Today I’m testing the Hyundai Kona. I take the keys from the import representative and drive up to the car the color of “unripe lemon”…
“Dare to differentiate yourself”
A muscular, almost aggressive, apparition catches my eye at first glance. From the outside, Kona looks bigger than she really is. Massive front grille, a narrow slit above it at the sides flanked by thin LED strips of daylight. On the sides, the prominent LED headlights stand out, framed by fashionable black plastic, into which the turn signals are additionally embedded. The designers have incorporated something similar at the rear. This plastic trim running forward from the front and back from the rear wings looks unusual and, in my opinion, a little distracting. The Kona’s most beautiful “cuckoo”, in my opinion, is at the front.
On the other hand, this element grabs immediate attention at first glance. “Dare to differentiate”. That’s the slogan Hyundai is using to present one of its latest models. These design elements are clearly the manufacturer’s intention and set the Kona apart from a host of similar models from other brands.
The Kona rides the current fashion wave of small pseudo-SUVs and crossovers. Carmakers use a conventional lower-midsize hatchback as a technical base, “blow it up” in height, add a rugged off-road look, call it an SUV and add a few thousand euros to the price. Some manufacturers will add a few centimetres of ground clearance.
But there are also carmakers who take the SUV name literally and add a 4×4 drive. Hyundai even adds a 50:50 torque-to-torque ratio between the axles and hill descent assist in the Kona. These equipment features aren’t common even in midsize SUVs. The powerful engine is the icing on the cake, but more on that later.
Interior remains conservative
I’m in. The mighty handle feels massive and solid, indeed I get a similar feeling from the entire front door. They’re pleasantly heavy and close with a muffled sound. I haven’t come across anything like it in this class for a long time. I didn’t give up and tried it several times in quick succession, catching the attention of the nearby contemporary “managers” in tight jackets and short tight trousers with half-litre coffees in hand …
I circle the car and peek into the trunk. Fairly low loading lip, average volume 361 litres, folding the rear seats down 2:1 creates a flat area. With the solid ‘slab’ raised and a polystyrene liner for odds and ends underneath, the range reserve stares back at me, which is standard on Hyundai models.
I sit in the higher seats and automatically try to lower them. Unsuccessfully, it can only be raised. Never mind, I’m sitting in an SUV, so I should be sitting higher. The seats are rather softer and more suited to more subtle figures. I feel like I’m sitting on the seats and not in them. I adjust what I can adjust, I praise to a great extent the electrically adjustable lumbar support which nicely pushes exactly where it is needed. The interior feels simple and purposeful, but a little incongruous with the extravagant exterior. The interior elements of the LIME pack (e.g. lemon air-conditioning vent frames, lemon seat belts, steering wheel leather trimmed with the same colour thread,…) capture the situation. The dark upholstery on the roof and side pillars is also a nice touch.
I can’t complain about the shoulder room, similarly the space for both legs is ample. The right leg does rest on the hard plastic of the center console, but due to its large surface area with no edges or protrusions, nothing presses and doesn’t bother. Storage is ample, except for smaller openings for cups/bottles between the front seats.
Despite the not abundant glazing, the view to the front and sides is ample, and the rear-view mirrors are big enough. I tried to sit ‘behind’ but hit a limit with a wheelbase of 2600mm. I had plenty of headroom, but my knees were touching the back of the driver’s seat, which, by the way, is practically covered in plastic, which is appreciated especially by families with small children. Installing the child seat in the back was easy thanks to the conveniently placed IsoFix anchors.
I found soft plastic only under the infotainment screen and in front of the passenger seat. However, I have no complaints about the workmanship of the plastics. The door panels look worthy, except for the cheap switches for opening the windows and adjusting the rear-view mirrors. You also need to be careful of the plastic around them, it’s smooth and prone to scratches. The armrests in the doors and between the seats, on the other hand, are pleasantly soft and positioned at just the right height.
The dashboard is clear, rev counter on the left, speedometer on the right, simple TFT display in between, nothing special. However, I appreciate the coolant temperature gauge, which is now replaced by a blue-red icon. I also praise the control of the automatic air conditioning by single-purpose buttons. I was intrigued by the ability to adjust the air blowing in all directions at once. The automatic transmission selector could have had a more interestingly shaped head. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing from the top of it.
I’m looking for the right location. At my height of 185 cm it takes me a little longer. I would welcome a longitudinal adjustment of the steering wheel in a larger range. After a while I’m satisfied, I pair my phone via bluetooth with the car and I’m good to go. I try to get going as gently as I can. The gearbox shifts gently, I don’t notice any jittery, twitchy shifts. Excellent for a dual-clutch. After a minute I’m in a traffic jam, nothing unusual for Bratislava at half past five in the afternoon. I make the most of the time, call my wife and enjoy the exceptionally excellent sound of the call transmitted to the speakers. The quality of the call has been praised from the other side of the line as well.
