Car reviews - Hyundai - Kona - Go FWD
Keen pricing, attention-grabbing style inside and out, smooth transmission, comfortable ride, impressive urban handling, Safety Pack availability
Room for improvement
Hard interior plastics, no rear central air vents, limited storage options, thrashy engine, heavy low-speed steering, inconsistent cruise control
Hyundai lowers the price of small-SUV admission with stylish and dynamic Kona Go
13 May 2019
ADMITTEDLY, the introduction of the Kona was a case of 'better late than never' for Hyundai. Sales of small SUVs had been booming locally for years and became the fastest-growing segment in Australia.
As such, the Korean car-maker's marketing team would’ve been best served to position the Kona as 'fashionably late', because fashion plays a large part in its equation, too. Arguably, this small SUV has one of the most distinctive looks available today.
Naturally, such style will always be divisive, but Hyundai has attracted attention to the Kona, so their designers deserve a healthy pay rise for creating one of the least expensive head-turners in the market.
While it is all very well and good to look different, is the Kona a genuine contender in its segment? Should the hot-selling Mitsubishi ASX, Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V be quaking in their boots? We test the Kona in entry-level Go FWD form to find out.
Price and equipment
Priced from $23,500 plus on-road costs, the Go FWD is a recent addition to the Kona range, bringing its starting price down by a handy $1000.
Our test car is finished in Ceramic Blue mica paintwork, which is a $595 option, and fitted with the $1500 Safety Pack that among advanced driver-assist systems detailed later in this review, adds auto-folding side mirrors with heating.
Standard equipment in the Go FWD includes 16-inch steel wheels wrapped in 205/60 tyres (with hubcaps and a space-saver spare), dusk-sensing halogen headlights, LED daytime running lights and roof rails.
Inside, a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, Bluetooth connectivity, an auxiliary input, two USB-A ports, one 12V power outlet, a six-speaker sound system, a 3.5-inch monochrome multi-function display, manual air-conditioning, black cloth upholstery and a leather-trimmed gear selector feature.
We'll skip straight to the point here – the Kona is outrageously styled, and we like it. Yes, it is sure to divide opinions, particularly after the Jeep Cherokee first made a meal of the split-level headlight design, but this interpretation is good different.
That being said, we could do without the overtly chunky cladding around the side skirts and wheelarches – it is a bit ingenuine for an urban-focused SUV.
Nevertheless, looking at the front and rear end exposes a tough-looking entrant in the fast -growing segment. The Kona's biggest success is that it dares to be different. For owners, it is one hell of a statement piece.
Those familiar with the third-generation i30 will notice the obvious similarities between its interior and that of the Kona.
While the centre stack is substantially different, the steering wheel, gear selector, instrument cluster, infotainment system and switchgear are lifted from the small hatch.
However, the Kona falls short of the i30's premium feel thanks to its preference for hard plastics, with the lower dashboard and steering wheel the only soft-touch surfaces.
Hyundai has attempted to spruce these up with a hexagonal design for the door and dashboard trims, so at least they add quite a bit of fun.
For whatever reason, the Kona lacks the electric park brake with auto-hold functionality found in its automatic i30 siblings, meaning a traditional handbrake is instead present.
While the latter is always a welcome throwback, buyers should be aware that it eats into the central storage bin, reducing space. And there’s no rear central air vents behind it, with ventilation instead coming from the floor, which is a bit lame in 2019.
Despite its small proportions, the Kona is relatively comfortable to sit in, either in the first or second row. Sitting behind our 184cm driving position, two inches of legroom is available alongside an inch headroom and plenty of toe-room.
Taller passengers might find it to be a struggle, though, but most adult-sized occupants will be fine, so long as they don’t go three abreast. Either way, the Kona is a dream compared to its Mazda CX-3 rival.
Cargo capacity is also more than adequate, at 361 litres with the 60/40 split-fold rear bench upright, or 1143L with it stowed. There’s also a small partition between the boot floor and the space-saver spare wheel.
However, alternative storage options around the cabin are limited, including the small door bins, while a rear centre fold-down armrest (with cupholders) and map pockets behind the front seats are nowhere to be found.
Other annoyances? The thick C-pillars limit visibility when checking blind spots and road noise penetrates the cabin with ease, so much so that you need to turn up the sound system’s volume to drown it out at highway speeds.
Engine and transmission
Hyundai continues to offer all Kona grades with two powetrain/drivetrain combinations, including a 130kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder petrol engine with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.
However, our test car is fitted with the other option, a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated unit with a six-speed torque-converter and front-wheel drive.
With the engine producing 110kW of power at 6200rpm and 180Nm of torque at 4500rpm, it goes without saying that you need to build up the revs to achieve any form of meaningful acceleration.
As a result, it is quite a noisy unit, particularly when the throttle is buried up a hill. There just isn’t enough low-end torque, even around town, to make the Go FWD feel anything but slow.
Once power builds, straight-line performance is fair, and it would be worse if it wasn’t for the transmission that make the most of what it’s got to work with.
Its calibration is intuitive and gear changes smooth but slow, while spontaneous throttle inputs are met with prompt kick downs.
