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Car reviews - Hyundai - Kona - Active

Our Opinion

We like
Standout design, functional interior, long warranty, ease of operation, wide choice, clever multimedia, secure handling
Room for improvement
No diesel option, bumpy ride, tyre drone, no full-sized spare option, dreary cabin presentation

Gallery

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Hyundai logo1 May 2018

Overview

REMEMBER the Hyundai ix35? It ruled the small SUV roost back before the larger Tucson usurped it – and was promptly promoted to mid-size SUV status – in 2015.

Now, the Korean car-maker is back with the Kona, a stylish and confident response to the top-selling Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V and Mitsubishi ASX. After the impressively mature i30, has Hyundai turned out another class act?

Price and equipment

Sometimes a car (or in this case, SUV) can tick all the right boxes on paper and turn out to be somehow less than the sum of its parts. Case in point: the base Kona, the Active two-wheel-drive automatic.

Sassy in style, with pleasing proportions and a playful, if messy, attitude to detailing, this i30-based crossover screams 2018, especially as Hyundai has also been clever with the pricing.

From $24,500 plus on-road costs, the Active 2WD (that is, front-wheel drive) includes a big 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, six-speed automatic transmission, six airbags, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, cruise control, tyre pressure monitors, automatic headlights, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Hyundai Auto Link (which streams vehicle and driving-related data to a smartphone device), leather-wrapped steering wheel, roof rails, 16-inch alloys and a temporary space-saver spare.

Another $1500 scores Hyundai’s ‘SmartSense’ driver-assist package, consisting of autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist, auto high beams, driver attention warning and heated and folding mirrors.

Intriguingly, there’s a $3500 1.6T all-wheel-drive option too, adding a 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine and dual-clutch auto combo, all-wheel drive, a more sophisticated rear suspension system (the 2WD’s simple torsion beam is binned for a multi-link arrangement) and 125kg.

Still, Hyundai said it expects four out of five Kona buyers to go the standard 2.0-litre, while the Active should account for about 40 per cent of volume. So here it is.

A number of customisation options exist too.

Ground clearance is rated at 170mm so nobody’s going to go off-roading in this urban warrior. Note that the maximum braked towing rating is 1300kg.

Interior

Dimensionally the Kona sits in what may be the small SUV sweet spot. It’s shorter yet wider than the CX-3, ASX and C-HR, splits the Mazda and Mitsubishi for height, and has the second-longest wheelbase after the Toyota.

This all translates into an agreeably roomy cabin that is set nice and high so is easy to access. A boon for less agile folk.

Following the latest Hyundai way, the dash is contemporary and attractive, with large analogue/digital instruments ahead of the driver and a tablet-style touchscreen sitting proud of the centre console.

Being an Active, it’s awash with monochromatic plastics that are hardy if hard to the touch, but everything is put together well and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the way everything feels or functions. A marvel of modern clarity considering how many different features are on offer nowadays, we’re talking set-and-forget simplicity and ease, from using the heater and pairing your phone to setting up the CarPlay/Auto tech. The kids will find this all second-nature stuff.

No gripes about the driving position either, nor the impressive conciseness of the dials and info screens, ventilation capability, areas to place stuff inside, or vision out (that large camera screen helps here). The driver’s seat lacks lumbar support and is a little flat on longer trips, but we had no complaints from the passenger side.

At this price point, the rear seat area prioritises functionality over style, with more acres of grey trim and the conspicuous absence of map pockets. At least the windows wind all the way down, there’s an overhead reading light, two grab handles and a folding armrest complete with two cupholders.

Space wise, occupants enjoy ‘theatre seating’, on a firm if shapeless bench, the backrest is adequately raked for the short-distance hops this sort of car is most likely to undertake, and there’s sufficient leg, knee and head space for most average sized adults. Unlike in some rivals, though, the back seat neither slides nor reclines.

Cargo capacity adheres to class norms, varying from 361 litres to 1143L with all seats lowered. No doubt that space-saver spare helps. The floor is a bit high for hauling stuff up and over, as most compact SUVs are, but it’s still a very useable and practically packaged vehicle for its type.

We’re less enamoured by the amount of noise – road, tyre and mechanical – that all-too-readily enters the cabin. An i30, by comparison, is a much quieter ride.

