Real-life road test review: The one where we do a long winter commute in a Hyundai Kona EV

Image of Neil Thomason
Author: | Updated: 24 Jan 2019 17:06

When we reviewed the Nissan Leaf last year, it was the beginning of spring. The weather was calm, verging on hot, and the electric vehicle and its 40kWh battery coped fantastically not only with the rigours of an oft-congested 60-mile daily commute but a weekend of leisure driving too.

With Hyundai’s Kona EV making waves, and somewhat stealing the Leaf’s thunder, we thought we’d up the ante and see how this EV coped with the grim northern weather in deepest darkest January.

Hyundai Kona EV CHAL

Bracing 70mph winds, constant rain, freezing early morning temperatures, we thought we would be in an ideal situation to test the practicality of a vehicle that many are saying will truly normalise the EV.

So with a stated range of 111 miles more than the Nissan Leaf thanks to its 24kWh of extra battery capacity, here’s how we got on…

Monday

Much like the Nissan Leaf, the Hyundai Kona EV arrives to us on the back of a diesel lorry and the irony isn’t lost on us. Unpacked and with a fully charged battery, we give the it the quick once over. Its relatively high-riding chassis helps it stand out from other EVs currently available on the market, with Hyundai opting for practical looks over sporty appeal.

It has a truly distinctive design thanks to the split headlights and tail lights, however it is the closed-off grille that draws the most questions, with questions such as “What’s wrong with that car?” to “What’s up with the grille?” once it is parked up at headquarters. If you’re wondering that yourself, it’s all to do with air-flow and getting the most out of the EV’s range by making it as aerodynamic as possible.

Kona EV

Another question is asked as I drive around the car park: “Did you have the stereo on then?” Ah, that would be the Virtual Engine Sound System (VESS). Hyundai has got the jump on most others in the field, providing this feature as standard long before the EU plan on making it compulsory.

This melodic driving sound operates at speeds up to about 20mph and lets pedestrians, cyclists and the visually impaired know you’re there in your otherwise silent car. More bizarrely, the sound slows down or speeds up in tune with your acceleration, giving you the odd sensation of being in fast forward. It also brings to mind the noise of the Deadites from the Evil Dead films which worries me.

The real first test comes with the commute home from work then. Thirty miles of motorway and town driving, which can either be free flowing or congested depending on factors I’ve still yet to identify. It’s cold, so the heating gets turned up to 25 degrees on low and the heated seats are turned on low too, just like I would do if I was driving my regular internal combustion car.

Like a kid with a new toy, things got a bit silly. But how can they not with 395Nm of torque and 0-60 of 7.6 seconds available at your foot? As such I don’t necessarily feel the figures achieved at the end of the drive were reflective of how I actually drive as I wanted to have a bit of fun in the car, and if driving can’t be fun then I’m in the wrong job!

IMG_4214

Gamification of EVs, whether it’s getting the most out of the range, or how certain manoeuvres impact battery percentage, always hold part of the appeal to me. And as I pulled up on my drive I cycled through the Kona’s driver display for a list of stats I was slightly dismayed to see that my driving style was scored as 52% economical while driving in Eco mode. While I suppose being over 50% economical is good in theory, I thought it would have been more.

Driving style score: 52% economical, 46% normal, 2% dynamic

Battery percentage at the end of the day: 85% (215 miles of range)

Tuesday

The Kona EV gets sedate treatment today, with only a quick trip out to the shops and a few loops around the main roads while I cycle through the various drive modes (Eco, Comfort, Sport) and get more comfortable with the setup of the car.

For the most part I think I’ll be keeping it in Eco for my part of the diary as I feel that this is the option most consumers will go for too. With this mode engaged, the braking is a little bit harsher than I’d like so that more is captured for the regenerative charge. This helps the Kona maintain a healthy state of charge and is easily adjusted through the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. Bizarrely, you can even use these to fully come to a stop meaning you never need to use the brake again.

Driving style score: 50% economical, 45% normal, 5% dynamic

Battery percentage at the end of the day: 80% (210 miles of range)

Wednesday

It is a dark and wet morning as I set off on my commute. Google Maps informs me the journey will take 1 hour and 20 minutes as there is congestion on the M61 and I am being diverted clockwise instead of my usual anti-clockwise route which adds a few miles onto the journey.

And this is perhaps where an electric vehicle really comes into its own: being stuck in traffic. No longer are you filled with anxiety, watching £ after £ disappearing out of your exhaust pipe in a standstill, instead you just end up using any charge you’ve accrued from the regenerative braking and your battery level doesn’t really flicker. The trade off is that you’re stuck in traffic and might possibly be late but we can’t have everything can we?

IMG_4223

When I pulled in at work, a quick glance over the stats saw the battery was at 68%, and my driving throughout the morning had been scored as 83% economical, 17% normal, 0% dynamic. Whether that’s indicative of the roads, or a conscious attempt on my part to impress the car I’m not sure.

The drive home is more of the same, though under cover of darkness and with near-silent driving you almost feel like the stealthiest person on the road.

Driving style score: 61% economical, 39% normal, 0% dynamic

Battery percentage at the end of the day: 54% (135 miles of range)

Thursday

It’s zero degrees when I leave the house, just the type of temperature we’ve been looking forward to with this test. I turn the EV on and see that, despite having the same battery percentage as the end of last night, the actual range has gone down to 127 miles before I’ve even set off. I put the heating up and the heated seats on. 127 miles of range is still pretty good, and I begin to wonder whether I could get away with running the car down throughout a week of commuting and recharging it at the weekend. I reckon you’d maybe be pushing it but if you were smart it would be achievable.