However, shift across to its manual mode and the unit will disappointingly automatically upshift well before the engine’s redline.
Three driving modes – Comfort, Eco and Sport – allow the driver to adjust engine and transmission settings on the move, with each serving their desired purpose.
While we appreciate that Sport is particularly keen on using more revs with its higher shift points, it can become tiresome quickly given it takes a moment too long to calm down.
Conversely, Eco dials performance back, so Comfort offers the best of both worlds and is worthy of being the default option that it is.
Claimed fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions on the combined cycle test are 7.2 litres per 100 kilometres and 169 grams per kilometre respectively.
During our week with the Go FWD, we are averaging 6.9L/100km over 545km of driving heavily skewed towards highway stints, which is a good result for an atmo unit.
Ride and handling
Suspension-wise, the Go FWD uses MacPherson-strut front and torsion-beam rear axles, while its aforementioned AWD siblings instead uses a more sophisticated multi-link set-up up the back.
Unsealed surfaces and potholes will inevitably unsettle matters, but the Kona remains composed in most of these scenarios, although its rear end can briefly skip when contact is sharper.
This overall composure is mainly due to work that Hyundai’s engineers put into tuning its models – including the Kona – for Australian conditions.
So, it’s no surprise that uneven tarmac and speed bumps are dealt with aplomb, adding to the comfortable overall ride, although there is a slightly firm tinge to it, as per most of the brand’s locally tuned models.
The Kona's column-mounted, motor-driven power steering is relatively direct and very, very meaty, but it is far too heavy when turning in at low speed.
Resistance is too harsh, with the Kona feeling like it is working against you. Nevertheless, it is nimble around town, offering a tight 10.6m turning circle with 2.5 turns required lock to lock, which is nice … but it doesn’t come easily.
A lot of this ease of manoeuvrability has to do with the Kona’s small proportions – 4165mm long, 1800mm wide and 1565mm tall with a 2600mm wheelbase – which make it a perfect city car.
Feedback via the Kona’s steering wheel is tremendous and made better by its wonderfully communicative chassis, keeping the driver across all of the vehicle’s movements.
The Go FWD is very composed around bends, with it remaining planted and exhibiting only a little body roll when cornering at speed. Transferring weight from side to side does little to upset this dynamic prowess.
The Kona never feels out of its element, providing a true sporty feel. Yes, it is not a real heavy hitter, but its handling is a more than adequate match for its looks.
Safety and servicing
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the entire Kona range a five-star safety rating in December 2017.
Scoring 35.07 out of 37 possible points, the Hyundai excelled with perfect results in the side impact (16 out of 16) and oblique pole (two out of two) crash tests.
Whiplash and pedestrian protection were assessed as 'good' and 'acceptable' respectively.
Advanced driver-assist systems in the Go FWD are limited to a reversing camera, tyre pressure monitoring and hill-start assist.
It also comes with cruise control that frustratingly struggles to hold its set speed on any gradient. In our test car, it fluctuated by up to 6km/h in either direction, which is not the best when you’re trying to avoid expensive fines.
However, the aforementioned Safety Pack fitted to our test car adds autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and driver attention alert.
While we appreciate that Hyundai has made these features optionally available on the Go FWD, it would be nice if AEB and LKA were, at minimum, standard.
Other standard safety features include six airbags (dual front, side, and curtain), anti-skid braking system (ABS), electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), brake assist system (BAS), traction control system (TCS) and electronic stability control (ESC).
As with all Hyundai models, the Kona comes with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, with one year of roadside assistance included, but this can be extended to provide to 10 years if the vehicle is serviced by Hyundai technicians.
Capped-price servicing is available on three-, four- or five-year terms, with regular service intervals at every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first, although the first visit is due after one month of 1500km.
You have to forgive Hyundai for being late to the party as it clearly took some time for the Kona to get dressed appropriately for the occasion.
The outfit it chose was undoubtedly the talk of the event and will continue to be until a rival inevitably releases a more daring design.
We can't help but love the Kona's look, which is a good thing because this design language is already becoming the norm in Hyundai's SUV range.
Styling aside, the Kona is an impressive package, with the benefits of local tuning for its steering and suspension evident on low-quality roads.
However, many will find themselves at odds with its low-speed steering that can be too heavy in certain situations.
Those seriously considering the Kona are likely making an emotional purchase, and it is hard to blame them.
For some buyers, the allure of the Kona will be strong, and after driving it, we now find it easy to understand why.
Mazda CX-3 Neo Sport FWD automatic (from $24,260 plus on-road costs)
Good looks, high-quality cabin materials and inspiring dynamics are countered by tight packaging and typically high NVH levels.
Honda HR-V VTi FWD CVT (from $24,990 plus on-road costs)
A gutsy engine, quality engineering and driving ease contradicted by some engine noise intrusion, flat seats and a fiddly touchscreen.
Mitsubishi ASX ES FWD CVT (from $25,490 plus on-roads)
Impressive interior space and packaging, and a nimble and engaging drive are let down by a cheap cabin and a noisy engine/CVT pairing.
Model release date: 1 August 2018
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