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Car reviews - Hyundai - Kona


We like
Choice of powertrains coming; more high-tech interior; heaps more interior space; bigger boot than before; drives nicely; N Line option available for all grades
Room for improvement
Base model has a hard plastic overload; no auto-dimming rear-view mirror on base car; prices are up considerably

New-generation small SUV is bigger and much better than the last

7 Jul 2023



HYUNDAI has gone big with its all-new Kona small SUV range, with the second-generation model range adding more powertrain options, more tech and safety gear, and more size.


The brand says the new model is set to become the new ‘default small car’ in its line-up, as more Australian new-car buyers move to small SUVs. And with a broader range and more options available to buyers, there is a decent chance that most will be catered for, and Hyundai aims to continue to command at least 10 per cent market share in the highly competitive small SUV space.


That is what the last-gen Kona managed over six years on sale, and that was with a more limited model range. This time around there is a line-up comprising petrol 2WD, turbo-petrol AWD, petrol-electric hybrid and EV versions, though the electrified versions are still months away from launching here.


This review, then, will focus on the petrol models. The entry-level engine option is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder ‘MPi’ with 110kW and 180Nm, which is teamed to a CVT automatic transmission and is front-wheel drive, with official combined cycle fuel use of 6.6 litres per 100km.


The other petrol engine is the T-GDi 1.6-litre turbo-four, with 146kW of power and 265Nm of torque, and it comes mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission (no longer the lurchy dual-clutch auto), and it has all-wheel drive as standard. Official fuel consumption for it is pegged at 7.6L/100km.


Also standard on the turbo-petrol models is the N Line package, which includes a set of 19-inch wheels, exterior body kit and styling package with colour coded bumpers, a big twin-fin rear spoiler, twin exhaust outlets, and inside it scores a black-and-red look with leather and Alcantara trim.


There are two different trim grades to choose from, as well. The entry-level Kona starts at $32,000 (plus on-road costs) for the 2.0 MPi and $40,000 for the 1.6 T-GDi N Line AWD. If you want the N Line pack on the base petrol, that will cost four-grand more ($36,000 +ORC).


Hyundai’s rival to the Nissan Qashqai, Toyota Corolla Cross and Kia Seltos has grown to better align with those cars, and along with higher pricing, the range has seen an increase in standard equipment on offer.


The entry-grade Kona has standard LED exterior lighting, 18-inch alloy wheels, a 12.3-inch touchscreen media system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, keyless entry, push-button start, dual-zone climate control, cloth seat trim, a leather-lined steering wheel and shifter, and an array of safety tech including autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assistance, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.


There’s also the much-maligned speed limit recognition and warning system which must be turned off every time you drive the car if you don’t want it beeping to tell you when it thinks the speed has changed, or you’re driving a couple of kays over what it believes is the limit. It got it wrong on multiple occasions during the launch drive.


Further, there’s now a driver monitoring camera for fatigue management, and it is extremely frustrating, too,


If you step up to the Kona Premium grade ($39,500 for the 2.0 MPi, $46,500 for the 1.6 T-GDi) brings a fully digital instrument cluster (12.3-inch) with the Group’s camera-based blind-spot view monitor, a surround view camera, side parking sensors, LED dual-projector headlights and LED indicators front and rear, while inside you get a heap more features like heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, electric front seat adjustment, leather trim, an eight-speaker Bose stereo, sat nav, and a power tailgate.


Options available include the N Line pack ($4000 on Kona, $3000 on Kona Premium), a sunroof ($1500), and there are nine different colours available, depending on the spec you choose, while three different leather trim options are also on offer, but again it depends which version you buy.


The step up to the Premium grade really does make the interior feel considerably more luxurious and upmarket, with the entry-grade Kona missing some key items like an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and soft padded armrests on the doors. There is also a different shifter in the base model and that means you miss out on the more practical retractable cup-holders between the seats.


Back seat space has improved greatly over the first-gen model. While it still is not as capacious as a GWM Haval Jolion in the back, this 182cm tester managed to slot behind his own driving position with ample foot, knee and headroom.


There is still a significant transmission tunnel intrusion, so three adults across might be a squeeze, but there are directional air-vents and two USB-C charge points in the second row, along with mesh map pockets, bottle holders and the requisite child-seat anchor points (ISOFIX in the window seats, three top-tethers) to make this a suitable family car option.


Boot space has grown to a class-competitive 407 litres, too, and there is a space-saver spare wheel under the adjustable boot floor, too. One nice touch – as in the Venue – is that the parcel shelf can be removed and slotted behind the rear seats.


Hyundai is standing by its five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, and buyers have a choice of prepaid or pay-as-you-go servicing. The first five services are pegged at $399 per visit, whether you choose 2WD or AWD. But note, the turbo AWD model has shorter service intervals – 12 months/10,000km, as opposed to 12 months/15,000km for the 2.0 MPi 2WD.


If you maintain your vehicle with Hyundai you score lifetime roadside assistance, too.


Driving impressions


For most customers, the most important Kona model has not yet arrived. The hybrid is expected to account for more than 40 per cent of sales, based on Hyundai’s estimates. But for those who are looking for a more traditional small SUV, the 2.0 MPi or 1.6 T-GDi AWD – both familiar from the Kia Seltos – offer a lot to like.


Starting with the base engine and CVT, there is ample pulling power and great refinement. It does not feel like a CVT from the bad old days; instead, the transmisison makes really good use of the modest power and torque outputs, and while there is a bit of a raucousness to it under really hard acceleration, it is very liveable in urban driving.


The turbo-petrol with all-wheel drive is certainly the enthusiast’s choice, as it offers a heap more punch and a more enjoyable eight-speed auto, which offers snappy and smart shifts at all speeds. The all-wheel drive system is pretty handy in the bends, too.


Dynamics are decent, with a firm-ish ride and light but accurate steering, though the steering is a bit lacking in tighter corners.


The body is reasonably well controlled, though at times there can be a bit of an unbalanced sensation between front and rear axles in more demanding road scenarios. The tyres on the base car aren’t spectacular in terms of grip, either.


The refinement on offer, though, makes this feel like a far more advanced and polished small SUV than the first Kona, and it will be very interesting to see how the hybrid and EV models stack up. More coverage to follow in the coming months.

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