Hyundai has finally stumped up a compact SUV, called Kona, after years on the sidelines of a highly competitive game that’s ruled by the Mazda CX-3. Kona will arrive in Australia in September, but WhichCar was able to drive a near-production-ready version at Hyundai’s research and development centre in South Korea, and this is what we found out.
- Packaging – The Kona is actually shorter than the CX-3, but its wheels are further apart in length and width. Hyundai’s engineers worked hard to squeeze the components underneath the Kona into each corner so that there is more room inside the cabin and in the boot. It seems to have worked. The back seat is big enough to accommodate adults without too much fuss, and the boot seems roomier than the little CX-3. Official numbers will be revealed later.
- Range – Australian Kona buyers will be able to choose between three different Kona models when it launches. There will be an entry-level front-wheel drive model with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine (110kW/179Nm) and a six-speed automatic gearbox, and an all-wheel drive 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine (130kW/265Nm) and a seven-speed dual-clutch auto. An electric version has been announced and is expected to join them next year.
- Looks – Hyundai has pushed the boundaries with the Kona’s brave design. Its split headlights stand out on the road and make it impossible to mistake for anything else. In this segment, a bit of individuality is good and we think the Kona is attractive in the right colour.
- Equipment – Active safety like autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning will be available in every Kona model, as well as a rear view camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, touchscreen infotainment and more. The top-of-the-line Kona will get a head-up display, digital radio and wireless smartphone charging. There’s some surprise and delight inside Kona, too, like a direction of travel indicator built into the rear-view mirror.
- Engine – A brief drive of the 1.6-litre turbocharged Kona showed promise. It has decent grunt and shifts along nicely with good throttle response. It’s one of the most powerful in its class, and should be quite fun to drive once the suspension and steering have been tuned for our conditions.
- Refinement – The cars available to drive in Korea were not completely representative of the finished Konas we will receive in Australia. Production is about to start, but there are some bugs to iron out. Hopefully the final cars will have a greater focus on refinement, as engine noise in our test car seemed quite loud and intrusive. The seven-speed gearbox also slurred on up-changes in Comfort mode, which makes for a smooth transition between gears but does make an unpleasant sound and leaves an unpolished impression.
- Ride/Handling – Luckily, Hyundai has expert engineers in Australia who are already working to optimise the Kona’s suspension and steering for local roads. The cars in Korea were quite softly sprung and felt too light in the rear. Handling could be better, and steering more heavily weighted. We will have to wait and see how it drives when it arrives here. Locally delivered versions of other Hyundais – like the second-gen i30 that’s related to Kona – have shown how much improvement is possible with a bit of Aussie knowhow.
- Details – On the whole, the pre-production Kona we drove seemed to be well built and neatly finished. However, we did notice rattles around the interior, particularly from the rear-vision mirror assembly. There was more hard, scratchy plastic than we expected, especially on the inner door trims, and wind noise around the A-pillars was a problem. Pricing is yet to be announced for Australia, but if it is to be competitive around the low-$20k mark for the base-model, it will need to be spot on to find favour against its tough competition.
ANY RIVALS I SHOULD CONSIDER?
Lots! Mazda CX-3 is the most popular, but the Toyota C-HR is another recent entrant to the segment that’s creating a stir with its audacious looks, perky engine and enjoyable driving dynamics.
Other options performing well in Australia include the Honda HR-V, Mitsubishi ASX and Subaru XV.