While standing in a traffic jam, I record the glances of the crews of other cars. The distinctive design and unusual bold colour can be eye-catching.
On the road
Under the bonnet, the most powerful engine currently in the Kona line-up, the 1.6 T-GDi petrol, with 130 kw of power at 5,500 rpm and 265 Nm of torque achieved between 1,500 and 4,500 rpm, is spinning its wheels. It is mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission of the company’s own production. I won’t name all the specifications in this test, they can be found on the importer’s website, rather I’ll focus on my impressions from the drive itself.
The engine is quiet and vibration-free at low revs, while at higher revs it is rather noisy, which I rather blame on the poor insulation of the engine from the crew compartment. However, the gearbox will only let the engine go to high revs when kickdown is occurring. The engine is at its best in the mid-range. When trying to accelerate suddenly, you have to reckon with a slight delay in engine response, which I attribute clearly to the time needed to spin up the turbocharger. In fact, the gearbox shifts quite quickly and mostly logically. Its reactions depend on the selected driving mode (Eco, Comfort, Sport). When kickdown in Eco and Comfort mode, although it downshifts by 2-3 gears, a second later it is upshifting despite the accelerator pedal on the floor. In Sport mode everything is fine and the transmission uses the full rev range. In doing so, it maintains higher revs when downshifting, and the effort to accelerate harder is rewarded with an immediate response.
Other than the behaviour of the gearbox and the subtly stiffer steering in Sport mode, I didn’t notice any other changes when changing between modes. The steering is artificial like most cars across the classes, looser around the mid-position and without feedback. However, it is not overpowered and provides suitable resistance on the highway without the need for directional correction.The chassis is a pleasant surprise. The higher centre of gravity (height with skids is 1,565mm) is hardly felt when driving. Ordinary bumps in the road are traversed with grace; larger and especially transverse bumps show up in a muffled sound rather than a physical transfer to the body. This statement applies to the 215/55/55R17 tyres on which the test car is shod.
It leans minimally in corners and tracks well, even on poor road surfaces, thanks to the multi-link rear axle. I felt the 4×4 support in the rain as I gradually accelerated into a steep corner, where the car didn’t feel like it was pulling out of it as it started to skid, but pushing out of it. Similarly, it helps the car when launching off the line at a brisk clip. I daresay the paper acceleration of 0-100km/h in 7.9sec is understated and can be surpassed. I had no problems with the brakes, they have a fairly quick onset and the car didn’t tend to lean forward too much even under hard braking.
On the highway, the car is stable and not very sensitive to crosswinds. At 130 km/h, it revs to 2500 rpm. Noise penetrates mainly from the chassis, and aerodynamic noise from the side windows is excellently suppressed.
Test drives were mostly on the Bratislava – Vienna route using county roads and motorways. I avoided testing on unpaved roads as I don’t expect anyone to take a car of this type off-road. I drove on county roads with an average consumption of 7.2 l/100km, observing the Austrian speed limits and occasionally using the engine’s potential for overtaking and rapid acceleration out of villages. Highway consumption depended on speed. At 120 km/h it hovered around 7.2 , rising by one litre at 130 km/h, a tax on the considerable air resistance due to the raised body structure. City traffic in Bratislava traffic jams increased the car’s appetite over 10 litres. A weekend drive through the city with no traffic jams and occasional standing at traffic lights brought consumption down to 8 litres. The relatively high consumption can be explained by the 4×4 drive, the weight of just under one and a half tons and the very decent engine power, which simply cannot be unused. The problem may be the 50-litre tank, which at the aforementioned consumption will force you to fill up more often than is nice.
The list price of the car tested is €23,490 + €900 for the Bi-LED headlights + €700 for the Lime Pack + €400 for the Smart Pack + €500 for the Acid Yellow metallic paint. Too much? Maybe, but at this price you get a characterful engine, a well-functioning 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, 4×4 drive and a 5-year unlimited mileage warranty. The Family trim includes all the essentials. The only thing missing from the list price is the option to add adaptive cruise control. I have replaced the missing navigation with the use of Waze software, taking advantage of the seamless Android Auto support.
Service interval is 15,000 km or 12 months. Hyundai clearly doesn’t want to pander to incorrectly extended engine oil change intervals, but is trying to hold the customer accountable.
I was happy with the car except for the details. The strong engine backed by a playful and stable chassis offers fun capability, the excellent automatic offers comfort, the 4×4 drive offers passability through lighter terrain and safety in winter operation.
Ambitious but justified higher price suggests the Kona won’t be for everyone with this technology and equipment. It will appeal to the customer who is attracted by the car’s unusual design and versatile capabilities and won’t be bothered by the higher fuel consumption.