Ha-Kona Matata: The Hyundai Kona is the South Korean interpretation of the Nissan Juke and the multitude of copycat compact crossovers since, but does it offer the same worry-free motoring?
For various reasons, Brits go mad for a sports utility vehicle and that appetite shows no signs of fading. The Hyundai Kona joins a multitude of similar vehicles, including the Seat Arona, Citroen C3 Aircross, Nissan Juke and Renault Captur, and undoubtedly there are more to come.
For Hyundai, the Kona is a very important car because it forms the ‘cornerstone’ of its plan to be the biggest manufacturer in its area of the world by 2021 (the year, not the 24-hour time) – a move that Kia is unlikely to take lying down.
The Hyundai Kona and its sister car, the Kia Stonic, share a fair amount of DNA but the former lives on its own all-new platform, which has helped pave the way for the all-electric version coming next year, complete with an NEDC range of 240 miles.
With everything to gain, the Hyundai Kona has the potential to live a lucrative, care-free life. We headed to Barcelona in Spain to drive as many variants as physically possible to see just how likely that is.
Hyundai Kona review: What are we looking at?
Side by side with Hyundai’s other SUV, the Tuscon, the Kona stands out like a particularly sore thumb. It is the only car in the range that you could call extroverted, which is no bad thing when trying to lower the average age of your customerbase.
Measuring 4,165mm long, 1,800mm wide and 1,550mm tall, the Kona is a little longer and wider than the Seat Arona and Nissan Juke, but smaller than a VW T-Roc. As for the wheelbase, that comes in at 2,600mm – 50mm shorter than an i30.
The UK will have a choice of a three-cylinder 1.0-litre T-GDi and a four-cylinder 1.6-litre T-GDi when it goes on sale in November, 2017, and both are petrol. A diesel Kona is on the way, while the same cannot be said for the 2.0-litre petrol offered in the Australian market.
There are twice as many trim levels as there are engines to choose from, with S used to denote the most basic cars, followed by SE, Premium and Premium SE at the top.
While a dash of interior accent colour helps make the Kona look more interesting, it never quite disguises the cheaper plastics located on the dashboard and door cards. It is unfortunate that there is no option to change this.
Also worth noting is the fact you are unable to spec a dual-tone colour setup if you have the panoramic roof. Still, the 28 individual colour combinations for the exterior alone should help you get the Kona you want.
Besides being eye-catching, the standard issue blend of rugged looks and chunky plastic cladding helps it go off-road(-ish). Although the fear of damaging one of the 10 wonderfully bright paintjobs available will keep most owners away from trouble.
Speaking of off-roading, the Kona can be had with all-wheel drive and has a descent control function for creeping down steep surfaces at a slow speed. Based on limited testing – a short but steep gravel hill – it appears to work.
Ground clearance of 170mm also helps with the 4×4 element of the Kona, though we can see most buyers sticking with two-wheel drive because of the price difference. You can also slap a roof box on top to carry more things.
The Kona stands out in a crowd of ‘quirky’ crossovers.
A little heavier than some of its rivals.
Hyundai Kona review: What about the handling and ride quality?
On empty, corner-heavy roads you can eke out a decent level of enjoyment from the Kona though not as much as its smaller, more chuckable offerings. It is dependable and predictable, which is what you want in a vehicle designed for more mundane tasks.
Understeer is always the reward for pushing your luck in the corners and decent grip makes it easy to get the Kona back in line. The steering is oddly heavy for a car of this type, which we found refreshing.
A lack of body roll helps make it better at conquering corner-infested B-roads, especially as the suspension is more firm than supple. The downside is that it means bumpy roads and speed bumps can be a little uncomfortable.
It is worth going for the 16 or 17-inch wheel options, as the 18s (stylish as they are) hamper the ride quality. Going bigger also has an adverse effect on the CO2 and fuel economy figures, which we will get to later.
With a kerb weight of 1,233kg for the 1.0-litre T-GDi and another 68kg extra for the 1.6-litre, the Kona is a bit of a porker. Admittedly, it is lighter than a T-Roc by at least 99kg, but then a Juke can be as little as 1,163kg.
The Kona offers a somewhat commanding road position but, as is the case with most small SUVs, it never feels particularly lofty. Still, the added level of visibility makes it easy to manoeuvres into a space or along narrow streets.
The 1.6-litre is quite thrashy to the point where the seven-speed ‘7DCT’ automatic struggles to keep it quiet (especially in Sport mode) if you want to make decent progress, but it does move the Kona forward with more than ample pace.
Its smaller 1.0-litre sibling has a narrow torque band (contrary to what the figures suggest), but is punchy enough. Pair it up with the inoffensive six-speed manual and it has moments of being satisfying, even, yet never to the same level as Peugeot’s excellent 1.2-litre PureTech.
You certainly notice the extra performance in the 1.6-litre, which hits 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds – considerably faster than the 1.0-litre’s 12 seconds. Not only that, the smaller lump tops out 15mph shy of the Kona’s 127mph maximum speed.
As for refinement, the Kona’s cabin shields you from greater levels of exterior noise than the i30, which helps make it a better weapon for long motorway and A-road stints.
Hyundai Kona review: Is it, you know, practical?
Safety is seemingly a strong suit of the Kona, thanks to the usual airbag setup and an array of electronic safety systems, including forward collision warning, forward collision assist, blind spot assist and lane depature warning – all standard.
It helps, too, that neither engine is particularly fast and that Hyundais tend to be well built and therefore better able to soak up the impact forces of a crash.
The boot is biggest without the spare wheel, but even then the 360-litre capacity falls short of rivals. Luckily this figure extends to a more usable 1,143 litres with the 60:40 rear seats folded down.
Rear leg room is where Hyundai seems to have focussed because the Kona can cope with those over six-foot. Headroom is also generous regardless of where you are sitting.
Spacious rear seats and well-put together.
Smallest boot in its class, which makes it less capable for families.
Hyundai Kona review: UK price and running costs?
You can buy a Hyundai Kona from £16,185 if you are happy with the base specification level and 1.0-litre T-GDi. Standard gear includes LED daytime running lights, five-inch infotainment display and 16-inch alloys.
For those who want greater luxury, it is possible to spec an eight-inch display that features Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity and navigation, while Hyundai’s decision to add a head-up display option is a class first.
CO2 emissions for the Kona’s 1.0-litre T-GDi comes in at 113g/km with 16-inchers fitted, rising to 125g/km with the 17 and 18-inch alloys fitted. Fuel economy, meanwhile, also takes a drop from a combined 53.3mpg.
The 1.6-litre is less attractive in terms of tax because the 153g/km CO2 output makes it £500 to tax for the first year then £140 for every year after that. Fuel economy also drops to a less desirable 38.7mpg at best.
Ample base level of equipment and the head-up display is a neat and unusual extra.
Higher spec cars are harder to justify in terms of desirability.
Hyundai Kona review: Should I buy one, then?
The Hyundai Kona looks good and drives well, but its notably small boot reduces the benefit of having spacious rear seats and that will be a negative for families wanting in on the SUV action.
If, however, you are the sort of buyer that puts style before luggage space and smartphone connectivity before miles per gallon, we doubt the Kona and its five-year warranty will ever give you much to worry about.