Hyundai's Kona is now a cornerstone of the brand's success, a small SUV in a critical segment, with youthful styling that sets it apart from many of its prime opponents
Styling alone won't be enough to cut it though, in a segment that's so hotly contested on price. So, does the Kona's expansive range offer a spot-on variant for every price segment? Or, is there a clear winner in the range? We've driven the Kona's key model variants to find out.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 8/10
The automatic-only range spans from $24,000, before on-road costs, for the entry-level FWD Go to the top-spec AWD Highlander at $39,500. If that isn't enough range, there's also a fully electric Kona, which in Highlander spec is the most expensive vehicle in Hyundai's line-up at $64,490.
So, no shortage of choice in the Kona range. Standard spec is good, too.
Standard features on the active include 16-inch alloy wheels. (Active variant pictured - image: Tom White)
The Go ($24,000) comes with 16-inch steel wheels, a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a reversing camera, LED DRLs with auto halogen headlights, cloth interior trim with manually adjustable seats, 3.5-inch TFT screen in the dash, resin steering wheel, tyre pressure monitoring, and manual air conditioning.
The next grade up is the popular Active, which starts at $25,500 for the FWD.
The Active adds rear parking sensors, leather gear knob and steering wheel, 16-inch alloy wheels, a centre armrest console, and extra cupholders.
The Elite is a more significant jump in terms of its price and spec. Available from $30,000, the Elite adds 17-inch alloy wheels, faux leather seats, push button start and keyless entry, heated power folding wing mirrors, climate control and rain-sensing wipers, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with sat nav, digital radio, and a premium eight speaker audio system, privacy glass and silver body highlights.
The Active comes with a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. (Active variant pictured - image: Tom White)
At the top of the Kona trim levels is the Highlander. The Highlander is priced from $36,000 and adds everything the Elite has, plus 18-inch alloys, full LED lighting, sunroof, a head-up display, a wireless phone charging bay, front parking sensors, heated and cooled front seats, a power adjustable driver's seat and the option of a two-toned colour scheme.
The Highlander also gains Hyundai's 'Auto Link Premium' smartphone app integration.
All Konas have a comprehensive active safety suite including auto emergency braking (AEB – city speed on Go and Active, freeway speed on Elite and Highlander), lane departure warning (LDW) with lane keep assist (LDW) and driver attention alert (DAA).
The Elite and Highlander add a radar suite to the mix, upgrading the safety spec to include active cruise control, rear cross traffic alert (RCTA), and blind spot monitoring (BSM). They are also the only grades to include auto high beam assist.
Standard features on the Elite include 17-inch alloy wheels. (Elite variant pictured - image: Tom White)
Specifying the 1.6-litre turbo with AWD replaces the stock torsion beam rear suspension with a multi-link alternative.
Since all Konas now have the 'SmartSense' safety suite as standard, the only options on the base two cars are premium paint colours. 'Chalk White' is the only free colour, with the other options – 'Phantom Black', 'Blue Lagoon', 'Ceramic Blue', 'Tangerine Comet' (orange), and 'Lake Silver' coming at an extra cost of $595.
The top two cars can also wear 'Acid Yellow', 'Pulse Red' and 'Dark Knight' (grey) at the same cost. A two-tone roof comes standard on the Highline.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 8/10
The Kona is a bit of fun to look at, especially in its brightest colour options. All cars make the most of plastic cladding to give the design lots of highlight features. This extends from the cladded wheel arches which also clasp the front and rear light fittings, rear spoiler bits, and extra pieces around the roof-racks and wing-mirrors.
Things like the non-traditional light clusters and extra grille slit above the regular grille give it a sci-fi appeal. I was once of the opinion that the Kona's design was too busy, but I've come around now, it's refreshingly different from more traditional rivals like the Nissan Qashqai.
The wheel designs are all pretty neat, too. Obviously, the steel wheels on the Go are designed to push you into a much more attractive Active, but aside from that it's a good-looking little SUV. Please buy a fun colour.
