What is it?
The Hyundai Kona is the brand’s first direct entry in the bulging small SUV market, and the most style-led design from the Korean brand yet.
Distinctive exterior design, all-wheel-drive option, planned electric power option.
The Hyundai Kona does enough to justify its place amongst the main contenders in the small SUV market but not enough to rise above them. Rivals can offer significantly more boot space and score slightly better in other areas, but the Kona does represent a good-value package with plenty of equipment and a warranty that beats most of its competitors.
For the car industry, 2017 has been all about small SUVs. Right at the end of the year, another is joining a crowded market in the form of the Hyundai Kona.
The Kona sits below the brand’s Tucson SUV and alongside the iX20 compact MPV, and with the buying public seemingly unable to get enough of these small sit-up-and-beg cars right now, this car is expected to become a major seller in the Hyundai line-up.
Problem is, the Hyundai Kona arrives in a market not only traditionally led by the mass-selling Nissan Juke, but bulging with new entries and with yet more on the way. So Hyundai’s recipe to stand out from the crowd appears to be visual presence – the Kona is the most style-focused model from the brand yet.
Extensive black cladding and bold angles on the exterior profile certainly provide the Kona with a distinctive look. Hyundai tells us that like the newly-launched and much-praised i30N performance hatch, the car is designed to appeal to a new section of the market, and move the brand up from those who simply buy cars for the most sensible reasons.
We reckon the Kona’s styling will prove somewhat marmite amongst the buying public, but then again, controversial looks have proven very successful for the Nissan Juke…
Among those many rivals will be the Stonic from sister brand Kia, launched only a few months ahead of the Kona. The two share their engines and much of their technology, but not, as many erroneously believe, their underpinnings. The Kona gets a new platform, which allows it to offer an all-wheel-drive option like few of its rivals, and from next year an all-electric model, like even fewer of its rivals…
Buying and owning a Hyundai Kona
The buyer rushing to snap up a Hyundai Kona at launch will have a simple range from which to choose. There are just two engines, both petrol and of either 1.0 or 1.6-litre capacity. A choice of 1.6 diesels will join the line-up in summer 2018, with the all-electric version to follow.
There are five trim levels – dubbed S, SE and Premium, plus SE and GT versions of the Premium grade. S models get the smallest alloy wheels, at 16 inches, though these do result in better mpg and emissions ratings. Notable standard equipment includes air conditioning, DAB digital radio with Bluetooth, LED daytime running lights, cruise control and electric mirrors and windows.
Biggest sellers are expected to be SE models, costing £1300 more than S. The wheels grow by an inch, while the major additional tech is a seven-inch centre console touchscreen. This allows Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, and also shows the image from the standard fit rear camera and parking sensors.
Style add-ons include roof rails and leather on the steering wheel. Typical of this market personalisation is a major part of the Konda DNA, extending to 10 different metallic body finishes and three contrasting shades for the roof and door mirror housings.
Premium models jump another £1,300 over SE. The wheels expand another inch, a host of extra styling details are added, while more pertinently the tech now includes a bigger touchscreen with satellite navigation, keyless entry and start, climate control, a more upmarket audio system and wireless phone charging.
Spend from £21,195 on a Premium SE and you will be enjoying such niceties at a head-up display, lots of electric tech and leather. Finally there is the range-topping GT, costing from £24,995 and only offered with the larger 1.6-litre engine, a double-clutch auto transmission and all-wheel-drive.
Other notables amongst the GT equipment are full LED headlamps and a digital driver’s display, while it is the only Kona to include the Safety Pack as standard, which effectively means autonomous emergency braking – a £235 option on other versions.
Safety is one area in which the Kona knocks its Kia Stonic sister aside. Both were analysed in the same series of crash tests by safety body Euro NCAP, and while the Stonic needed its optional safety pack to be taken into account to boost its three-star score to a top five-star rating, the Kona scored five stars in standard specification. And this was despite the fact that you generally pay extra for autonomous emergency braking on both cars.
On the other hand the Kona does, like all Hyundais, come with one of the better warranties on the market, extending to five years and with unlimited mileage.
Inside the Hyundai Kona
The driver’s surroundings in a Hyundai Kona are roomy and easy to get comfortable in, with good all-round vision from the elevated seating position that comes with small SUVs.
The interior is not nearly so marmite, except that it is mostly black, with only the accents around such areas as the heating vents adding any contrast. They are finished in one of three colours – orange, lime or red, and these colours are replicated on the stitching of the seats and steering wheel. The personalisation options can also extend to seat belts in lime or red.
Most of the plastic is of reasonable quality, though it drops off the lower down the dashboard one’s eyes scan. However the touchscreen fitted to all but entry-level models is well sited and easy to use, while the switchgear also feels of good quality in use.
The Kona is not so impressive in the rear, and especially the boot. Rear-seat passengers have plentiful headroom but very little ahead of their knees, while the space-saver spare wheel fitted on all but entry-level models severely restricts boot space – while the Kona’s 361 litres is more than in the now somewhat dated Juke, it pales against some rivals – the Citroën C3 Aircross, for example – offering more than 500 litres.
Driving the Hyundai Kona
The Car Expert spent a week in the company of the 1.0-litre 120hp petrol engine that is expected to power the majority of Konas sold. It’s a unit already familiar from the Kia Stonic, and impresses with both its pulling power and refinement.
This is especially true in the low-speed environment of the typical urban crawl. Combined with a slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox (only the top 1.6-litre all-wheel-drive version of the car comes with the twin-clutch automatic transmission) it makes the Kona very easy to live with around town.
Out on the open road, the Kona continues to impress. The ride is slightly firm, but not to a degree that is uncomfortable. Uneven road surfaces are generally dialled out making for undramatic progress.
The lightness of steering touch through slow-speed corners translates to a more weighty but satisfactory effort at higher speeds. The Kona is not a car that has one eagerly awaiting twisty sequences of bends, but it is better than many in the class.
It will be interesting to try the diesels when they come on stream, especially combined with the all-wheel-drive transmission as these models boast a different rear suspension layout, replacing the standard torsion bar with a multi-link setup.
In terms of economy, the 1.0-litre engine proves adequate. It falls behind rivals in both economy and emissions, if not by much. But it is notable that the Stonic, which employs the same engine, will go at least a couple of miles further per gallon while pumping out a couple of grams less CO2, yet also beats the Kona to 62mph by more than two seconds.
Hyundai has done a credible job of creating a small SUV that offers a little distinction in an overcrowded market.
If you need plentiful rear-seat space and a big boot then this will not be the model for you. But if this is less important and you are looking for a solid car with pleasant driving manners, plenty of equipment and a dash of style, then the Hyundai Kona should certainly be on your list of potentials.