Since the day that Hyundai’s Kona Electric joined the TG Garage about two months ago, I’ve wanted to poke around it. Electric vehicles, huh? There was a time when buying an automatic transmission over stick shifts would be considered a felony, but today, we have electric motors powering your set of wheels, with single running gear. Unimaginable. Yet, times have progressed. The government has incentivized buying those green tags and charging stations are being erected in localities, increasing their presence around. While the rest of us are still hating them, these whining torquey things are busy waging a ‘silent’ war against those beautifully vocal V8s.
Those were some of my strong emotions before hopping into the Kona. Usually, I would judge my ride by the smile on its face but the Kona – it doesn’t smile at all. There’s no grille, it’s legit the poker face of the automotive world. Those small plusses on the face combined with the sleek DRLs sitting up top certify it as a non-tailpipe vehicle and trust me, the number of second glances that the Kona scores are just tremendous. It’s way more than an understated Audi or an X3M that looks exactly like the X3. With more badges and a kit of course. But for the general audience on the street, those things are non-existent.
If those many heads can be snapped, there must be something about EVs I reckon. But that’s not the biggest concern here. It’s the change in propulsion and limited infrastructure that’s more worrying – say hello to range anxiety. Not so much of a worry if you drive to work and back with that occasional drive to the supermarket. It gets real when there’s a long weekend approaching and you are finalizing the plan. Can I drive that far? Will I be able to charge it on the way? What if I can’t plug in my EV? Should I even buy one?
Having acquired the car for two days, I decided to answer these questions once and for all. With the initial plan of my feature story being based around Mumbai, I debated on the storyline and decided to drive it further and stretch the Kona’s legs on some roads she hasn’t seen. No, not the Spiti Valley (that’s coming up sometime soon) but Alibaug. Okay, folks, this isn’t the most beautiful coastal town of Konkan and neither are the roads charming but it’s well within my calculative range of back and forth commute and if things went south, I could always hop on the ro-ro ferry. Smart, am I not?
Here are my calculations. Although the claimed range on the Kona Electric is slated at 452kms, that’s with regenerative braking accounted for, along with some light accelerator inputs, real-world usable figures are a constant, charge after charge 360km that drops down to 316km once you switch on the AC and account for a bit of spirited driving. Round that up and we have 300kms on the clock, and our destination measures 102kms one way. Plus 50 extra km if I get a little lost and reroute, and an additional 50 km to savour once I get back. Quite precise? In my defence, I left a good margin for those unforeseen events and this was my first time venturing out in an EV, far away from any charging stations, into the wild. Let’s not get too ambitious!
The first day of acquiring the Kona, I drove it home with around 47 per cent charge left. First things first, the car had to be plugged in and luckily due to my first-floor apartment, I was able to make use of the portable charger that’s packed along with it. The drawback? Charging the batteries through a home equipped 16A socket takes ages – around 10 hours to juice it up from how much I had remaining. So that’s technically one day off my time with it. And that was a bummer.
Yet, I found myself looking at those indicative lights go green, admiring how flexible yet rigid the charging cable was, appreciating the thoughtfulness of letting you switch on the air-con and lock yourself inside the car while it’s being charged, in case you need to wait at a charging station. You can run all your electricals and that’s bliss. Am I being too excited about trivial things?
Something rather interesting – the user manual for the Kona. It’s comprehensive and that’s evident by the number of pages it has. Gained tremendous knowledge on do-hows of EVs and one thing in particular that amused me, the VESS button just under the traction control switch. Virtual Electric Sound System – a speaker to make some noises for pedestrian safety. It makes the Kona Electric sound whiner than it is and thus was switched off for the most parts by someone who appreciates pedestrians. And their safety. Utmost important.
Simultaneously, I picked up the phone and called our resident photographer Aakash to discuss a few shots. Should have seen his excitement disappear when he figured our short-trip was to be done in an EV. Still, happy with the fact that he gets to escape the city limits and enjoy a road trip, we jotted down a plan within 20 minutes. A light dinner amidst the boiling excitement, a quick check on the charging status and a few other vitals before heading off to bed.
The charge to a 100 per cent was done overnight and the charger automatically disconnected from the car, as I found out early in the morning. The Kona was ready before I could head out, as my morning rituals took two hours. Range anxiety was the highlight of all emotions and to counter that I thought of masking the indicative km. But what if that turns out to go wrong? Keeping aside any further reckless thoughts, I packed in my workstation and set off to pick Aakash. It’s a minor detour and that helped counter the fear of running out of charge. While the Kona has plenty of performance on offer thanks to that instant torque available, I toned down the pace by a few notches to maximize efficiency. And the progress was recorded real-time; the distance of 19 km was covered by consuming 15kms worth of battery power. Nice!
