Car reviews - Hyundai - Kona - range
Design, cabin packaging and presentation, 1.6T performance, handling, body control, available driver-assist safety, long warranty, economical ownership, wide options list, smart multimedia tech
Room for improvement
No diesel option, firm ride, some road noise, tyre drone, doesn’t move small SUV game on, no full-sized spare option, no paddleshifts with 1.6T
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9 Oct 2017
By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS
IF TICKING boxes is your thing, then the all-new Kona is the small SUV for you. It’s as if Hyundai went through every single design, packaging, performance, specification and feature checklist to ensure this crossover has the best chance at success.
Lack of manual and absent diesel aside, the attractively presented and well-priced rival to the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR and Suzuki Vitara seems to combine attributes of each. Consequently, striking styling aside, the only thing that’s missing is personality.
Some cars feel like they are the product of intensive and painstaking global research. Case in point: the Hyundai Kona.
Whatever you might think of the fussy styling, it is contemporary and perfectly on-brand the packaging could not be in more of a sweet spot between the best-selling Mazda CX-3 and Mitsubishi ASX if Goldilocks had a say in it the powertrains cater to both the sensible (2.0-litre six-speed torque-converter auto) and the sporty (1.6-litre turbo with seven-speed dual-clutch transmission) and the pricing totally hits the mark.
If all this sounds a little bit like we’re damning the Kona with faint praise, then that’s only mostly untrue, because the Kona is pretty much the complete small SUV experience, in a class that has long been inhabited by fascinating but flawed offerings. Even the segment best – the Toyota C-HR (rear vision), Peugeot 2008 (high pricing) and CX-3 (noise and rear packaging) – have some quite surprising shortcomings.
Whatever you make of the South Korean newcomer’s design, it stands out. There is an extremely welcome dose of colour. And the proportions are pleasingly spot-on.
The cabin, meanwhile, is like an amalgam of every latest-generation Hyundai on sale today, from the ultra-crisp instruments, natty little steering wheel and accommodating driving position, to fine seating, excellent multimedia and ample storage.
While the rear seats don’t slide like some other competitors, there is sufficient space for four adults, a decent amount of cargo capacity and superb build quality. Not much for surprise and delight in there, but utterly functional and serviceable all the same.
About the only issue concerns the amount of road noise coming through we drove all three variants – the base Active, mid-range Elite and flagship Highlander, and in both powertrain choices to boot – and all displayed varying levels of drone. The entry-level 2.0-litre Konas rode on non-Australian spec Nexen tyres, and they were particularly bad.
In isolation, the 2.0-litre 2WD models are smooth, refined and adequately powerful, providing quick, seamless changes through the gears. It couldn’t be easier to drive. Only when exploring the upper limits of the rev range does the engine become a bit vocal – but never harsh.
Stepping into the 1.6 turbo AWD alternative, however, shows why spending the extra $3500 is worthwhile. The amount of oomph on tap is measurably more, for effortless overtaking the dual-clutch gearbox is seamless in operation and there is a veneer of slickness to the way the car traverses rougher ground, thanks partly to the more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension.
In fact, it is this specification of Kona that really takes advantage of the sporty, fluid dynamics. Hyundai says it has spent much effort honing the suspension to Australian conditions, and the steering’s linearity and feel is commendable. That independent rear doesn’t skip over bumps and humps like the 2WD’s torsion arrangement does, and there is a ready amount of power on tap to see the vehicle through corners with determined composure. Even gravel road progress is safe and controlled.
Ultimately, the Kona performs with a sporty attitude and laid-back ease that will endear it to most people seeking a dynamic and capable driving experience the accompanying firm ride is the price to pay for that in 2WD models, but otherwise the compromise is worth it.
After half a day and a couple of hundred kilometres exploring Hyundai’s smallest SUV (for now), it does almost everything well and nothing too badly.
There isn’t quite the charm or personality that comes with some of the better rivals out there, but that’s probably only a reflection of the committee thinking that enables the Kona to be as complete as it is.
Hard to love but plenty to respect and admire.
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