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Hyundai Kona Highlander AWD 2018 review

Can the Kona be fun and practical?

The thing about being a parent is that you have to sacrifice a lot. All your time, going out at night, maybe your work and definitely your sleep. Do you have to give up your funky car, too?

I tried to hold onto my coolness long after I had one baby but then I got pregnant again and the penny dropped. I would have to buy a mum car. You know the kind: a big SUV. They’re just so… convenient.

But maybe, just maybe, you don’t have to do that anymore. Maybe you can keep a little bit of yourself while fitting two children into a small SUV. A cool one, at that. There are some new cars on the market now which can help you: enter the Hyundai Kona.

It’s definitely got an interesting design and is not the same ol’ big drive. It’s got some flavour. But does it fit a family? Will it work for yours? Let’s see how the top of the range Kona Highlander did for my family of four over a whole week of driving the school run, and the big test: taking three children to the movies.

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How does it drive?

It’s fun. Like, really fun. It’s not often you get into a family car and even think about the word fun, so straight off the bat, that’s a good thing. I can feel the engine under the accelerator raring to go, and I almost feel a bit like I’m in a rally car. Not that I’ve ever been in a rally car, but I imagine this is kind of what it’s like. It’s racy.

This particular Kona has a 1.6L turbo-petrol engine, there's a burst of power when I put my foot down and whoops! I’ve overtaken that annoying driver, whee!

The turbocharged engine lets me overtake easily. The turbocharged engine lets me overtake easily.

It’s not a very quiet drive - you can hear the engine while in the cabin - but I think that’s a part of the experience. It’s also not the smoothest drive, with a fair amount of bouncy stop-starting because the engine is just dying to take off. But again, that’s part of it. This is a car you can actually drive. Not just glide smoothly from A to B. You drive there. And that’s a little bit exciting.

How spacious is it?

In the  front  I have plenty of room. There is enough leg space not only for me at 163cm, but also for my 185cm husband, in fact, he loves it. Sure, it’s not huge, but I quite like the compact feeling, especially after coming off a few weeks of driving large seven-seaters. It’s nice that everything is in reaching distance.

Plenty of room up front. Plenty of room up front.

The back is big enough for my two girls who are four and six-years-old. They have enough room to comfortably sit in their car seats even behind my tall husband, so there is definitely enough room for two children. I'm also personally really comfortably in the back, so I would say that it will easily fit two children up until they are teenagers.

However. This was the weekend I was taking my girls to see My Little Pony (oh the joys) at the movies with their friend. So I had two six-year-olds in booster seats, and a full size child seat for my four-year-old, all squished into the back. It did not go smoothly.

I spent a good five minutes trying to get the two boosters in there and actually done up properly. It got fairly sweaty and it’s not something I’d want to do regularly. So the Kona is not the best car if you have three children in car seats. You would fit three kids in if one was not in a child's seat, but I don’t recommend all three kids who are still in car seats.

But for two children? We are go. There is enough interior space.

The boot has plenty of room for a pram. The boot has plenty of room for a pram.

The boot fits the CarsGuide pram - the Toyota C-HR also fits the pram, but the Mazda CX-3, the other rival in this category, doesn’t. So while the boot is not huge, it will fit the pram we tested, and it’s always a good idea to test yours fits before buying.

How easy is it to use every day?

The size makes everything easier. It’s small enough to fit into tight parking spots and has a turning circle of 10.6m so U-turns and three-point turns are a breeze. It’s not too high off the ground, so the children are easily able to climb in.

Easy access for the kids up the back. Easy access for the kids up the back.

There are two cupholders in the front, two in the back, plus a bottle holder in each door. The Kona Highlander has keyless entry so you don’t need to fish for your keys in the bottom of your bag which has countless positives (ladies, you know what I’m talking about).

There’s a spot to throw your phone in the front centre console which will also charge it if you have an Android device. Storage wise, it’s fairly standard with a centre bin, a glove box and a sunglasses holder.

It’s missing an air vent for the back seat, which I think is an oversight, even though it’s a small car and they have probably deemed air vents in the back unnecessary. Industry wide, there are no air vents in the back of small SUVs. Neither the CX-3, the CH-R nor the Nissan Qashqai come with air vents. But my kids really appreciate their own air vents in cars. Because, air. Also, Australian summer.

I found the Kona a really easy car to hop into and it worked into my life well - I spend a lot of time looking for parks outside school and squeezing into various car spots, and the Kona actually made my life easier.

What’s the tech like?

Up front there's a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Up front there's a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

It comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which means when I plug my phone in, the Apple icons appear on the 7.0-inch multimedia screen and I immediately know how to use it. Even if you’re not a CarPlay fan, you can sync your phone with the standard tech in the car and easily connect via Bluetooth. The whole system is easy to use even if you’re not used to the technology. It also has a digital radio.

What does it look like?

Racy, sporty, cool. Doesn't look like a family SUV. Racy, sporty, cool. Doesn't look like a family SUV.

It’s racy, it’s sporty, it’s cool. It’s got an edge to the design which makes you feel great driving around in it. It definitely does not look like a family SUV, more like a cool little rally car. That could be because of the two tone - I’m not a huge fan - but in all charcoal, the car is sleek. It makes me feel like it’s my car, not the kid’s car. For once!

Inside, there are leather appointed seats which are heated in the front, and are also really comfortable, plus a leather steering wheel that feels nice under the hands. I think this is one of the most important things because you’re in that car #everydamnday and you want it to feel good while you’re driving.

It comes with a head-up display on the windscreen which means I can see my speed without having to shift my eye-line.

Plenty of room up front. Plenty of room up front.

There’s nothing particularly flash going on with the interior design, even though I’m in the top-of-the-range Highlander. The centre console area is fairly standard, but if you’re daring, you can get the stitching in a fluoro yellow rather than in the standard white, which certainly ups the ante.

How safe is it?

There are six airbags, with side curtain airbags extending to the back row. The Kona comes standard with Auto Emergency Braking, that brilliant technology which actually applies the brakes if it feels like you’re about to hit something in front of you, plus things like blind spot monitoring, collision warnings, reversing camera, front and rear distance warning. There are two ISOFIX points and three top tether points in the back, but as I’ve mentioned, good luck getting that third child's seat in.

How much does it cost to run?

The Wrap

Though you wouldn’t expect it from its funky exterior, the Hyundai Kona performed well as a family car for two children. Despite its small stature, it has a good amount of interior space, drives like you’re actually in a cool car and reminds you that you’re a person, as well as being a parent. I give it 7.5 stars out of 10 and my children gave it 7.5 My Little Ponies out of 10 - they were just happy their friend finally fit in the car to go to the movies!


Cool design
Great drive
Easy to park


No rear air vents
Bit squeezy for three children
Standard storage/interiors




The Kids:


$20,870 - $34,990

Based on 100 car listings in the last 6 months


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