The chap was instructed to not keep me waiting and he sure didn’t. We quickly clubbed and started making progress. To keep this as realistic as possible we passed through the morning rush hour, our air conditioning was switched on, the ventilated seats were keeping our backs cooled and we advanced with the traffic’s speed, merging our environmental friendliness neatly amongst the sea of polluting dirtbags. Well, I’m on this side of the line so making the most of it.
Driving an EV and extracting the best range requires a technique of its own. Your basics remain the same but what makes a hell lot of a difference is the braking style and the regenerative braking. While the combination of the two gains quite a bit, long‐pressing the negative paddle will brake the Kona, slowing it down without pressing the pedal. It involves predictive driving and systematic etiquettes, something that is seldom found in India.
Keeping aside the fear of ‘what if’, Aakash and I got talking about how quiet and smooth our ride was. It’s a feeling that takes some time to sink in. It’s not as delightful as a roaring V8 but it’s not unpleasant and that works. We stopped to grab some travel-time munchies and found out yet another benefit of the Kona – a shift by wire gear selector and an e-handbrake gives an incredibly large storage space under the central console. It’s nice and wide and Hyundai has also provided two power outlets to neatly stow away your cables. Instead, we decorated it with our packets of chips and biscuits while our soda cans took the spots above.
A quick toggle around the screens showed us how much battery has been consumed – 22 per cent just after the ghats that enter into Alibaug. That’s impressive, and this is when I gained full control of my anxiety and started trusting the Kona. Its indicative km are accurate, precise and the system won’t fluctuate to give you some crazy readouts. With plenty more electrons to make use of, I decided to drive the EV a bit more enthusiastically on these narrow roads of Alibaug leading to Mandwa.
The inherent benefit of driving an EV is its low centre of gravity, thanks to the battery pack that’s packed under the floor. It’s noticeable and makes the driving experience more enjoyable. If only the steering feedback would have been better! Also, the higher floor means reduced cabin space and that could be a concern while travelling with four adults (driver included). But this isn’t part of today’s agenda, it’s spending 12 hours with an EV that sounds like a sad robot and let’s leave it to that.
Another few kilometres and voila, the Kona makes it to the beach! Surprisingly, the skies were clearer than usual and the Mumbai horizon was visible from there, something that I had never encountered before. The beach was breezy and cold, making it all the more pleasant. Under the palm trees was the Kona, admiring the picturesque view along with the two of us who had settled in watch nature orchestrate a beautiful sunset over the golden sand. All that while I was wondering about the future of mobility; the change that seems inevitable.Just like many new norms, be it getting accustomed to wearing a mask or switching from Microsoft Excel to Google Sheets, no matter how small the change is, we tend to slack and criticise newer processes because many of us fear to leave the comfort zones that we are in. While many can be left as a choice boiling down to individual preferences, some require community initiative for the betterment of our generation, and also the ones to come. And the feeling kept sinking in stronger as my soul was enjoying the calm and quiet. I wonder how much further I could have seen that day, from that same yellow bench, had we not polluted our skies to such an extent. Something to think upon, right?
Be it electric vehicles or hydrogen cells or even cleaner and more efficient ICE (internal combustion engines), we certainly need to pay heed to the technology that’s powering mobility. As an automobile journalist I tend to enjoy the destinations and experiences as much as the time behind the wheel, and the more scenic locations we have access to add to the reasons I have to drive. Is Li-Ion the future? I’m not entirely sure, given the allegations on its manufacturing and recycling processes. I believe EVs and other alternate propulsions are here to co-exist along with the traditional ones. This will certainly aid in healing Nature while allowing us to enjoy the best of everything. While I was engrossed in all these thoughts, the fireball came closer to the horizon while Aakash managed to capture those beautiful moments through his lens.
Having our souls nourished by those natural elements, it was time to head back to Mumbai. With newfound positivity towards EVs, I found myself in a happier spot than expected, something I didn’t foresee when I left my house in the morning. This was made possible by the silent yet thrilling Kona Electric. With a promising range to kill those anxieties and the package to appeal to many, it has made me believe in batteries more than ever. Now, to deal with the bigger scenario, the charging infrastructure in India. Something that we could think about on another beach, next to another car, right? It’s a beautiful world out there, let’s keep it that way!