My time with the Hyundai Kona Electric sums up perfectly everything that is right and everything that is wrong about our attempt to decarbonise road transport, ie go electric.
First, the Kona Electric is a fine piece of engineering. It’s a pure electric, battery-powered-only machine – there are petrol and hybrid versions on sale, but this one is the real green deal, so to speak. How far it will go on a single charge depends on how you drive it, the weather (colder days and nights are tougher on batteries), and, obviously, the car’s basic design, but I was consistently on a reading of about 280 miles, and there’s no reason why a skilled electric motorist couldn’t get the full 300 miles out of the thing. So a journey from, say, Edinburgh to Birmingham would be pretty much within reach.
Range anxiety, then, should be eased at the wheel of this comfortable and quiet family hatchback. (There is a lower-range but cheaper electric Kona as well, by the way.)
Second, so far as I can see, everything worked, and there is a lot to go right in the top spec premium SE I tried – electrically adjustable heated seats, climate control, a heads-up display, the usual suite of advanced drivers aids, (part) automatic braking, automatic headlights, automatic wipers, automatic transmission, of course – there’s not much left for you to do except sit back and enjoy the ride. As ever in such vehicles, the electric motor provides plenty of low speed acceleration, so much so that if you put your foot down too hard the front wheels will scrabble a bit to cope with all the power being thrown at them. So, yes, it is good (if not great) to drive, and, as I say, it seemed reliable and well put together.
More broadly, electric cars have far fewer moving parts and other componentry to go wrong than their internal combustion engined equivalents – no exhaust or expensive catalytic converter to worry about, no radiators to leak, no alternators to pack up, no oil to change, no filters to replace. Plus the electricity to run it, off your domestic tariff preferably, is far cheaper than filling up with diesel or petrol. So the running costs, depending on the sort of driving you do, will be much cheaper and help offset the higher purchase price – and you get to help save the planet.
Hyundai Kona Electric Premium SE
Price: £31,795 (after £3,500 govt grant)
Motor: Electric ; 1-sp auto; 4-wheel drive
Power output (PS): 204
Battery capacity: 64kWh
Top speed (mph): 104
0-60mph (seconds): 7.5
Fuel economy (mpg): n/a
Range: 280 miles
CO2 emissions (g/km): 0
What’s not to like? Well, as ever, nothing to do with the car as such, but a few other things. While we may make relatively few trips above 300 miles or so, it is also true that humans can be forgetful, and can maybe neglect to plug the car in overnight to get the battery boosted. Or you might be called away suddenly. Or unable to plan ahead. The new concern, then, is that when you arrive at a public charging point it will either not work or be occupied by someone else.
The Kona, like many of the latest generation of electric cars, will take a powerful fast charge – but only if the public charging point is able to “talk” to your car, the app is working OK, your smartphone hasn’t itself run out of charge or cannot get a signal, and so on. Whereas you can roll into any petrol station and be fairly sure that you’ll find some fuel, the same cannot yet be said for every public charging point.
As I say, for most electric car users they should only need to call on such stops rarely, but the lack of reliability and the modest scale of the infrastructure does tend to nurture a new form of electric car anxiety. If you’re lumbered with a slower charging point it can take you eight hours to get up to an 80 per cent charge, as opposed to around an hour from a proper fast charger. And you can never be absolutely sure what kind of a wait you’ll be faced with. Spending the best part of a day knocking around a motorway services is, let me vouchsafe to you, purgatorial.
So, no, that’s not a very likeable way to travel, and it will slow our progress to decarbonisation unnecessarily. The stories you may have seen recently about electric cars being able to “fill up” in 10 minutes flat and go on for hundreds of miles are really just about the extremely expensive Tesla, and even then the latest charging technology is not yet proven in mass usage.
The other bit of bad news is that, er, you can’t buy one. Like some other electric models, the Hyundai Kona Electric is sold out. Customers now on the waiting list are being contacted as stock becomes available – from order they are looking at about nine months for delivery. Hyundai say they will be taking orders from the new year, and my advice is to get your name down as soon as possible.
There are many uncertainties about our economic future, but one of the more visible trends is that fossil-fuel motoring and the internal combustion engine are going the way of steam – glorious era in its way, but its time is passing. It would be passing quicker if the world’s great car companies were able to switch from their vast sunk investment in the old technologies and mass-produce electric vehicles instead. They could do with a bit of an electric shock treatment.