There are dark clouds over the sky as I head to the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) in Greater Noida. It’s a fairly long drive which gives me enough time to think about the dark clouds hanging over the automobile sector as a whole. While weak consumer demand has forced automobile companies to reduce production at plants, the government mulling a blanket ban on internal combustion engines has really thrown the cat among the pigeons. Automakers are now rummaging through their global portfolios to find electric options for India or busy developing indigenous solutions. Hyundai India has taken the first route.
The company on Tuesday launched the electric version of its international
Kona crossover for Rs 25.30 lakh. We drive it at BIC: a circuit designed to host the pinnacle of internal combustion technology - Formula 1. There is more than a little irony here. Design: Exterior & Interior
The Kona Electric is a clear departure from futuristic-looking electric vehicles in the sense that it looks like a ‘normal’ car. The only feature that gives away its secret is the missing grill upfront, which now gets a cap for the charging socket. Dimensionally it is a little bigger than Hyundai’s Elite i20 and smaller than the Creta. The design language remains familiar though. Sharp double creases on the hood combined with the sleek, high-set daytime running lamps make the front seem wider. The projector headlamps are housed lower on the bumper, like is the current trend with most SUVs and while the grill is missing, Hyundai has retained the familiar cascading waterfall grill design on the bumper. The profile is a classic crossover with thick black cladding over the wheel arches, which are wide but restrained.
Creases running along with the doors on the bottom and the shoulder line round out the design. At the rear, it’s an easy guess that this is a Hyundai. The tail lamps, while sleeker than the i20, are a similar design that carries inwards over the boot and tapers towards the centre. A separate cluster on the bumper houses the turn signals and the reversing light.
The ‘normal’ theme carries forward once you step inside the car as well. No beige here though. The plastics and the leather upholstery are finished in black. The dashboard is soft touch in places and so are the door pads. The leather-wrapped steering wheel has controls for telephony, cruise control and the instrument cluster, while the brushed aluminium centre fascia gets controls for air-conditioning. While the interior of the car has little to complain about, there is nothing to write home about either. If you’re in the market for a 25 lakh rupee car, the interior might seem a bit underwhelming.
Also: Catch the glimpse of Hyundai's first electric SUV, Kona Creature Comforts
But what the Kona Electric misses out in opulence, it makes up for in features. The outside rearview mirrors are heated, the driver seat is adjustable 10 ways with lumbar support and the front seats get ventilation and heating functions. Infotainment duties are handled by a responsive 17.77 cm touchscreen which gets Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The instrument cluster is digital and Hyundai have thrown in wireless phone charging for good measure too. There’s only one variant on offer and it gets a sunroof as well.
The Driving Experience
So while the styling may or may not be up for debate, it’s impossible not to be excited about the launch of a ‘proper’ electric vehicle, especially one that comes with an ARAI-certified range of 452 kilometers on a single charge. To add to the excitement is the chance to take it through its paces on the best circuit in the country.
The Kona Electric is powered by a 39.2 kWh lithium-ion battery pack which allows the motor to make 136 PS of power and 395 NM of torque. Starting the car is my first and unusually silent handshake with the future of mobility. Thumb the starter and the instrument cluster lights up. It's the only indication you get that the car is ready to go. So I press ‘D’ on the centre console and select one of the three modes (eco/eco+, comfort and sport). Since we’re on a circuit, I thought it most reverent to proceed in ‘sport.’ So while the official 0-100 kmph time is 9.7 seconds, nothing prepares you for the instant acceleration when you press the accelerator pedal. It’s like turning on a switch. One moment you’re at standstill, the next moment you’re going. There is no time spent combusting an air-fuel mixture and waiting for an explosion to push down a piston to rotate the crank and provide power to the wheels. It's instant, like switching on a bulb! Beyond that, however, acceleration is linear and it’s easy to cross 150-160 kmph.
A racetrack is limiting in how much you can really tell about ride comfort but the steering is direct and body roll is well contained. So dynamically the Kona Electric is sorted and is a decent amount of fun to drive. In fact, coming out of corners, when you floor the pedal the tyres give a little chirrup and you feel your weight transfer into the seatback. Always a good feeling for enthusiastic drivers.
The transmission is a single-speed reduction gear which means you don’t have to shift gears at all. However, there are paddle shifters placed in front of the steering wheel. Their function is to control the three-stage regenerative braking. So on stage 1, the car becomes a little sluggish as the regeneration comes on and on the highest setting, the regeneration is good enough to serve as brakes when you lift off the accelerator pedal. In the bargain, the car is able to extend the range while driving.
The car gets disc brakes on all wheels and 6 airbags are standard. This includes driver, passenger, front side and curtain airbags. There is also a Vehicle Stability Management System along with Electronic Stability Control and Hill-Start Assist Control. Intuitively, the Kona Electric also incorporates a Virtual.
Engine Sound System that mimics the sound of an engine to ensure pedestrian safety. So thumbs up to Hyundai on that one, because those of us who won’t be buying one will perhaps at some point be coming in the way.
That brings us to the most important aspect of driving an electric car. Charging it. In this case, there are three different types of chargers available for Kona Electric. A 50 kW DC Quick Charger that can charge the battery up to 80 percent in 57 minutes. Hyundai is working with Indian Oil Corp to have these installed at existing fuel stations. These will also be installed at Hyundai’s dealerships and service centres. For home & office use, the company will provide consumers with two chargers. One is a 7.2 kW AC Wall Box Charger that takes 6 hours and 10 minutes for a full charge. The second is a 2.8 kW portable charger that can be plugged into a regular wall socket. This one will take 19 hours for a full charge.
That brings me to my overall first impression. The Hyundai Kona Electric is a good bridge between the old world and the new. It doesn’t shock the senses into accepting change. It looks like a regular car from the outside and inside, it drives well and with the claimed range manages to allay range anxiety significantly. Doing office to home commutes should mean charging it once or maybe twice a week. The sticking point with EVs though currently is price. Despite relief in the budget, which has introduced proposals that can help a buyer shave off a couple of lakhs from the original price, it still remains a pricey proposition.