Electric vehicles (EVs) are an increasingly viable prospect for people in the UK. With zero emissions and therefore no tax, plus a government grant to offset the purchase price and a fraction of traditional fuel costs, there's a whole lot to like.
For 2018 we might have the most broadly appealing electric vehicle to date: the Hyundai Kona Electric. This soft-SUV offers bags of space, good range from its on-board batteries, a fairly capable tech suite, and doesn't cost the earth either.
With its sub-£25,000 asking price (which includes the maximum £4,500 government incentive off the asking price), it's a few grand more than its petrol and diesel equivalents, but crucially it's less cash than a Nissan Leaf (its biggest competitor, albeit a smaller-scale car).
All that in mind, despite the Kona Electric not having Jaguar i-Pace premium appeal, Hyundai's sensible price point makes it an electric prospect for the people. Indeed, is it the best electric car to buy?
To look at the Kona Electric is a striking, quirky, futuristic-looking crossover. Its snub nose, slitted headlights and patterned grille all look great, as does the EV-exclusive paint job, pictured here.
For an affordable car it makes quite the statement. The Kona looks like a future vehicle, just different enough from its petrol/diesel Kona cousins thanks to that closed front grille. Although this grille and its patterning look a bit plasticky, it's this feature which defines this EV's very essence.
The rear, with its wave-shaped bumper, is a little less expressive than its petrol/deisel cousins' finish; less aggressive in a way, which is fitting of its eco-focus.
The interior is finished in a blue/grey for the Electric model (or there's black instead), which keeps the inside feeling light and airy. There's space for cups, keys, phones and extras - even a USB to plug-in for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto (also standard fit).
It's a spacious cabin too, with ample room for driver and passenger, plus about enough legroom and head space for rear passengers - which is a good job given EVs' batteries typically causing space limitations. Taller adult passengers to the rear won't have heaps of legroom, but for a family of four this space is an ideal overall fit.
It's comfortable too, with cushy seats that are both heated and cooled up front, ensuring temperature matching whatever the weather is outside. Electrically adjustable seats are a wink and a nod to this all-electric car's image, not to mention a feature usually reserved for premium options packs. There's no giant centre console in the way, as per the Hyundai Nexo hydrogen fuel cell (FCEV), so nothing to get in the way of resting legs and knees.
The four-button autobox layout, which takes up the space of a traditional gear level, is questionable though. Its plasticky buttons and general illogical use of space aren't appealing on the eye. Which is the general sentiment about the materials used elsewhere: the interior panels are of differing textures, which don't all perfectly mate with one another to our eyes, and are a fary cry from premium. But then the Kona Electric isn't about premium, it's about affordable, which it perfectly pitches with its interior cabin arrangement.
Tech and safety
Given its price point the Kona Electric comes with a solid tech suite, but it lacks the futuristic flair of its exterior. It's a contentious point we made with the earlier petrol model: the way the screen sticks out of the dash, the Windows 98-style graphics icons, the lack of colour use, it's a far cry from the car of the future that the Electric represents.
That said, the hands-on approach to using the tech works fairly well. The 8-inch touchscreen is responsive when needed, while physical buttons and dials are clearly marked (although the second column to the passenger side are a little too far for comfortable driver's reach) and easy to use. It's not pretty but it's functional, minus the faff of many recent in-car systems' all-touch setups.
Plus there's a lot of tech as standard. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come as standard, so if you wish to tether your phone then all navigation, music, contacts and phone calls can be handled from the one place, by voice commands if you wish. If you prefer not to use your phone then the standard navigation system works well, there's a combination of FM/DAB radio, and the Krell soundsystem is rather beefy for a car of this type. Good job.
Where things step into a far more futuristic outlay is with the on-board safety equipment. There's adaptive cruise control with auto-braking, there's lane keep assist, blind spot warning, a reversing camera, and high beam assist. That's a lot of kit, the likes of which would cost thousands of pounds in, say, an Audi or BMW. Not so with the Hyundai, which makes it extra good value.
Drive and range
As electric vehicles are relatively new, some people still think they're likely to be milk float-like in their inability. But that's not the case at all: the Kona Electric is swift off the mark, its electric motor delivering 150kW (a 204hp equivalent) for a 0-62mph time of 7.6 seconds. Its in the initial part of pulling away that the high torque and rapid response can be really felt. Pop the car into its Sports mode and its suitably rapid - yet near silent.
Driving an electric car isn't quite the same as a standard automatic, because the use of regenerative braking helps push energy back into the battery for greater economy and range potential. In the Kona this is available in a three-step system, which can be adjusted between levels using the paddles on the steering wheel. The higher the level, the more the car will brake when you take your foot off the gas. And as the car can fully stop without using the brake pedal (the left paddle can be used as the fourth level, to control the brake, if you want), it's like a one pedal driving experience.
In terms of driving dynamics, this is a crossover SUV, so don't expect the tightest cornering. But with ample pep under its belt, the Kona handles remarkably well and is easier and more fun to drive than many middling petrol/diesel SUVs out there. The electric aspect of the drive doesn't hinder it in any way - if anything it improves the dynamism for the better.
However, as ever with an electric vehicle, there is range anxiety to be considered. The Kona EV comes in two flavours to help fit different types of buyers: there's a 39.2kWh battery (said to run 194 miles per charge); and a pricier 64kWh battery (said to run 300 miles per charge), known as the range-extended model.
So how accurate are these figures? Well, the driver's cluster computer of our range-extended Kona Electric was showing 278 miles available on the battery, but after a 26 mile drive that remaining figure had dipped to 245 miles. That's seven miles more than the quota. Based on that, we'd estimate the range-extended Kona's 300 miles per charge is more likely to be 220 miles maximum in real-world conditions. The standard model's 194 miles per charge is more likely to be 140 miles. Still good innings, just not as lofty high as listed.
Fortunately an electric vehicle means there's a lot of ways to charge: the CCS Type 2 port at the front of the car means 0-80 per cent recharge in 54 minutes (75mins for the range-extended model). It's obviously a lot slower using a three-pin plug at home, but you can do that no problems for overnight charging. Or you can have a charging station installed at your home, again with a government incentive grant, for speedier top-ups.
Overall, the Hyundai Kona Electric's sensible price, savvy spec, accessible tech, easy drive and decent range make it the everyman's electric vehicle.
In a world where the Nissan Leaf has been dominating, the Hyundai's larger-scale crossover design and more striking looks appeal. Sure, the Kona Electric can't match the Jaguar i-Pace for premium quality, but that's why the Hyundai is such a good fit: it's accessible for the many, not the few.
A better-yet range and a little extra polishing of in-car tech and finish would see the Kona Electric as a near-perfect family crossover - and not just for those seeking an electric vehicle specifically, but anyone looking for a stylish and capable crossover. It's very impressive indeed.
The Leaf offers a similar range in a different five-door format and is a very capable vehicle indeed. It's a little pricier than the Kona Electric, however, and less visually striking, which arguably puts Hyundai onto a competitive winner...