Hyundai Kona VS Mazda CX-3
- We like the styling
- A sorted and dynamic drive
- Tech offering on-point for the segment
- No standard navigation anywhere in the range
- Cabin materials don't improve as you spend more money
- Engine and road noise can be an irritant
- Design, inside and out
- Sharp handling
- Fun steering
- Small boot
- CarPlay still not fixed (it's coming)
- Engine can sound like it's working hard
It's easier to figure out the deepest and darkest mysteries of the universe (the answer, by the way, is 42) than it is to work out what mysterious ingredients are needed to successfully launch a car into the booming small SUV segment.
One of Australia's most crowded vehicle categories is also its most diverse. There are big ones, small ones, practical ones, ones that aren't really SUVs at all, ones that are really quite good and some that could only be less appealing if they arrived with factory-fitted mullets. And yet they all somehow compete under the catch-all banner of "small SUV", and most achieve some level of sales success.
Into this frantic fray launches the all-new Hyundai Kona, the Korean brand's first-ever entrant in this segment. And if you're wondering what they've been doing while all these other manufacturers have been making tiny SUV hay, you're not alone. And on that, we hand over to the brand's local boss, JW Lee.
"We're a bit late to the small SUV market, we must admit, but not too late," he says. "On the flip-side, we've been able to observe the market closely, and study our competitors, and bring something great to the SUV segment."
We suspect that the whole "studied our competitors" thing is meant quite literally, which is why the Kona looks a bit like a Subaru XV, is roughly the size of the Mazda CX-3 and apes the practicality positives of the Honda HR-V.
But is Hyundai's smallest SUV the best of the bunch?
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Some cars are just so desirable, so delectably tempting to look at, that they cause people to abandon all logical and practical concerns and buy them anyway. Fortunately, most vehicles in this category of dangerous desirability are stupidly expensive, but when you combine the cuter-than-a-puppy looks of a car like Mazda's CX-3 with a price range that starts in the low $20,000 range, anything can happen.
Throw in the fact that this diminutive darling of a thing is a small SUV - one of the most desirable categories in the Australian market, with sales in the segment doubling in the past five years - and Mazda may need to reinforce the doors in its showrooms with the launch of this new one.
I speak from experience here because my wife loves the look of the CX-3 so much she wanted to buy one. So I explained that it is built on the Mazda2 platform, which means its boot is too small for a family of four, and that the rest of it probably wasn't suitable for us either. But she was still keen.
I know of a young family who bought one because they were so taken with its prettiness, but when they got it home they remembered they had a small child and realised that their pram would never, ever fit in the back. Oh dear.
If you are a young single or a childless couple, of course you can enjoy its alluring looks all you like, and the tight rear seats and small boot volume probably won't bother you at all.
Mazda happily admits the way this car looks is the main reason people buy it, which is no doubt why the new one looks so much like the highly successful old one (more than 58,000 CX-3s have been sold in Australia since its launch in 2015).
So, what actually is new about this incorrigibly cute crossover? We went to the local launch drive to find out.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
It might be late to the party, but we're tipping the Kona will make a hell of an entrance. Stylish, smart and easy to live with, it's sure to tick plenty of boxes.
For mine, though, the Kona range makes the most sense early in the model range. I think your money is better spent on the Active or Active with Safety Pack trims, with the higher grades a lot of cash to part with for what doesn't feel like a whole lot more car.
Check out Tim Robson's video from the Kona's international launch here.
Has Hyundai's Kona caught your eye, and is your eye happy about it? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
If you liked the previous Mazda CX-3 - and just about everyone did - then you're going to love this one even more. It's got a tiny bit more presence, a less busy and more classy interior and marginally better engines with slightly improved fuel economy. Basically, it's a little bit more of the same for this little gem of a compact SUV.
Would you have a Mazda CX-3 over a Mitsubishi ASX, on looks alone? Tell us in the comments section.
And by boundary-pushing, we mean it's both loved and loathed - but we're in the love it camp. As mentioned above, there's plenty of Subaru XV in there - from the plastic cladding that Hyundai calls armour to the vaguely wagon-shaped body - but there are also enough differences to ensure the Kona stands out from the pack.
Most notable, of course, is the new front face design, with thin-strip DRLs, separate headlight clusters and a reshaped grille all giving the little Kona a sporty, aggressive stance when viewed front on.
Inside, much has been done to make the small cabin seem bright and airy, and it all feels very well put together, but there are plenty of cheap-touch plastics covering the dash and doors, and a fairly sparse backseat that lacks air vents, power sources or USB connections - no matter how much you spend.
