For many of us, the hundred-or-so miles that most electric cars can travel between charges is just not enough. Sure, in clinical terms that 100 miles may be adequate to handle your everyday commute, but that does not begin to deal with the dreaded “range anxiety” – the fear of running out of juice. And that’s not unreasonable: after all, on many petrol and diesel cars, the low fuel warning light comes on when the fuel level drops to a remaining range not much less than many fully-charged electric can achieve!
Teslas, of course, have been the exception, with their 200-mile-plus range. However, not all of us can afford their £70-grand upwards cost.
All that is changing, though, as we are now starting to see the first mid-price cars with a Tesla-equalling range arriving in the showrooms. Their numbers are set to increase dramatically over the next twelve months, with just about every manufacturer falling over themselves to offer electric-powered models with a decent range.
One of the first to arrive was the Hyundai Kona Electric, with a claimed range of 279 miles for the 64kWh version, and a starting price of £32,845 including the £3,500 Government grant.
How realistic is this range? We borrowed a Hyundai Kona Electric for a week to find out, and to discover just what it’s like to live with an electric car on a day-to-day basis.
First and foremost, for most of us a car is a means of getting from A to B in reasonable comfort and safety, and able to carry everything we want, whether that is friends and family, dogs, shopping, rubbish to the tip, or whatever. It has a job to do, and that job really should not be compromised by whether the power is provided by electricity, petrol or anything else for that matter. And here the little Kona does pretty well. Space inside the cabin is identical to the petrol-powered Kona, and is pretty good for what is, after all, a fairly small car – the Kona is 4165mm long, 2070mm wide over the mirrors, (1800 wide with the mirrors folded) and 1565mm tall. To put that into context, that’s about 100mm shorter, 40mm wider (as the mirrors are the widest point – with the mirrors folded, the width is the same) but approximately 100mm taller than a VW Golf.
Unlike some electric models, luggage space does not suffer because of the adoption of electrical power, the boot capacities of both the petrol and electric versions being almost identical at 332 litres. There is no spare wheel, the space being taken up by a light foam-plastic moulding containing a case for the emergency 13 amp charging cable and the increasingly common can of tyre sealant and electric compressor. Above this, however, sits a handy, if shallow plastic oddments tray where stuff can be stowed out of sight below the boot floor.
Space inside the Kona for odds and ends at first glance looks limited, the front door bins, for example, are pretty small. However, the centre console between the seats makes up for it, with a sizeable lidded box, a small oddments tray and a mobile phone-sized space which in some models acts as a wireless charging port. No worries if your phone does not handle wireless charging, the console also contains a couple of USB ports as well as a 12-volt power socket of the sort known before these politically correct times as a cigarette lighter.
A look under the centre console reveals an unusual feature: a decent-sized tray easily able to accept a paperback or two, should your passengers choose to while away their journey by catching up on their reading. However, this might be tricky to access if the seat is well forward.
And there’s a fair-sized glovebox, too. Mind you, it needs to be a decent size because the manuals for this car are a pair of impressively thick A5-sized volumes.
Comfort-wise, the Kona is impressive. The seats seem supportive for long journeys, and the ride, although on the firm side, is never intrusive, and copes well with the less well-surfaced roads we are blessed with these days. Handling, also seems very acceptable, corners being dealt with calmly and smoothly, the extra 300kg in weight of the electric version of the Kona not being noticeable. Here I must declare a difference of opinion with many road testers, who seem to think that every test they do should be reported on as if the car will only ever be driven on a race track. Sorry, chaps, (and chapesses) but these days everyday driving for us mere mortals is all about getting from A to B as smoothly and fuss-free as possible, and here it has to be said that the little Kona does the job pretty well indeed.
In-car entertainment, on the test car, was right up to date, with Carplay and Android Auto compatibility, WiFi, and live traffic and other apps available on subscription. The audio system was a superb-sounding Krell multi-speaker set-up.
So, having dealt with the car, what about the electric side of things? Well, firstly the aforementioned centre console contains not the expected gearlever but a series of four buttons arranged in a cruciform shape, covering neutral, drive, reverse and park. Now, personally, I’d have preferred a conventional automatic transmission-style gearlever, but novel button or other arrangements like this seem to be de rigeur for electric cars these days, so the Kona is not alone in this respect.
The usual – for electric cars – digital dashboard is presented in front of the driver. Both this and the high-mounted centre screen are highly configurable, although an in-depth study of the manuals may be needed to set things up just how you want them. Briefly, though, the displays can range from showing simple driving instructions such as speed, next turn indication, and remaining range, to a detailed analysis of the electrical power being consumed either instantaneously, on the present journey, or in total.
The test car also had a very useful head-up display containing such information as road speed, current speed limit and next turn instructions. This is only available on the top of the range Premium SE model, but is well worth considering, nevertheless. Just to answer a question one or two people have asked: yes, it is adjustable to suit drivers of differing heights. This is done via the menu system for the display, which is accessed through the steering wheel buttons, which can be a bit of a faff if you switch drivers regularly. Its a pity there is no seat memory function, as the head-up display setting could so easily be added in the same way that memory buttons usually remember mirror settings as well as the seat position.