The Kona is a bit of fun to look at, especially in its brightest colour options. (Active variant pictured - image: Tom White)
The interior is pretty good, as well, with some of Hyundai's best touches making their way into the cabin. Highlights include the super slick steering wheel with great controls shared with the i30, traditional but sensible dash cluster and symmetrical layout, capped off with the media screen. It doesn't matter whether you have the 7.0-inch or 8.0-inch multimedia screen, both are fantastic.
Although it shares much with its i30 hatch sibling, the Kona deviates by adding a little extra style in the vents and textures. Sadly, the plastics seem to have dropped a notch, which is a head scratcher. Why couldn't they just make it the same quality as the very good i30?
The much better leather seats help to elevate this a bit, as does the climate control panel a bit further up the range. The Kona electric overhauls the interior to include a big raised centre console, finished in all sorts of science-fiction silvers and blues. It's almost like driving a different car altogether (and you'd hope so, given how much it costs...).
I was once of the opinion that the Kona’s design was too busy, but I’ve come around now, it’s refreshingly different from more traditional rivals. (Active variant pictured - image: Tom White)
How practical is the space inside? 7/10
The Kona is a practical place to be, as Korean cabin design currently seems to be at the forefront of making the most of each little nook and cranny to offer an extra trench or bottle holder.
Front passengers get heaps of room for such a compact SUV, and they're offered big bottle holders in each door (suitable for 500ml bottles), a massive trench under the air conditioning/climate controls which houses two power outlets, a USB port and an aux port, and on higher grades a wireless charging bay.
Dual cupholders are offered in the centre console next to the handbrake, and there's a glove box for every grade on the passenger side. The Go misses out on a centre console box, which is small but useful on every other grade.
Oddly, the centre console box is the only comfortable place front passengers have to rest their elbows, as the Kona doesn't feature a padded strip on the doors. I found this particularly frustrating, especially since the i30 gets a padded surface here... It just makes for a sore right elbow on long drives...
The plastics let the comfort down a touch on the centre console and dash, too. Almost every touch point is finished in a nasty, hollow, grey plastic.
To be appreciated, however, are the shortcut buttons on the multimedia screen. While it's not as slick a look as some screens on the market, I much prefer these buttons as they make the system much easier to use when you're actually driving.
Rear passengers get sufficient, but not ample legroom, and are offered bottle holders in the doors, but that's about it. The back of the front seats are finished in the same nasty hard plastic, and only get nettings on the top two grades. No Kona grade gets rear air vents or power outlets on the back of the centre console, and the elbow rests have the same problem as they do in the front – no padding!
The top two grades add a helpful luggage net for securing fragiles. All grades get just a space-saver spare wheel.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 7/10
There are two engine choices in the petrol-powered Kona range. The first is the tried-and-tested 2.0-litre non-turbo four-cylinder which appears throughout Hyundai's range.
Its outputs are decent at 110kW/180Nm. At least it's not underpowered like some competitors. The 2.0-litre engine is mated only to a six-speed torque converter automatic. There's no manual, but there's also no CVT auto.
The other option is a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder offering 130kW/265Nm, which is plenty.
There are two engine choices in the petrol-powered Kona range. A 2.0-litre non-turbo four-cylinder and a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder. (Active variant pictured - image: Tom White)
It's one of the most powerful engines among its competitors. The 1.6-litre is only offered as an AWD and swaps out the torsion beam rear suspension for a multi-link set-up.
The 1.6-litre engine is only mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. The AWD system can supposedly have a full 50/50 torque split when required and has 'front and rear lock mode'.
There's no diesel option in the Kona range, leaving the only alternative as the electric motor in the Kona which produces 150kW/395Nm. The electric Kona is front-drive only mated to a single-speed 'reduction gear' automatic.
How much fuel does it consume? 7/10
The 2.0-litre and 1.6-litre engine options both run on standard 91RON fuel, which will be a boon for long-term owners.
