The striking Hyundai Kona joins the fiercely competitive battle of the compact crossovers, but is it just a case of style over substance?
What is it?
Up until recently, the likes of the Nissan Juke, Peugeot 2008 and Renault Captur virtually had the small SUV sector sewn up.
However, within the past year alone, new kids on the block including the Kia Stonic, Seat Arona and Citroen C3 Aircross have been launched. The Hyundai Kona is one of the more interesting entrants…
Not only is it a genuine baby SUV (all-wheel drive is also available), but a 100% electric version will soon be joining the line-up.
Priced from £16,450, it’s only available as a five-door and you’re unlikely to see too many looking identical because there are plenty of personalisation options.
Awarded a maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, the Kona comes with an excellent five-year warranty and roadside assistance package
The Kona is arguably the most distinctive-looking car in its class, especially up front where the LED daytime running lights lined up above the LED headlights, plus a bold grille, give it an aggressive look.
With an athletic profile, plenty of black body cladding to give it a rugged look, plus an option for different roof colours, it’s sure to stand out from the crowd.
Inside it’s slightly more conventional, but still attractive and with a quality feel, thanks to a decent amount of soft-touch materials.
The cabin isn’t the most spacious in its class, which means that it’s slightly more challenging in the back, particularly if there are full-size adults up front.
In the entry-level S trim, boot space is 361 litres, increasing to 1,143 litres with 60:40 split-folding rear seats folded flat, because it has a can of tyre sealant rather than a spare wheel.
Move up the trim spec levels (as most buyers will) and the luggage capacity drops to 334 litres/1,116 litres. Again, not class leading by any means, but ample for most in daily driving.
Generally, the Kona is well put together and Hyundai has a good reputation for reliability.
The Kona is initially only available with two turbocharged petrol engines – a 1.0 T-GDi or 1.6 T-GDi.
I tested the smaller of the two, which is expected to be the most popular with buyers. It’s a 1.0-litre three-cylinder, producing 118bhp. Capable of reaching 0-62mph in 12 seconds (though it seems slightly brisker) and a top speed of 112mph, fuel economy is 54mpg and it has CO2 emissions of 117g/km.
It’s available with a six-speed manual gearbox, but if you move up to the 175bhp 1.6-litre petrol model there’s a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT) on offer, plus all-wheel drive. It’s also faster, sprinting to 62mph in 7.9 seconds and on to a top speed of 127mph, but economy drops to 52mpg and CO2 emissions are up to 125g/km.
Roll on the diesel and electric options, if it’s more impressive fuel economy you’re after.
The Kona is available in five trim levels – S, SE, Premium, Premium SE and top of the range Premium GT.
The S comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured bumpers, door handles and door mirrors, air conditioning, automatic headlights, LED daytime running lamps, cruise control, DAB and Bluetooth connectivity and a 5-inch LCD centre console display.
Move up to the best-value spot in the range, the SE, and you get goodies including 17-inch alloys, roof rails, a leather wrapped steering wheel and gear knob, plus a 7-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration.
Opt for Premium and the additions include an 8-inch touchscreen, automatic wipers and rear privacy glass, while the Premium SE gets a heated steering wheel, power folding door mirrors, front parking sensors, a Head Up Display (HUD) and rear cross-traffic alert.
Premium GT benefits from a Safety Pack which includes Autonomous Emergency Braking with pedestrian recognition, plus LED rear lights and a 4.2-inch LCD driver’s instrument cluster.
How does it drive?
It’s fair to say that the thrummy 1.0-litre isn’t the best three-cylinder out there in terms of performance, economy or refinement, but it’s well up to the job.
You will have to work it a bit harder if you’re in a hurry and the six-speed manual transmission isn’t the slickest either, but for most journeys it’s absolutely fine.
It’s not up there with the class-leading Mazda CX-3 when it comes to handling either, but it rides well enough, there’s plenty of grip and it stays pretty flat when cornering.
That said, the Kona isn’t necessarily about speed and driver engagement, it’s a style statement and it’s that which will drive sales.
The Hyundai Kona has more kerb appeal than just about any other car in its class, and when the electric and diesel options come, it will be one of the most compelling compact SUVs on the market.
In the meantime, it’s a good all-rounder, but it’s not a class leader in any particular area. Well equipped, safe, easy to drive and with a generous five-year warranty, we still think the Kona should be on your baby SUV shortlist.