When I pull into the office, range is down to 83 miles (44 miles depleted on a 30-mile journey) and the battery percentage is now at 36%. Oh. Maybe I should charge it then. Our office is well equipped, with a three-pin wall plug and a Type 2 3kW charge plug on the outside of the building, and as I get the cable from the boot I quickly realise none of those fit the Type 2 7-22kW cable I have in my hands. Hmmmmm. One phone call to the Hyundai Press Office later, and I’m told there is a three-pin charger hidden in a hidden part of the boot compartment. So many secrets! Panic averted, I put it on a slow trickle charge for the day.

IMG_4239

When I get back in the Kona at the end of the work day, it is charged up to 57% with 137 miles of range. This should be enough before I hand the car over to my colleague for the weekend shift, and hopefully I get to test the car in untethered sport mode beforehand. Snow is forecast for the morning but it looks doubtful it will reach us.

Driving style score: 45% economical, 53% normal, 2% dynamic

Battery percentage at the end of the day: 43% (102 miles of range) – after a small midday charge

Friday

My final day in the Kona EV is more of the same. With it only partly recharged yesterday, I’m down to 100 miles of range fairly early into my journey. A red light flashes underneath the figure on the driver display info and an alarm also starts binging which is annoying… then I realise it’s because I haven’t shut the back door properly. D’oh.

Having the Kona in Eco mode throughout the week has been comfortable for the most part and it’s probably the drive mode I’d use if I were to get one. Performance is there when needed but the reigns are kept on enough that you almost fall in line with becoming a more thoughtful driver in regard to eking out the most from the car. One quick dash in Sport mode when the motorway opens up leaves me wondering if speeding tickets and fines will quickly rise if/when EVs become the predominant mode of transport. I would have to say yes. With 25% of the battery left, I put the car on charge ready to hand the keys over to my colleague…

The weekend shift…

James Kelly profile

After five days’ dutiful service on the M60, this weekend would be a more relaxed affair mile-wise for our Kona Electric, but I was to press it into service in a different way: I had to move flat. If nothing else, it’d give me a chance to find out a bit more about its practicality. So, how did things go?

Normally when a press car comes in, I’m more than happy to take it for the weekend, but I knew the Kona Electric would be a bit of a faff. Why? Because while it wouldn’t be doing motorway miles, I had a busy weekend ahead and I knew I’d still have to charge it at some point. With more than 100 miles charge available, there was enough for me to do what I needed to. But I knew by the end of the weekend it’d be running on fumes (sparks?) and it’s bad form to hand a car back to the lovely people at Hyundai with hardly any power in it (even if it will be going home on the back of a diesel truck).

Hyundai Kona Electric charging

Happily, there’s an Ecotricity charge point at the local Ikea which I’d previously visited with the Leaf. Even better, because I was moving, this time I had a shopping list that consisted of more than frozen meatballs and a jar of pickled herring.

The first thing you notice in any electric car is the instantaneous torque, and this is particularly true in the case of the higher-powered Kona. We’re sure the 39kWh model is nippy enough, but the 64kWh variant is borderline quick. If you don’t glance at your range-o-meter too much, surprising people at the traffic light grand prix becomes quite addicting. The only downside is avoiding spinning the wheels as you pull away. Aside from Tesla’s range and the Jaguar I-Pace, this is one of the quickest electric cars currently available (for less than £400 per month, anyway). And by quick we’re talking about acceleration; top speed is limited to 104mph for economy reasons.

A quick jaunt to Ikea, and there’s a space at the charge point. Excellent stuff. But there’s also a Tesla there, which is currently using the CSS plug – the one I also need. There’s a host of charge point providers currently operating in the UK, with Ecotricity being one of the biggest. They provide the two main types of socket necessary for fast charging. So, my plan was to grab a coffee and go back to the car in 15-20 minutes, by which time the charge point display informed me the Tesla would have finished charging. However…

Nissan Leaf driver's note

On my return, I find a politely-worded note from a Leaf driver. And here we have the electric car’s biggest (and at this point possibly only) stumbling block: Charge points. The one in question at Ikea has two spaces. The charger itself has two outlets, but only one can be used at a time. See the issue? There’s a certain etiquette that comes with using fast chargers, and it’s something that needs to be considered if the pure-electric market is to grow in any significant way. There’s a lot of investment and an ever-increasing number of chargers, but there needs to be more. A lot more.

Hyundai Kona Electric boot space

Moving on to the practicality side of things, the Kona Electric gets a rather miserly 332 litres of boot space compared to 361 litres in the ICE-powered version. This is mainly due to the charging cables that are stored beneath the false floor. The rear seats do however fold completely flat, and there’s no lip between the boot and bumper which is handy. So, for those that were wondering if you can fit a 42in TV and a leather reclining chair with stool in the back, yes you can. There are other small crossovers that offer quite a bit more room outright though, and on the electric scene the Leaf has a more capacious boot.

So, what did I learn? That you can indeed use a Kona Electric to move, primarily, but my main take-away thought wasn’t actually about the car, which itself is a massive move forward for affordable EVs. It was actually the thought that we need more chargers. One way around this is to have a charge point installed at home. That’s fine for some, but what if you happen to live in a block of flats, a terraced house or simply somewhere you don’t have space to park?

Hyundai Kona Electric view from flat

As you can see from the picture above, unless I was to dangle an extension lead or three out the window, there is no way I’d be able to charge an electric car. And therein is the only real issue with the Kona Electric and indeed any other EV currently on the market: they’re great, but until infrastructure improves, I can’t see the majority of new car consumers opting for one.

Read more of our real-life road tests here

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