Claimed/combined fuel figures of the 2.0-litre engine is 7.2L/100km, against which I scored 7.9L/100km over a week of testing. I would consider that figure pretty good, given this car's very honest 'urban' fuel consumption estimate of 9.7L/100km.
The 1.6-litre engine option has a claimed/combined fuel consumption figure of 6.7L/100km, with real-world figures largely depending on how you drive it. Reviewers in our office have scored between 7.5L/100km and 12.1L/100km so take that as you will. At least it doesn't need to run on premium 95.
The Kona has no stop-start system.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 8/10
The Elite and Highlander add blind spot monitoring (BSM) rear cross traffic alert (RCTA), active cruise control, and high beam assist.
From the base up all cars get auto emergency braking (AEB – city-speed for Go and Active, freeway speed for Elite and Highlander), lane keep assist (LKAS) with lane departure warning (LDW), and drive attention alert (DAA). (Active variant pictured - image: Tom White)
The Kona takes its speed limit alerts from its very good sat-nav suite on the Elite and Highlander and even tells you where all the fixed speed cameras are.
All grades get a reversing camera, and some bonus features like hill start assist. The expected stability, traction and brake controls are all present, as are six airbags.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 8/10
Hyundai continues to cover its range with a rather good five-year /unlimited kilometer warranty, although the rest of the industry has now caught up, so the pressure is on to match its sister brand – Kia with a seven-year warranty promise.
The Hyundai beats out its opponents in other ways, though, with a comprehensive capped-price service program which lasts seemingly forever.
Services cost between $264 and $364 for the first five years, coming out at an average of $284 per year for the life of the warranty. Not bad.
All Konas regardless of engine require servicing once a year or every 15,000km.
What's it like to drive? 8/10
I sampled the Active and Elite in 2.0-litre FWD form as part of my test, and both were admirable behind the wheel.
A lot is down to Hyundai's commitment to a sporty drive – all variants drive like hatchbacks, they stick to the road nicely and have direct steering, making them drive like slightly taller i30s.
It's fun, but not without its flaws. The over-commitment to the hatchback ride makes the torsion-bar sprung cars unnecessarily harsh around the rear, and while the steering is very good from a handling standpoint, it can seem over-weighted at times.
The 2.0-litre engine is a bit thrashy. It's not underpowered and runs up the rev range freely, but it is noisy. Thankfully, the six-speed auto is smooth, if a little unsophisticated. It's a far better driver's car than it would have been with a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Even the Active, with the smallest available 16-inch alloy wheels let a fair bit of noise into the cabin. This is pretty typical of this segment, though.
Even the Active, with the smallest available 16-inch alloy wheels let a fair bit of noise into the cabin. (Active variant pictured - image: Tom White)
The turbo provides loads of power, offering a less raspy experience on the freeway when overtaking, and the multi-link rear is a little less harsh than the torsion-beam variants.
The multimedia is all fantastic, really easy to use while driving, it has big touch buttons, big shortcut buttons and intuitive controls on the wheel, a big win for connected inner city drivers.
The same goes for the active cruise and lane keep assist, which makes the Kona a decent pal on the freeway, although those small cabin comfort issues might get you down on longer trips.
A few comfort and ride quirks aside, the Kona is almost as fun to drive as it is to look at, and that's a good thing in a segment that has many more boring, CVT driven, and underpowered options.
Hyundai's Kona holds onto its spot as an ace small SUV in a tough segment. It's got all the connectivity and safety tech from Hyundai's wider range, it provides buyers plenty of choice, and despite a few minor issues does it all while looking good and feeling good behind the wheel.
Our pick of the range is a bit of a draw, and it will depend on your budget. The best bang for buck is the Go, it's a lot of small SUV for the money, but the steel wheels and city-speed AEB are a let-down.
If you can afford the Elite, it has all the kit and radar safety, but costs a lot. Ask yourself if you really need AWD. Our pick is the 2WD of each.
It is also worth noting that you can get more spec and comfort for less money in the similarly equipped i30 hatch range, so you should also ask yourself if you really need an SUV while you're at it.
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