In the right light, in the right colour, (obviously the hugely popular red), the CX-3 can move beyond being just small and sweet looking and reach the point of genuinely striking. There's a lovely, criss-crossing line that swinges down the sides, crossing over at its mid point. It's what Mazda calls pure Kodo design - simple, sleek and slightly sexy.
The angle most people fall in love from, though, is front on, with the CX-3's toothy grin only slightly changed for this new version with a new "more assertive" grille, with a solid, detailed design featuring horizontal bars of different thicknesses.
The goal here, as CX-3 program manager Takata Minoru explained, was to make "no unnecessary changes" and only to "refine the beauty and enhance the quality feel".
The new grille is supposed to give the car a sharper look and a greater feeling of depth, but to us it just looked like a new grille. Mazda says the new car is defined by being "exquisite" and "edgy", but it's not clear what that means in terms of new-ness.
The sTouring and Akari grades get a new line of chrome along the front bumper and sides, which is pleasant enough, while there are also new fog light bezels in gloss black on Maxx Sport variants and above.
Oh, and the rear lights, in the top two grades, have adopted a cylindrical shape for the facelift version, because round things are classier than square ones. Apparently.
Colours, of course, in a car so pretty and feminine, are a big deal, and there are now eight to choose from - 'Soul Red Crystal Metallic' (as opposed to just Soul Red Metallic) and 'Machine Grey Metallic' are new and join 'Dynamic Blue Mica', 'Titanium Flash Mica', 'Jet Black Mica', 'Snow Flake White Pearl Mica', 'Ceramic Metallic' and 'Eternal Blue Mica'. Brown is not an option, happily.
In short, it's a good looking car, much like the old one, and it's hard to imagine a vehicle of this size and shape being any more attractive. It's surprising, then, to learn that the CX-3 is only the second-best seller in its segment, behind the Mitsubishi ASX.
Ground clearance for the CX-3 is 160mm unladen. So, no rock hopping then.
At 4165mm in length, the Kona is shorter than both the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V, but at 1800mm it is slightly wider than both, and clever use of the space inside means the backseat actually isn't too tough a place to spend a time.
Sitting behind my own (5ft 8inch) driving position, there was a little clear air between my knees and the seat in front, as well as above my head. The power controls for the rear doors do protrude into the window seats though, which would be an issue should you go three-across in the backseat. Which you won't. Because you're not a bad person.
Up front, there are two cupholders, as well as a single USB, Aux-in connection and power source, all of which sit in a little storage bin that's part of the central dash setup. There's another, deeper bin separating the front seats, too.
Two more cupholders live in the pulldown divider that splits the backseat, and there's an ISOFIX attachment point in each window seat. Each door has room for small bottles, too.
At 361 litres VDA, boot space is bigger than that in a CX-3 but smaller than in a HR-V, and that number grows to 1143 with the rear seat folded flat. A space-saver spare is housed in the boot.
Considering the external dimensions of the car, the CX-3 does quite well. Allow me to illuminate you with my own example, which is that I recently spent 10 days driving one of these around Italy, with my wife and two young children on board, plus a significant amount of luggage.
I had sleepless nights before picking up the car, because I was sure we'd never get it all in, or be able to breathe if we did, but not only did we fit, we were quite comfortable and happy with the luggage capacity.
Rear leg room is just bearable for an adult, but no problem at all for small kids (although it wouldn't suit teens). The boot space, at 264 litres, is very small, and even calling it adequate seems generous. What it will not fit, though, due to its narrow dimensions, is a pram of any sort, so young families should look elsewhere. Although if they don't, there are two ISOFIX points and two top-tether points for child seats.
The biggest change for the new model in cabin terms is the inclusion of an electronic park brake, which has allowed Mazda to include a new centre console/armrest, with two handy cup holders of different sizes, there are also bottle holders in all four doors, and (for Maxx Sport spec and above) a rear armrest with two more cupholders).
Indeed, Mazda says the cupholders have had their depth and diameter revised so they can now fit giant, American-sized cups if required.
That centre console also offers useful, deep storage and there are two USB points handily located in front of the shift lever. The control buttons for the MZD media system are also more ergonomically positioned thanks to the electronic park brake.
The rear seat armrest, with built in storage box, is said to "embody the human-centred philosophy by increasing comfort and reducing fatigue". I know I always find that armrests make me less tired, but then I wouldn't volunteer to sit in the back of a CX-3 anyway.