Engine and transmission

Hyundai’s 2.0-litre ‘Nu’ naturally aspirated Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder MPi engine develops a hearty 110kW of power at 6200rpm and 180Nm of torque at 4500rpm, and is paired exclusively to a six-speed torque-converter automatic.

No manual is offered, sadly.

Under normal driving conditions, the 2.0-litre unit is hard to fault. It is lively off the mark thanks to a quick-shifting auto providing point-and-squirt ease, has no problems keeping up with the cut-and-shut of fast-flow traffic, and offers plenty power in reserve at freeway speeds. 0-100km/h happens in 10 seconds flat.

Floor the throttle, though, and it does become vocal – if not harsh - in the way that the better, smaller-capacity turbo rivals (and Hyundai’s own 1.6T) doesn’t.

Fuel consumption isn’t remarkable either, but most owners ought to be happy at the comparative efficiency of the unit that runs so effortlessly on standard 91 RON unleaded. The official figure averages out to 7.2 litres per 100km.

Note that the cruise control struggles to maintain the set speed on inclines.

Ride and handling

Based on the i30, the Kona is a fundamentally sweet-handling thing, with measured steering and very secure, confident road-holding. As with the rest of the car, you can rely on how this car behaves at speed. Even when hurried through corners, there’s a calmness, with the traction/stability safety net quietly working away.

However, we do wish the Nexen NFERA 205/60R16 tyres would also do the same, as they are prone to being noisy and squealy when pushed.

As is the case with many Australian-bound Hyundais, a fair degree of local tuning went into the Kona’s chassis for the sake of compliance and control. On dirt in particular, this can be a hoot to drive fast.

But while there may be unique combo tunes to the shockers, springs and roll bars, the ride compromise is too far biased towards dynamic satisfaction, in a vehicle that isn’t really designed to be that type of car. There is a firmness to the suspension that around town can be tiresomely busy and unsettled, except on the smoothest of surfaces.

Throw in the noisy rubber, and there’s none of the dynamic refinement and sophistication that we’ve come to enjoy from Hyundai’s most recent offerings, namely the i30. In fact, the Kona feels substantially inferior to its cheaper, roomier and more dynamic stablemate.

We know which we’d rather buy and live with.

Safety and servicing

The Kona has achieved a five-star ANCAP crash-test safety rating.

It is offered with Hyundai’s five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and 12-month roadside assistance regime, with a capped-price servicing program for the first three checks.

Service intervals are 12 months or 15,000km.

Verdict

To be frank, the small SUV segment is teeming with good, but not great, contenders. In almost every case, there is a corresponding small hatch or sedan alternative within the range that represents a better all-round buy. And in the case of the Kona, the i30 is certainly it.

Furthermore, Hyundai’s newest SUV is far from the apex of its class due to the aforementioned refinement and comfort compromises, despite offering interesting styling, a healthy dose of standard kit, utter operational ease, adequate practicality and inexpensive running costs.

Not moving the small SUV segment on a single jot, then, the Active 2WD is a triumph of on-paper showroom appeal, but less so when you set off in it. And at $29,500, the better 1.6T version is really starting to get up there when the safety pack is added.

Our advice is to drive a Kona back-to-back with the i30 equivalent before signing on the dotted line.

Rivals

Toyota C-HR 1.2T 2WD auto, from $30,990 plus on-road costs
Quirky to look at, involving to drive, and comfy to ride in, the C-HR has spunk and personality to go with its accomplished and smooth dynamics. A bit more oomph would be appreciated, and it is expensive, but Toyota can’t sell enough and we can understand why.

Mazda CX-3 Maxx 2WD 2.0 auto, from $24,890 plus on-road costs
Sporty, dynamic, and very stylish, the CX-3 sells like gangbusters in Australia for a reason, and then backs this up with excellent packaging. But the powertrain is raucous, there’s still too much road noise, and side vision is pathetic. The boot’s tight too.

Honda HR-V VTi CVT, from $24,990 plus on-road costs
Spacious, smooth and exceptionally easy to drive and live with, the HR-V is the most convincing Honda in ages, offering exceptional rear-seat flexibility.

Niggles are minor and the breadth of talent significant. But AEB isn’t available (as yet) at the base price.

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