Worthy of its name
The name says it all: "Kona by Hyundai" and not simply "Hyundai Kona". That's because the Kona is the start of a new area for the Korean carmaker. While most Hyundai's are functional and rational, the Kona also wants to be desirable.
Judging by its looks, the Kona certainly succeeds in the latter. The Kona doesn't owe its looks to extravagant accessorising, but from well chosen lines. The front is dominated by a double grille with small, piercing headlights. In the case of the test car, a black roof and 18 inch (!) rims add to the picture. This may be a compact SUV, but it impresses big time!
The cabin isn't nearly as special, but thanks to some accents in the exterior colour of the car it isn't boring at all. However, it's the solid feeling that really makes an impression. Everything feels well built, the seats are nice and spacious, the seating position is exactly right and the fat steering wheel is pleasant to the touch. These are all small details, but together they give an excellent first impression before even setting off.
The space in the front and rear is average for a car of this size. The boot measures 361 litres, which is spacious but nothing special.
For this test the most luxurious "Premium" version was driven and here the Kona offers just about every safety and driver's assistant available to date. What's lacking is a camera that reads traffic signs. A noteworthy extra is the head-up display. On a transparent panel on top of the dashboard essential information for the driver is projected right in his or her view. This makes driving less demanding and therefore safer.
Of course Hyundai offers a combined radio, communication and satnav unit with the possibility to connect to a mobile phone (Android Auto or Apple CarPlay). What makes this special is that it has been developed together with American audio specialist "Krell". Krell has an exceptionally good reputation with audiophiles and if they ever collaborated with a carmaker the more logical match would be Rolls Royce rather than Hyundai. Despite the modest price, the sound of this audio system is amazing. Thanks to Krell the Kona has by far the best audio system in its class.
When writing, the Kona is available with a choice of two petrol engines: a 1.0 and a 1.6 litre engine. A diesel engine and even a full electric Kona have been officially announced.
The "1.6 T-GDI" always comes with four-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox. The output of 177 PS / 256 Nm is massive for a car like this. Yet, in real life one notices little of all that power. The extra weight of the all-wheel drive system and the software of the automatic gearbox make the throttle response not nearly as eager as one might expect.
The automatic gearbox with double clutch shifts unnoticeably. However, when the throttle is pressed hard and then released, the automatic waits too long before shifting up.
Because of the high weight and somewhat dated technology, the 1.6 T-GDI isn't very economic to drive. Expect a fuel economy of 10 litres per 100 km (28 mpg) when driving fast or 8 litres per 100 km (35 mpg) when driving more calmly. CO2 emissions are so high that some SUVs from a higher segment write lower figures!
On the other hand, the 1.0 T-GDI is really recommendable. It delivers 120 PS / 172 Nm and that's more than enough. Also, this turbo engine has a spritely character and the manual gearbox rations perfectly suit the engine. Therefore, the 1.0 T-GDI feels quicker than it actually is.
Despite the small disposition and the fact that this actually is a small engine, there's always enough punch available and this never feels like a base model. It's only when the engine speed is above 3,500 rpm that a faint three-cylinder noise is audible. In all other cases the Kona is quiet and comfortable. Because the engine and wind are hardly audible, the noise from the tyres is clearly noticeable.
The Kona doesn't just look tough, when opting for four-wheel drive it really is more than just a city car. Hyundai carried over the four-wheel drive system from a bigger Tuscon and that means it even comes with "diff locks". Using this, the front and rear axle can temporarily be connected to avoid the power of the engine being send to the wheel with the lowest resistance (because it's in mud or sand).
The ample ground clearance, hill descent control and useful angles of ascent and decline make the Kona suitable for actual off-roading.
Yet, the Kona feels most at home on paved roads, but again it differs from other compact SUVs. The Kona feels solid, firm and bigger than it actually is. Steering is nice and heavy, therefore communication between mechanics and driver is excellent.
The feeling in the steering wheel, the underpinning and even the seating position make the Kona is a true "Sports Utility Vehicle". The fact that Kona is an island near Hawaii is merely a coincidence.
Is the Hyundai Kona sporty, functional and economic? The answer to that question depends on the chosen version. Every Kona stands out from the masses by its looks and yet is as rational as any other Hyundai. Handling is excellent for an SUV.
The top-notch version with 1.6 T-GDI engine is quick, capable off-road and comfortable. Yet, the power output compared to the price is less favourable. That's why this version is simply too costly to buy and run.
On the other hand, the 1.0 T-GDI offers excellent value for money. The modest engine may not be as strong as the bigger one, but in real life the small engine is more lively and more fun to drive. Together with the excellent driving characterises it means the "Kona by Hyundai" is indeed a sporty SUV.