The overall goal with the new interior was to make it more minimalist and Japanese, and when you compare it with photos of the old one it does look less busy and less cluttered, with classy touches here and there. That is only slightly offset by the cheaper, harder feeling plastics around the doors on their armrests.
Top-shelf Akari models come with genuine leather seats in black or white, sTouring gets grey with black leatherette and everything beneath that gets a black interior with black cloth seats.
A sunroof is available on the Akari models.
Price and features
It is perhaps the first time - and certainly the first in recent memory - that the Hyundai isn't the price-leader in a segment. In fact, provided you're prepared to shift gears yourself and make do with an entertainment system that looks like the slit in Ned Kelly's helmet, you could find yourself in a Mazda CX-3 for about $4k less.
The Active kicks off from $24,500 ($27k drive-away) in its cheapest guise and climbs to $28,000 for the better engine and all-wheel drive. Your investment buys you 16-inch alloys, LED daytime running lights and dusk-sensing headlights outside, while an Apple Car Play and Android Auto-equipped 7.0-inch touchscreen handles the entertainment.
Power windows in both rows, roof rails and cruise control also arrive as standard, joined by cloth seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
As the name suggests, the Active with Safety Pack ($26,000 - $29,500) adds Hyundai's SmartSense safety package, which includes blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane keeping assist, AEB with pedestrian detection, forward-collision warning and a driver-attention warning, as well as powered and heated wing mirrors.
The Elite model ($28,500 - $32,000) builds on all that with bigger 17-inch alloys, leather-appointed seats, push-button start and climate control, along with rain-sensing wipers, seat-back pockets and a luggage net.
Finally, the Highlander ($33,000 - $36,000) gets the biggest 18-inch alloy wheels, a head-up display, heated and cooled front seats, LED headlights with high-beam assist, a heated steering wheel and a wireless charging pad for your (compatible) phone.
Comparing the differences between the CX-3 range, there really is a variant for all budgets, with an entry price of $23,990 drive-away for the Neo Sport with a six-speed manual, cloth seats and steel wheels, rising all the way to $37,490 for the leather-filled, sunroof-topped Akari LE, which gets some impressive tech previously only seen in German cars, like a driver-attention monitor and radar cruise control with full stop and go functionality.
Prices have risen over the previous model, but Mazda says this pricing reflects the fact that you're getting more equipment in the new version.
You are also, undeniably, getting a less busy and more classy interior, although the changes to the exterior design are so small you wouldn't want to be paying for them. Nor would you want to change a look that is this pretty, and successful.
Standard kit for your $23,990 drive-away Neo Sport (that's manual, auto adds another $2000) includes 16-inch steel wheels, body-coloured powered mirrors, black cloth front seats with height adjustment, electric parking brake, Bluetooth functionality, a 7.0-inch full-colour 'MZD Connect' touchscreen to control your infotainment and sound system with DAB and six speakers (but no CD player and no GPS), and a multi-function 'Command Control', plus keyless start, rear parking sensors, a reversing carer and 'Smart City Brake Support', which works in both forward and reverse. It's a (very) good-looking package at a tempting price. Apple CarPlay, which would helpfully allow you to run navigation from your iPhone in the base model, is not yet available, but it's coming soon, and a kit to retrofit it will be available at Mazda dealers in the near future.
The Maxx Sport adds 16-inch alloys, auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers, a fold down armrest with two cupholders for the rear passengers, leather-wrapped gear shift knob and steering wheel, climate-control air con, sat nav, 'Blind Spot Monitoring' and 'Rear Cross Traffic Alert'.
Step up to the sTouring and win 18-inch alloy wheels, LED lights all round, slightly nicer black 'Maztek' and cloth seats, a handy head-up display, keyless entry and start, 'Driver Attention Alert', from parking sensors and 'Traffic Sign Recognition'.
The Akari does feel noticeably nicer inside with its softer dash material and leather seats in white or black, plus 'Mazda Radar Cruise Control' with start-stop function, a 360-degree view monitor and adaptive LED headlights and lane-departure warning.
Personally, I'd be quite happy with my value at $25,490 for a manual Maxx Sport. Indeed, it's a bit of a bargain.
The prices we've listed here are drive-away (no more to pay!), which is something new for Mazda and does provide wonderful clarity.
Engine & trans
Two on offer here, both petrol-powered, and each available in any of the Kona's trim levels.
The cheaper option is a 2.0-litre petrol unit good for 110kW at 6200rpm and 180Nm at 4500rpm, and will pair with a conventional six-speed torque converter automatic, sending its power to the front wheels.
