A late entry, but worth the wait.
The Hyundai Kona is the Korean firm’s late entry into the hotly-contested compact-SUV segment, and on paper, it might just be one of the best. It actually offers all-wheel drive for one (which can’t be said for a lot of the jumped-up hatchbacks in this space), and promises an eye-catching and distinctive design that is matched only by its dynamic ability. The Kona might be the first of the breed for Hyundai, but it appears that the time it didn’t spend competing with some sub-par offering has been spent honing the Kona into something truly promising.
Available in Active, Active with Safety Pack, Elite, and Highlander trims, with no less than two engines and two drivetrain options, there’s a Kona for everyone, from the active-lifestyle wannabe to the actually-active types who want a stylish, funky SUV to keep them company. And against stoic competitors like the Honda HR-V and Nissan Qashqai, as well as fellow ‘individualists’ like the Toyota C-HR and Citroen C4 Cactus, can the newcomer carve a space for itself in this crowded segment?
“The Kona is another example of boundary-pushing design.” — CarsGuide
The Kona’s design is not just a breath of fresh air for Hyundai, it’s a breath of fresh air for the segment. There may be a whole lot of fresh contenders here, but the Kona’s the freshest of the lot. The fascia is particularly distinctive with its dual-tier lighting (like the Citroen C4 Cactus and the Jeep Cherokee), while intelligent use of black body cladding ensures that the Kona looks the compact-SUV part. At the rear there’s a lighting arrangement that echoes the front, along with pseudo bash-plates to complete the look.
It might not be as suave as the Mazda CX-3, as stoic as the Honda HR-V, or as French as the Citroen C4 Cactus, but it definitely has its place in the segment.
The higher up the food chain you go the better looking the Kona becomes, with the Highlander we’ve got photographed here looking the smartest of the lot, with its big wheels and sharp details. We quite like the inboard front fog lights, neatly integrated into the front ‘bash plate’ (which sort of illustrates how little bashing it expects to endure), as well as the use of black body cladding, which somehow don’t look that tasteless here.
Engine & Drivetrain
Australian buyers get a choice of two engines, both of them petrol. Each unit gets its own gearbox and drivetrain, as well as unique rear suspension (seriously). So choosing between the two may not be quite as easy as looking at the bottom line.
The range kicks off with a 2.0-litre atmospheric petrol engine, which produces an adequate 110kW and 180Nm. This engine sends power exclusively to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic, which is slick and unobtrusive in its operation. This engine is adequate and sufficient for the Kona, and is claimed to consume just 7.2L/100km on the combined cycle.
Splash a little more cash and you can get a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol mill, which puts out a far more substantial 130kW and 265Nm. This engine sends power to all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, which is incredibly quick-witted and responsive, not quite unlike similar units from the Volkswagen Group. Anyway, the turbo petrol motor is claimed to consume just 6.7L/100km on the combined cycle, which suggests that while it might cost more to buy, it might turn out to be the better companion if you do lots of miles.
The cabin of the Kona might seem a little familiar if you’ve spent time in a modern Hyundai recently, but that’s no bad thing. There’s a tablet infotainment screen sitting atop the dashboard, with all major controls placed in easy reach of the driver. Cool design flourishes can be found around the cabin like body-coloured trim around the air-conditioner vents, the gear lever later, as well as contrast piping on the leather seats (where specified).
It’s not all cheap and less-than-cheerful, the seats are comfy, and the high-quality materials that are employed are used well. It feels almost Volkswagen-ey in here. Almost.
Behind the Wheel
“The Kona is a surprisingly well-rounded vehicle to drive.” — Motoring
Hyundai’s been on quite a roll lately as far as driving dynamics and suspension tuning is concerned (one of the benefits of hiring someone from a leading Bavarian marque), and the Kona is evidence of it. Despite being based on chassis of the i30 hatch, the Kona’s appeal isn’t limited to either variant. The atmospheric unit displayed a smooth, refined character, and proved itself to be a pretty decent companion if all you need is front-wheel drive.
But the real party piece here is the all-wheel drive, turbocharged variant. The 1.6-litre turbo’s 130kW is easily felt, with its 265Nm of torque putting it well, well ahead of competitors like the Toyota C-HR and Honda HR-V. The dual-clutch automatic is snappy and responsive, and is capable of delivering giggles very easily, keeping the turbo mill in its sweet spot with deftness. Settle into a cruise and you’ll like it even more, as it makes overtaking an absolute doddle.
Safety & Technology
“There’s stacks of standard equipment.” — WhichCar
While the Highlander may appeal in terms of sheer flash value, there’s joy to be found across the Kona range. Standard kit includes things like smartphone mirroring, rear-view camera, automatic headlights, a touchscreen infotainment screen, and leather around the steering wheel and the gear knob. There is also cruise control here too, which will prove to be invaluable on a long-distance drive.
Of course, getting a top-spec car brings its boons. Qi wireless phone charging gets added, as do heated & ventilated seats, a heads-up display, 18-inch alloy wheels, and LED headlights.
What’s not so great is how the base-level Active models don’t get autonomous emergency braking; You will need to pay $1500 to get it bundled into a ‘Safety Pack’ which at least offers folding mirrors to the equation too. There is also the omission of satellite navigation across the range, though Hyundai argues that the younger buyer it’s targeting will easily master smartphone mirroring and not miss native sat-nav at all.
The Hyundai Kona is definitely fashionably late (where the Volkswagen T-Roc is going to just be late-late), and it’s making a grand entrance onto the scene. Being the very first Hyundai duking it out without a distinct price advantage, it’s a good car for Hyundai to test its brand cache among buyers, as the new Kona is a good car full stop, rather than just ‘good for a Hyundai.’
It’s got an enormous breadth of ability, the right powertrain options, great practicality for stuff and plenty of room for people, as well as a generous list of standard equipment all across the range. And when you add that to its distinctive styling, positive drive, and great refinement, it’s hard to fault the Kona for what it is. Truly, it’s clear that Hyundai’s engineers really were keeping an eye on the competition and learning from them, because this Kona has the sort of resolute-ness to it that you’d usually expect of a car in its second-generation, not something that’s breaking new ground.
It’s an impressive job that Hyundai’s pulled off here, and if the Kona’s any indication, the future for Hyundai’s little crossover is very, very bright indeed.
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