Hyundai may not hold the distinction of being an ‘early adopter’ when it comes to urban SUVs, having dipped a toe in the water with the original Tucson but since retreating to the safety of the popular medium SUV class.
Times have changed though, and the baby SUV category is a hotbed of activity, leading Hyundai to come up with the colourful new Kona. A position that Hyundai Australia chief executive JW Lee sees as an advantage for the brand.
“We have been able to observe the market closely and observe our customers and bring something great to the segment.” Lee said at the launch of the Kona in Canberra recently. So while other brands may have a head start in the small SUV market, Hyundai is confident it arrives with an upper hand.
Vehicle Style: Small SUV
Price: $24,500 - $36,000 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 110kW/180Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl petrol, 130kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbo petrol | 7spd automatic, 7spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.7-7.2 l/100km
Hyundai faces an uphill battle to win over customers from current favourites. The Mitsubishi ASX was one of the first city-sized SUVs, and remains a best-seller alongside the Mazda CX-3 which quickly asserted its popularity with Australian buyers following its launch in 2015.
Hyundai hopes to make a strong first impression with the Kona, helped by its bold styling. While Mazda opted for a ‘mini CX-5’ look for the CX-3 and Toyota turned up the funk for its C-HR, Hyundai has gone down the path of a more rugged look.
The range has been kept relatively simple, with three trim levels: Active, Elite, and Highlander each available with a choice of either 2.0-litre naturally aspirated or 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engines with a six-speed auto driving the front wheels, or 7-speed dual-clutch and all wheel drive respectively.
Pricing starts from $24,500 plus on-road costs, positioning the Kona a little higher than a base CX-3 with the flagship Kona Highlander turbo topping out at $36,000 (plus on-roads)
- Active: Cloth seat trim, leather steering wheel, trip computer, dusk-sensing headlights cruise control, 16-inch alloy wheels
- Elite: Leather seat trim, single-zone climate control, rain sensing wipers, keyless entry and start, rear privacy tint, 17-inch alloy wheels
- Highlander: Red or yellow contrasting seatbelts, heated and ventilated front seats with electric adjustment, heated steering wheel, LED headlights, wireless mobile charge pad, 18-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch touchscreen, AM/FM radio, Bluetooth connectivity, Apple Carplay and Android Auto compatibility, USB and Aux input, six-speaker audio
- Cargo Volume: 361 litres to rear seats, 1143 litres to front seats
While it may be bold on the outside, the Kona is more traditional on the inside, looking similar to the i30 but with bright highlights used to convey a sense of fun in Highlander models.
Beneath the surface the Kona shares its underpinnings with the newly developed i30 hatch. Overall the Kona is a substantial 175mm shorter from nose to tail than the i30, but the wheelbase has been trimmed by only 50mm, resulting in impressive interior packaging.
Room in the front and rear is excellent for a compact SUV. The back seats can accommodate an adult in relative comfort, not something all vehicles in this segment can claim.
Cargo space is accounted for by a respectable 361 litres of capacity accessed through a wide but not particularly deep boot.
Standard kit in the Kona Active includes 16-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, auto headlights, a 7.0-inch touchscreen compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a leather trimmed steering wheel and 3.5-inch digital instrument display.
The Elite adds extras like 17-inch alloy wheels, leather trimmed upholstery, keyless entry and ignition, front fog lights, auto wipers in addition to the Active’s equipment.
As the flagship, the Highlander variant brings 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and taillights, front LED indicators, auto high beam, head-up display, ventilated and heated front seats, heated steering wheel, wireless device charging and a 4.2-inch digital instrument display systems also feature.
Full details of price and specification for each model can be found here.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 110kW/180Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol, 130kW/265Nm 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front wheel drive (2.0-litre) or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, all wheel drive (1.6-litre turbo)
- Suspension: Macpherson strut front, torsion beam rear (2.0-litre) or multilink independent rear (1.6-litre turbo)
- Brakes: 280mm ventilated front discs, 262mm solid rear discs (2.0-litre), 305mm ventilated front discs, 284mm solid rear discs (1.6-litre turbo)
- Steering: Electric power steering, 10.6m turning circle
- Towing Capacity: 1300kg braked (2.0-litre), 1250kg braked (1.6-litre turbo), 600kg unbraked, 130kg towball load
With two available engines the Kona adopts two distinct personalities depending on whether you opt for the basic 2.0-litre powerplant with 110kW and 180Nm outputs, or the more powerful 1.6-litre turbo with 130kW and 265Nm.
The 2.0-litre is matched to a six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive, while the 1.6-litre has a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic and all-wheel drive.
To further differentiate the two, 2.0-litre models get a torsion beam rear suspension set-up, while the turbocharged models get a more sophisticated multi-link rear end.
The more popular of the two is expected to be the 2.0-litre version, so we started our test drive in it.
A Canberra-based test loop had us tackle some of the most twisting and challenging roads in the region. Despite the company’s typical local suspension tuning efforts, the base model Kona didn’t feel at home on the fast, flowing roads.
The engine tended to labour up the climbs, with its gearbox rushing to taller gears to help fuel economy, only to drop back down through the ratios to assess optimum engine performance.
However, around town, the 2.0-litre feels well suited to the role of an urban runabout. There’s decent performance off the mark and the traditional torque converter automatic shifts smoothly.
The simpler rear suspension set-up feels fine at low speeds but out on faster open roads it was often unsettled by repeated bumps and occasionally crashed in larger ones. By contrast, the 1.6-litre turbo models with multi-link rear suspension feel nicer and more controlled on all varieties of road.
ANCAP Rating: The Hyundai Kona has yet to be rated by ANCAP
Safety Features: All Kona variants are equipped with six airbags (dual front, front seat side, full-length curtain), electronic stability and traction control, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, tyre pressure monitoring, rear park sensors, and a rear view camera.
The Kona Active can be optioned with a $1500 Safety Pack which adds autonomous emergency braking with forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist and driver attention warning - features that are standard on the Elite and Highlander.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Bold styling defines the Toyota C-HR, though the swoopy styling is a long way from the Kona’s polarising cladding. Beneath the surface is a small 1.2 litre turbo engine that’s good, but had its work cut out for it, dynamics are great, but passenger accommodation isn’t.
Blurring the line between hatchback and SUV, the Subaru XV is safer and more spacious than before, though the engine could do with more poke to make it an easier day-to-day proposition.
Who needs bold styling when you have Australia’s best-selling small SUV? Mitsubishi certainly doesn’t break new boundaries with its ASX but value pricing ensures it continues to top sales charts locally.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
While the Kona's looks will polarise opinions, there’s no question Hyundai's contender is one of the best-packaged options in the baby SUV market, with a generous cabin, particularly in the back seats.
So which is the pick of the rather complex line-up? The Elite offers the best value in terms of equipment, both creature comforts and safety, and the 1.6-litre powertrain is the better choice if you plan on doing a lot of country driving. But for around town the 2.0-litre is more than up to the job.
A unique sense of style could keep Hyundai from toppling the very best sellers in the small SUV segment, but the Kona packs in enough substance to pose a serious threat to its established competitors.
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