Final Position: 8th
5 0 5
Plus & Minus
Roomy interior; infotainment; handling
Harsh ride; engine’s uncouth top end
If you are reading each of our small SUV megatest reviews in ascending order by score, you’re probably surprised to come across the Hyundai Kona so soon. Especially as the cheaper – and dinkier – Venue must obviously be rated more highly as a result.
Strong points first.
Based on the existing i30 hatch architecture, the $25,500 compact crossover has enough going for it at the lower end of the range to justify its increasing popularity, including contemporary, standout styling. Nothing else looks like it on the road.
The modern, attractive cabin, meanwhile, offers comfortable cushions front and rear, a handsome dash featuring crystal-clear instruments and an excellent infotainment system, plenty of important standard kit like AEB and a reversing camera, as well as a sporty steering wheel.
Space in the back is a little tight for taller people due to the coupe-like roofline, but most adults will be able to travel shortish distances without feeling too hemmed-in. As with most of its low-spec rivals here, you won’t find rear air vents, or 12V or USB sockets to charge devices. The 361-litre boot space is about average for this segment.
Turn the key, and the Kona is fun to punt about town. Its perky 2.0-litre engine is shared with the closely related Kia Seltos and works harmoniously with the six-speed torque-converter auto, particularly in the mid-rev range where the driver can simply press and go instantly. The big atmo four sounds a little thrashy at the top end, though. And while the inferior fuel consumption compared to the inherently more efficient CVT-equipped Seltos is no surprise (8.7L/100km average versus 8.0L), the Kona’s half-second lag sprinting to 100 comes as a shock.
On a smooth ribbon of road, the Kona’s handling is inspiring, dispatching fast corners with confidence and control. The steering’s well weighted too, though a little too muted if feedback’s what you’re after. We wouldn’t bother with the Sport setting, by the way, which only adds unnecessary heft, not feel.
However, though a relatively low 170mm ride height helps deliver that car-like agility, the Active feels nervous and loose over gravel, and its ESC system can be disconcertingly late cutting in. And when it does, there's little subtlety to it.
Then there’s the ride comfort – or lack of – on anything but smooth roads. While the firmly sprung chassis tune aids dynamics, the compromise is thrown into sharp relief when the strut-front/torsion beam-rear suspension needs to negotiate speed humps or pot holes. Here, the Kona struggles to settle, shaking and stirring its occupants, particularly those out back. Worst on test. Even on smoother patches, the vertical movement can become tiresome.
It’s obvious Hyundai has tuned the Kona locally to prioritise sporty handling, which makes sense with the 1.6-litre turbo AWD option on all models that includes a multi-link rear. But the poor FWD 2.0L is left struggling. A $3500 premium for AWD is worth it.
The Kona seems to be a small SUV of two halves – eager and fun on smooth roads, but noisy, bouncy and uncomfortable over rougher stuff. You have to ask yourself where you’ll be doing most of your driving. And, as you’ll read further along, the closely related Kia Seltos S seems to have the Active’s issues more or less licked with basically the same component set.
Still, Hyundai has your back in other ways, because along with the Kona’s 1.6T/AWD upgrade, there’s also the smaller Venue, which shows how the car maker’s Australian arm is capable of getting a local tune right without so much compromise.
Hyundai Kona Active Specs
Engine: 1999cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v
Power: 110kW @ 6200rpm
Torque: 180Nm @ 4500rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B): 4165/1800/1550/2600mm
Cargo capacity: 361L
Tyres: Hankook Kinergy ECO2 205/60R16
Economy: 8.7L/100km (tested)
0-100km/h: 9.4sec (tested)
80-120km/h: 6.1sec (tested)
100-0km/h: 38.0m (tested)
ANCAP rating: 5 stars