Future Models - Hyundai 2017 Kona
First drive: Hyundai plugs SUV gap with Kona
Pineapple pizza: Named after a region in Hawaii, Hyundai is hoping its Kona will make a big impact in Australia’s hotly contested small SUV segment.
Hyundai’s new wave of SUVs starts with the long-awaited small Kona crossover
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19 June 2017
HYUNDAI has finally plugged a glaring hole in its vehicle line-up with the
all-new Kona small crossover that – upon its arrival in September – will launch
into a fiercely competitive segment dominated by the Mazda CX-3 and Mitsubishi
The appetite for high-riding wagons of all spec levels and price points seems
to be insatiable and, as the South Korean auto giant makes strides towards its
goal of being the world’s number-one car-maker, its presence in more markets
and more segments has exposed its Achilles heel – it simply does not currently
have a depth of product in the SUV sector.
While it has a small SUV in other markets, namely the Creta in India and China,
it has not been built to meet the stringent safety standards of North America,
Europe and Asia-Pacific.
For a few years now, Hyundai Motor Company (HMC) has been working double-time
on a replacement, and the company’s vice chairman Euisun Chung last week
acknowledged that the Kona was certainly the last to the luau. (Kona is, after
all, named after a region in Hawaii.)
“We are late to the segment so we needed excellence in our product,” Mr Chung
told a packed house of the world’s automotive media in Seoul. “We focused on
safety, performance and connectivity, and our aim is to be the best in all
categories in all regions, especially in safety.”
The result is the Kona, a small SUV that will, at 4165mm in overall length,
measure up as being one of the shortest in a class populated by the likes of
the Mazda CX-3, Mitsubishi ASX, Subaru XV and Nissan’s double act of the
Qashqai and Juke.
The platform that underpins the Kona is the subject of some conjecture, with
Hyundai claiming it to be both “all-new” and “optimised” at the same time. Its
crucial numbers – like its suspension hard mounting points, for instance – are
shared with the new PD i30 platform as well, leading us to believe that the two
platforms were, at the very least, worked on side-by-side.
It’s not exactly the same, though, with an extra 50mm in the wheelbase over the
i30 to maximise the interior space, and extensive reworking of the underside
packaging to make room for the all-wheel-drive system from the Tucson. In fact,
a stretched version is very likely to underpin the next generation of Hyundai’s
Under the Kona, though, the platform results in a tall, quite boxy creature
with astonishing amounts of headroom both front and back. The dash is
reminiscent of the i30, but it sits taller, narrowing the view through the
windscreen across the bluff nose.
There is plenty of space up front for driver and passenger, but it is
surprisingly tight in the rear seat if the front chairs are mounted even a
little further back than centre.
A high waist and darkened interior treatment also adds to a sense that the rear
is not as large as expected from a car claiming to have “class-leading”
It will comfortably outdo a CX-3, but the ASX and Honda’s HR-V are likely to be
larger in the rear.
Our Korean-based test cars were pre-production left-hand-drive examples in a
variety of specification options, while our very brief test drive utilised an
all-wheel-drive, seven-speed dual-clutch-equipped 1.6-litre turbocharged model
of the variety we’ll see in Australia at launch.
No power figures have been offered yet, but given the Kona uses the same engine
tune for the turbo engine as the Tucson, it’s likely to offer the same
130kW/265Nm output. It will also use the same seven-speed dual-clutch
transmission as tested here.
The same engine is also used in cars like the i30 and Elantra SR, but the
Tucson tune focuses on a broader, flatter torque output at the expense of peak
Around an all-too-brief circuit of a handling loop at Hyundai’s enormous
Namyang proving ground, our first impressions of the Kona – offered here only
in a US-market suspension tune – are of a high-riding crossover with an overly
responsive engine and gearbox tune off the line that is most likely the result
of its pre-production status.
Our test vehicle was fully specced, including a version of Hyundai’s latest
full-colour and fully featured heads-up display, all of Hyundai’s Smart Sense
driver aids and new inductive charging pad for most smartphones.
Switching between drive modes is as easy as punching a button next to the
shifter, with Sport and Normal modes on offer. Normal mode quelled the
over-eager gearbox and throttle maps to make the Kona smoother and more
progressive to drive but, as mentioned, the jerkiness and alacrity of the
initial take-off feels more like a final calibration issue than anything more
The concrete and broken tarmac surface of the undulating test loop suits the
softer primary ride characteristics of the softer US suspension pack; it’s not
Cadillac squidgy, by any means, but it’s easy to imagine that the team at
Hyundai Motor Company Australia (HMCA) will offer the taller, higher-riding
Kona with a tune more in keeping with the controlled, slightly firm set-up we
have seen employed on other models.
The Kona’s steering feel is lighter than that of an i30, too, which is a
deliberate ploy on Hyundai’s part.
One downside from the roughhouse road surface is that it sets up an echoey
thrum inside the Kona that is surprisingly intrusive, while wind noise around
the door mirrors is also quite prevalent, even at speeds as low as 70km/h.
While the cars are presented without cladding or disguise, the company insists
that all examples on test are pre-production versions. As well, we barely had
time to change drive modes and adjust mirrors before our test was over.
The Kona will shake its grass skirt on Aussie soil for the first time in
September, and then we’ll be able to get a better handle on how good a fit it
will be in a small SUV market that’s primed to explode over the next 12 months.