Three driving modes are available: Sport, Comfort and Eco. Unlike other electric cars, Eco does not result in snail’s pace progress but is more than adequate to handle the cut and thrust of everyday driving. Indeed, one criticism – indeed almost the only criticism – of the driveability of the Kona Electric is that, thanks to all the torque available at a standstill, an over-enthusiastic full-throttle getaway can occasionally result in ferocious wheelspin: this car certainly accelerates well, with a 0-62mph time of 7.6 seconds being not too much slower than that of the iconic Jaguar E-type!
The Kona Electric we tested was fitted with the higher capacity 64kWH battery; a 39kWh battery is also available, which saves about 150kg of weight so should be slightly more economical than the model we tested. However, the range of our test car more than supported Hyundai’s claim of a driving range of up to 279 miles. We found that for most trips around town, approaching 5 miles per kWh was achieved, with a fair bit of use of wipers, heater/air con and lights in our slightly wet June summer. This means that in these conditions a range of around 288 miles is possible.
Like any electric or hybrid car, the amount of energy recovered when braking affects the running costs significantly. The amount of ‘brake recuperation’ available in the Kona can be adjusted to one of three levels using paddles mounted behind the steering wheel. In the highest setting, recuperation is quite noticeable, the car slowing noticeably when you lift off the accelerator; however, this is easy to get used to, and means that most of the time it is possible to drive the car without needing to touch the brake pedal.
Even at 70mph on the motorway – the worst possible duty for an electric car – the energy consumption refused to drop below around 3.5 miles per kWh, implying a range of about 224 miles – way better than any electric vehicle tested previously. Overall, in around 350 miles of mixed running, we averaged 4.6 miles per kWh.- that’s about 3½p per mile on our domestic electric tariff, compared to 15p per mile for a car averaging 40mpg. That’s a typical annual saving of £1,200 if you’re a 10,000 mile a year driver. Based on our average power consumption, an impressive range of 294 miles looks feasible, slightly better than Hyundai’s claimed 279 miles.
So charging is needed much less frequently than you might expect. And when it is required, the options are similar to any electric car, either home charging or using public charging points. If you opt for home charging, installation of a dedicated charging point is pretty much essential. Using the supplied 13 amp plug charger is strictly for emergencies as standard domestic electricity wiring is just not designed to handle this sort of load continually, particularly if an extension lead is needed. In any event, it is painfully slow: typically one hour of 13 amp charging only increases the state of charge by about 2% – meaning only an extra 8 or 9 miles of range for every hour of charging..
One point to consider, though, with any electric car, is that to get the maximum life out of any battery, it is advisable not to either completely charge or completely discharge the battery. In practice, this means keeping the level of charge between 10% and 90%, which will clearly reduce the effective range somewhat. The desired limits of charge can be set through the menu system on the centre display, and can easily be reset if an occasional longer journey is planned. This is not a peculiarity of the Kona Electric: all-electric cars have the same constraint.
A dedicated home charger can usually be installed for around £300, courtesy of the Government grants currently available, and can speed things up considerably. Charge times are minimized, however, by using the public fast chargers which are increasingly appearing and which will give a charge of up to 50 KW per hour, meaning that a range top-up of 80-100 miles is easily achieved within a ½ hour charge period – typically the time needed for a motorway coffee and comfort break. And, the Kona Electric should be compatible with the new generation of even faster 100 kW charging network as they roll out across the country. An interesting observation, which I’ve heard but not yet had a chance to check out, is that the connector cable on these superfast 100 kW chargers is pretty hefty and so can be a bit tricky to manhandle and connect up to your car. Might be worth checking out if being able to use these superfast chargers is important to you.
That possible issue aside, using public charging stations is easy, provided that you have the membership for the network in question. This is probably the least satisfactory part of running an electric car: the fact that there are several different networks and several different charging socket types. Fortunately, the Kona is fitted with a CCS fast charging port, a type which seems to be winning the war of charge port standardisation. It also has a “Type 2” connector for use with slower charging 7kW public stations, which can give a range boost of around 25 miles for a 30-minute charge.
All good news; the not so good news is that the Kona Electric Premium SE is still not particularly cheap at £35,145 inclusive of the Government Plug-in Car Grant. To put matters in perspective though, before the Kona came along, the only electric car capable of such a range was the Tesla Model S, at twice the price!
The Kona Electric may still have a substantial price premium over its petrol cousin, but that does need to be set against the massive green credentials it endows, not to mention the sheer cost saving in fuel: a typical 10,000 mile a year driver can expect to save around £1,200 every year in fuel costs alone. And if you need to enter Londons Congestion Charge Zone, the savings increase dramatically as the little Hyundai, like all fully electric cars, is exempt from the £11.50 a day charge
If the price is a real concern, then the SE Model fitted with the 39kWh battery is much cheaper, at £27,250 after the Grant. Based on our experience, it should still give a range of around 175 miles.
In conclusion, our experience with the Kona Electric convinced us that a range of well over 200 miles really is achievable: with the Kona electric motoring has indeed come of age.
Interested? Find out more here: https://www.hyundai.co.uk/new-cars/kona-electric