July 12, 2019

Test Drive Review - Hyundai Kona

Just how electrifying is the experience of getting behind the wheel of India's first ever all electric SUV?

Words: Aninda Sardar
Photography by Roshni Manghani

The current US President may cry himself hoarse but climate change is for real! And there's no denying that we, humans, are to blame for it almost entirely. I am reminded of this each time I land in Delhi and the throat itches a little and the smog seems heavier than before. And let me tell you, the national capital isn't the only place where this is happening even though Delhi-NCR usually headlines all news about pollution. Or anything negative for that matter. The newly elected Union government's answer to this rapidly rising threat has been to identify the growing automotive industry as one of the principal causes and then insisting that we all go electric by 2030, which is just over a decade away. While the rest of us have been busy arguing whether this is a good thing, a bad thing or an unfair thing, one manufacturer has decided to take that leap of faith and introduce the country's first all-electric SUV. If the EV revolution is successful, which I suspect it will be in the long run, the world of automobiles as we know it would be turned upside down and the white Hyundai Kona that I was staring at would have played its part.
At Rs 25,30,000 no one in their right minds would suggest that the newly launched Hyundai Kona, India's first ever all electric SUV, is cheap. Most would probably go out on a limb and suggest that it's far too pricey but none of us are saying that. In fact, most of us agree that the number on the sticker that Hyundai finally attached to the Kona is fairly competitive. Before you form that expletive you should know that in spite of being an EV, the Kona is still a CBU. An import, which means it is subject to the ridiculous taxation norms that the government applies to all vehicle imports. The other thing you should know is that the 39.2kWh lithium-ion polymer battery that sits under the car's floor board is super expensive. So no, you won't be able to buy this EV for the same kind of money that you'd be able to buy the Elite i20, on which the Kona is based, for. But I still feel that people who do spend the moolah will not be disappointed. Here's why.
First, you buy it and then you run it. While the vehicle itself gets a three years or unlimited kilometres warranty, the warranty on the battery is for eight years and 1.6 lakh kilometres. If that's not gobsmacking then digest this. You'll only need to service it once every 30,000km! After all, the whole damn thing has only a thousand moving parts. You just need to have the money to buy it and the money for the electricity bills it will run up each time you charge it.
Speaking of charging, the single largest deterrent to the adoption of EVs continues to be range anxiety. To start with, when you buy a Kona, Hyundai will also give you a 7.2kW wall charger for your home, which will recharge the battery completely in 6 hours and 10 minutes and a 2.8kW portable charger that you can carry around. You can plug this portable charger into a normal socket and recharge the battery in about 19 hours. Then of course, Hyundai is also working to create a network of fast charging points that will be capable of charging the battery up to 80 per cent in just 57 minutes. Which is all great but how far will it go on a single charge? According to ARAI, you're looking at 452km on a single charge! Hyperoptmistic though that thought may be, I reckon you'll be able to drive around half as much in the real world on a single charge. And that I think is great news for all those wanting to adopt the EV way because a 200-250km range means that you're looking at travelling some real distance. Besides, as I found out while thrashing the thing around the Buddh International Circuit, charge depletion is quite well controlled in spite of the caning we were giving the Kona.
To drive, the Hyundai Kona is very nice. First, there's the very healthy 395Nm of peak torque arriving at zero revs. So acceleration is brisk...very brisk. And because there is only that single reductor gear everything is very linear and smooth. None of the jerks of a traditional transmission system. Hell, there isn't even a gear selector lever, just a bunch of buttons. We did try out the paddleshifters for a bit but quite honestly they didn't seem to make a huge difference and I for one would be happy to let the system do all the work.
Not that you've got to work at this car, you know. It's all pretty effortless. The steering is light, it gets going quickly and the brakes work fine. You just need to point the thing and shoot. There's enough space at the front and there's a whole gamut of features to compensate for that two and a half million. It's a complete car and not just a fad that sometimes revolutionary things tend to be. The only grouse I had was not too much kneeroom at the rear and scope for improvement in under thigh support at the back again. And while I suspect the low rolling resistance tyres will work well enough on regular roads, on the track we could all hear them squealing to find grip.
At the end of the day however, you're forced to admit that the Kona is solid evidence that the EV has finally come of age. It offers a genuine solution to those looking to solve their urban mobility requirements without having to burn fossil fuels. The lot that would choose organic food over off the rack stuff at the local supermarket, the ones that would glare at you for using the despicable plastic bag while they fish out that reusable jute bag. And of course the lot that would have Rs 25,30,000 to spare to begin with.
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