Option two is a turbocharged 1.6-litre engine producing 130kW at 5500rpm and 265Nm at 1,500rpm. It pairs with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, and sends the grunt to all four wheels.
Mazda is offering a new SKYACTIV-D turbo-diesel engine with the CX-3 - which has increased in capacity from 1.5 to 1.8 litres, which takes power from 77kW up to 85kW, while torque stays at 270Nm - but you have to wonder why. Mazda Australia predicts the diesel will make up a measly one per cent of sales, which probably explains why they didn't bring one along to the launch for us to drive.
Almost everyone, then, will be choosing the revised SKYACTIV-G 2.0-litre direct-injection petrol engine, which makes 110kW at 6000rpm and 195Nm of torque at 2800rpm, an increase of exactly one kilowatt and three newton metres from the previous model.
Changes to the engine have focused on improving fuel consumption, and variations in that consumption caused by seasonal changes and usage patterns. Apparently the new version offers improved combustion efficiency when under heavy load - climbing hills for example - and thermal-management tech to reduce excess fuel consumption when it's cold outside.
New high-pressure injectors also help to improve torque delivery, with the amount of torque on offer throughout the rev range increased by "one to two per cent". Fuel economy is also improved by the same percentages. Not huge improvements, then.
You can also choose between a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic transmission, and between front-wheel or all-wheel drive (not on the base Neo Sport, though). Not surprisingly, for a city crossover like this, 92 per cent of CX-3s sold will be FWD, and 90 per cent will be automatics.
Having driven the manual version myself on holiday, I would highly recommend it, because it allows you to get the most out of the engine. With a weight of 1266kg it's useful to be able to get involved in shifting.
The CX-3's engine uses a timing chain rather than a belt and you should check our problems pages to see if there are any reports of problems with automatic transmissions.
The less-powerful option is also the thirstiest, with the 2.0-litre engine sipping 7.2 litres per hundred kilometres on the claimed/combined cycle, and will emit 169g per kilometre of C02.
Opt for the turbo and your claimed/combined fuel use drops to 6.7 litres per 100km, while emissions fall to 153g per kilometre of C02.
One of the aims of upgrading the CX-3's engine was better fuel economy, and yet the Mazda engineers admit they managed an improvement of just "one to two per cent" on the 2.0-litre petrol engine and 3 per cent with the diesel, which has grown from 1.5 to 1.8 litres and still manages to use slightly less fuel, at an impressive 4.7L/100km.
The 2.0 petrol has claimed figures of 6.6L/100km for the FWD manual, 6.3L/100km for the FWD auto and 6.7L/100km for the AWD automatic. People who are chasing better economy would go for the diesel, but customers for this car obviously aren't that bothered, or are happy with mid-sixes, because Mazda tips just one per cent of sales will be the diesel.
Let's start with the 2.0-litre option, shall we? The numbers don't look all that pretty on paper, sure, but actually the 110kW and 180Nm on offer is pretty capable of pulling the Kona around. There is some harshness when you really bury your foot, though, and you can hear the engine straining, but around the city and its surrounds it does the job just fine.
That said, the turbocharged engine does offer more bang for your more bucks, and the extra torque on tap makes country driving a breeze, with quick overtakes no problem at all. The dual-clutch gearbox performed admirably, too, albeit after some slight stuttering when it was cold in the morning.
Like all Australian-delivered Hyundais, the Kona has been locally tuned, and they've done a stellar job here across the range. On really bad surfaces you can find the outer edges of the suspension, but generally speaking it does a great job of soaking up lumps and bumps while always feeling connected to the road below it.
Even more impressively, the little Kona actually feels genuinely dynamic, holding through corners with nary a wobble from the body. We'd want to drive them all back-to-back again to be sure, but if the Kona isn't the most dynamic-riding model in its segment, it's going to be damn close.
There are some slight annoyances though, and one is the general refinement. The naturally aspirated engine does get loud and raspy when you ask too much of it, and while the turbocharged unit is much better, it's still quite loud under hard acceleration. There's road noise in the cabin on the wrong surfaces, too (although its far more obvious on the smaller, 16-inch alloys).
They're minor things, though, and more generally speaking, the Kona is an easy, comfortable drive in or out of the city.
In a world of constant downsizing, a 2.0-litre engine might sound brutish and bold in a car of this size, but 110 is certainly not an overpowering number of kilowatts. As a result, the petrol-powered CX-3 feels spry and sprightly, but certainly never sporty.
