Close but no medal: Hyundai’s attempt at electric still needs a bit of work

Jul 26, 2019
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I live and work in the city. Most of my friends live in the city, and most of the places I go are in the city. Our Hyundai Kona Highlander Electric has spent a lot of time in the city.

Thankfully, the Kona Electric is very good in the cut-and-thrust of traffic. To start with, electric cars are perfect for low speed, stop-and-start crawling. The Kona EV makes 395Nm of torque from standstill, and it’s delivered with a brand of buttery smoothness no internal-combustion engine could possibly match.

There’s no waiting, no vibrations, no gearshifts – just uninterrupted thrust. When you lift off the accelerator, regenerative braking smoothly picks up the slack. The brake pedal is only required below 15km/h in most cases, provided you’re the sort of driver who looks a couple of cars ahead.

My commute is around 7km (from Elwood to Richmond) through Melbourne’s inner south-east, but it takes between 20 minutes (good day) and 45 minutes (bad day). You’re either stopping or going – there’s very little in between.

With all that considered, the Kona excels around town. It’s quick off the mark (ideal for the traffic-light grand prix) and has instant pickup once you’re rolling, so in-gear acceleration (or its electric equivalent) is excellent. See a gap in traffic? Squeeze the throttle and you’re there.

Despite the slightly bulbous looks, the Kona has quite a compact footprint. Coupled with light steering and a high seating position, that makes it easy to place on the road. Blind-spot monitoring helps cover for the chunky c-pillars, although we’d prefer better over-the-shoulder vision.

It’ll slink down skinny alley ways without breaking a sweat, and the turning circle is excellent. With no conventional engine between the front wheels and just the skinny eco tyres, there’s an abundance of steering lock to play with in tight garages or parking spaces, too.

Not all is well, though. The transition from regenerative to mechanical braking is clunky, and the brake pedal can feel unnervingly wooden at low speeds.

The issue rears its head as regen cuts out (around 15km/h) and the pads/discs take over. It feels like the brakes are cutting out during the handover, prompting a firmer press on the pedal… which makes the transition head-nodding sudden when it finally happens.

We’ve had the Kona for two months (at the time of writing), and I still haven’t mastered it.

The car’s eco tyres can be a pain in the wet, too. Traction is poor when the road gets wet, the Kona happily spinning its front tyres at up to 80km/h when you boot it after a downpour.

It’s absolutely hilarious if you’re a hooligan and the car’s computers quickly shut down the fun, but not everyone will be amused.

I’d suspect the rock-hard rubber is to blame for the Kona’s keenness to follow camber changes. They’re good for range, but the Nexen tyres don’t ever really allow the car to breathe with the road, which is a shame. We might toy around with pressures to see what effect it has on the ride and range. Stay tuned.

Despite the tyre-related niggles, the Kona EV is a comfortable place to spend time around town. That probably doesn’t go far enough, actually.

The Kona Electric perfectly suited to life in the city, although its 460km range means longer trips aren’t beyond its reach, either. More on that to come.

Hyundai Kona Electric Highlander 

  • Odometer: 6439km
  • Distance since last update: 1439km
  • Energy consumption since last update: 15.2kWh/100km

Would you consider buying an electric car?

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