controlled toy when working really hard.

The brake pedal isn’t brilliant but at least the car caters for people who’d rather operate motor regen and friction brakes entirely separately. Were I in the market, that fact might even turn me into an owner

What will impress more experienced EV owners about this powertrain isn’t necessarily its potency, its responsiveness or its pleasingly cheeky 356V accent, however. That will be the heightened level of control the car gives you over its electric motor ‘regen’ behaviour – both through its steering wheel paddles and its brake pedal – and therefore how well you can adapt the car to suit the journey you’re on, or the style of progress you prefer.

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Most EVs will switch straight into a battery energy regeneration mode as soon as you lift off the accelerator, as if engine braking under a high compression ratio. Some allow you to choose between more or less aggressive modes of regen, but often not as precisely as you’d like. One or two, like the Kona Electric, allow you to cycle through several regen presets between maximum kinetic energy capture and none at all (totally unresisted coasting) using ‘shift’ paddles behind the steering wheel. But the Hyundai goes further still.

The car’s ‘auto recuperation’ software uses the radar cruise transceiver to constantly judge the distance to the vehicle in front, allowing you to effectively leave the car in efficiency-optimised ‘maximum coast’ mode until traffic conditions dictate that you must slow it down – at which point, it will blend in the motor regen automatically. It’s quite a neat trick and works well most of the time.

You can also switch from minimum to maximum regen instantly, and without using the brake pedal at all (so you can be sure you’re not losing energy to the friction brakes): simply hold down the left-hand paddle.

Finally, the Kona Electric also allows you to remove the influence of electric motor regen completely from the action of the brake pedal: a driving feature the road test jury liked about the car more than almost any other. The car’s brake pedal feel ranges from unhelpfully poor in Eco driving mode, through to quite respectable in Normal and Sport. Turn off the car’s stability and traction control systems, however, and the brake pedal is left simply to control the car’s actual brakes. Not a revelation of an idea, you might think – but it certainly feels like progress for the zero-emissions breed where driver satisfaction is concerned.