There is a Sport button you can press, but all it seems to do is hold the gear you're in for longer, causing the engine to drone on like a Peter Dutton speech, and not really making much happen in excitement terms.
A sports car this is not, obviously, so perhaps the words "more than adequate" are best for describing the car's performance. You're not going to fly up any hills, but you can zip off traffic lights with reasonable aplomb, and you're never genuinely found wanting for power. More torque would be nice for overtaking, but you could choose the diesel for that (if you're a ‘one percenter').
One of Mazda's goals with the new CX-3 was improving NVH and they've done a stellar job with that. While the old car was bit of a buzz box at times, the new one is far quieter and more refined in terms of road-noise intrusion, but if you are tempted to push on, the noise from the engine remains strident, and at times strained.
In most driving conditions, however, it's a pleasant cabin to be in, with negligible road noise (although it's more noticeable with the optional 18-inch wheels). And if you do enjoy a slightly lower driving position, you have the ability to drop your chair to a point where you feel more like you are sitting in the car rather on it.
The newly fettled electronic power steering is sharp and fun to use, falling at that point just before it becomes too light and wafty to give proper feedback. The engineers concentrated on "rolling plushness", which is the feel you get through the wheel, basically, and produced an 18 per cent reduction in buzziness through the steering wheel.
Ride control is good over most surfaces - and with ground clearance of 155mm you won't be going too far off road - but there's still a bit clatter over really sharp impacts. Overall, it's a very comfortable cruiser, even on our more brutal country roads. Mazda says it worked on "reducing choppiness", or vertical body movement, and it seems to have succeeded.
Cornering is something you can actually enjoy, if you care for that kind of thing, and this CX-3 benefits from Mazda's 'G-Vectoring Control' (GVC), which is meant to provide "neutral cornering" by minutely reducing torque output to the appropriate wheel to cancel out understeer, or oversteer moments.
It's all about giving the driver that sense of "oneness" with their vehicle that Mazda likes to call "Jinba-ittai" - horse and rider as one. In terms of horsepower and performance figures, they're not something CX-3 buyers are going to worry too much about, clearly, as Mazda makes no mention of the car's 0-100km/h time. A bit of research uncovered the fact that it ranges from 9.0sec for the manual to 9.5 for the auto. Not terrible, then.
Overall, much like the Mazda2 this vehicle is based on, the CX-3 is one of those cars that is genuinely as much fun as it looks, and slightly more fun than you expect it to be.
Throw in its good looks, economical engines and reasonably affordable pricing and it's a complete package. Up until the point where you have kids, and you're forced to upgrade to something that can actually carry a pram.
If your budget extends only to the Active, expect six airbags, a rear-view camera, rear parking sensors, tyre-pressure monitoring, hill-start assist and downhill brake control, as well as the usual suite of traction and braking aids.
The Safety Pack adds safety (surprise!) including blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, AEB with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning and a driver-attention warning.
Spring for the Elite and you'll add front fog lights, while the Highlander gets auto high beams and front parking sensors.
Mazda says its new CX-3 is part of its "aim for a safe and accident-free automotive society", which means the company is living slightly in dream land, but at least you know it's thinking about safety.
The 360-degree view monitor is very handy, but you can only have it on the Akari, where you'll also get eight parking sensors, while the base model makes do with rear ones only.
Indeed, the base model goes without most of the safety goodies that are sprinkled across the more expensive variants - blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane-departure warning, traffic-sign recognition, adaptive LED headlamps, driver-attention alert (with a coffee cup popping up to remind you that you might be tired) and the very handy, almost autonomous radar cruise control with full stop and go function.
What you do get on the entry Neo Sport is 'Smart City Brake Support', which works when moving forwards or backwards and is basically Mazda's name for AEB. The system works with both cars and pedestrians at speeds of up to 80km/h. The previous CX-3 received a maximum five-star ANCAP rating.
Like all Hyundais, expect a very good five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty with service intervals pegged at 12 months or 15,000kms. Your first five services are capped, too, at a total $1395 for the 2.0-litre engine, and $1405 for the turbocharged option.
Surprisingly, Mazda claims its customers are completely unconcerned by the fact that it doesn't offer free roadside assistance as part of its new and improved five-year warranty, although it does occasionally offer it as a promotional thing. I'd be negotiating hard to have it included in the price.
The five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, from Mazda Motor Corporation itself, is a real selling point, however.
Servicing is due every 10,000km or 12 months and the first one will cost you $289, the second $317, third $289, fourth $317 and fifth $289. Seems to be a pattern there.