Rewind a decade or two and it wasn’t difficult to buy new cars which were, well, kinda terrible. Things are a little different nowadays.
No matter what type of vehicle you’re in the market for, you can rest assured that there will be ample options from different car manufacturers and all of them will be good enough. Sure, some are bound to be better than others and have their own unique character, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a horrid car currently on sale – at least in the Western world.
This is an excellent thing for customers. It means that no matter what they choose, they’ll find themselves behind the wheel of a car loaded with safety features, many of which were unthinkable a decade ago.
Unfortunately, the overall better quality of cars on the market does mean many of them are rather bland, forcing car manufacturers to think of new ways to make their products appeal to consumers. Take the Hyundai Kona, for example.
A crossover with a fun personality – who would have guessed it?
The South Korean car manufacturer took off the wraps to its baby crossover towards the end of 2017. To set it apart from the bland and dreary crossovers on the market, Hyundai made it stand out with a striking design and a fun-loving character. I recently spent a week with the car and was pleasantly surprised by what I found.
Right off the bat, it’s important to note that I’ve liked the look of the Kona from the moment it was launched. Many people think it’s ugly, but I think it’s cute. The split headlight design is polarizing, but I find it’s unique, and the same stands for its overall design.
Hyundai could have taken its popular i30, tweak its interior and exterior styling a bit, and call it a day. It didn’t. Instead, they created an all-new design which has gone on to influence the look of its other models, most notably the Santa Fe, Palisade, and Venue with their similar twin headlight designs.
The figures only tell part of the story
First, the specs. Hyundai gave me the keys to a 2019 Kona Elite, which in Australia, is the mid-level trim option, sitting above the Go and Active but below the Highlander and Iron Man. The Elite is available with either the marque’s 2.0-liter petrol Mpi four-cylinder with a six-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels or a 1.6-liter petrol T-GDi four-cylinder mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch and all-wheel drive. Ours had the former.
This Atkinson-cycle engine produces 147 HP at 6200 rpm and 180 Nm (132 lb-ft) of torque at 4500 rpm. That may not seem like much on paper (and it isn’t), but it is certainly enough for the daily driving needs of the vast majority of motorists, especially those looking at something like the Kona. Throttle response is excellent and the vehicle skips off the line nicely, occasionally spinning the front tires in wet conditions. Getting to the speed limit requires no fuss and even when you pin the throttle and the revs climb, the engine remains surprisingly quiet, making for a very pleasant driving experience.
The front-wheel drive model we tested features a torsion beam rear suspension, but Hyundai has tuned the set-up specifically for Australian roads. The result is a small crossover that rides very nicely and provides a positive amount of feel through the road.
No one driving a Kona will be enamored with the vehicle’s overall dynamics, however. The Kona sits on narrow 205/60 tires and can easily be pushed into understeer if you’re a little overzealous entering a corner in the dry. If it’s wet, you may find yourself in a rather sticky situation. These points shouldn’t come as a surprise and the Kona isn’t exactly a car which encourages you to drive rapidly. I would be shocked if 10 per cent of Kona drivers had ever been through a turn fast enough to invoke any understeer anyway…
In addition to the pleasant throttle response, the Kona Elite’s brakes are well calibrated and not overly grabby like some others in the class and the steering is nicely weighted.
A cabin that’s a joy to spend time in
What I liked most about the Kona Elite was its interior. Yes, it is basic, and those who’ve driven an i30 will notice that many common parts. However, the cabin is an inviting place to sit and our red test car featured a host of eye-catching satin red accents to really make it stand out and add to the fun and lovable character of the Kona. There was red around the air vents, starter button, shift lever, and across the edges of the front and rear leather seats; even the seat belts were bright red.
In the center of the dashboard is a 7.0-inch touchscreen with the same interface as other Hyundai and Kia models. It is simple to use and has a very limited learning curve meaning you’re able to jump in from any other car and quickly understand the menu system. The steering wheel is an excellent size and the shift lever is also nice and has a Hill Descent Control function, even though it curiously looks like a manual shifter when viewed from a distance.
The sleek roofline of the Kona gives you the impression from the outside that the car lacks any headroom at the rear. That’s not true, At 6’1, I often deal with limited headroom in vehicles of this size but was able to comfortably fit in the rear with my head just barely grazing the headliner. The legroom is a little comprised, however. Meanwhile, the trunk offers up 361 liters of space with the rear seats upright and 1143 liters with them folded away. This is roughly on par with others in the class such as the Toyota C-HR, Mitsubishi ASX, and Mazda CX-3.
A compelling package
A Hyundai Kona Elite like the one I tested, complete with the premium Pulse red paint as well as the red leather trim, interior pack, and styling pack, starts at $35,295 AUD ($24,399) which is quite a lot. The Kona Elite range tops out at over $38,000 AUD ($26,269) with the 1.6-liter turbo and all-wheel drive system while the Kona Iron Man exceeds $44,000 AUD ($30,395)
All in all, the Hyundai Kona is a crossover which you can make a legitimate case for buying over a conventional hatchback. It’s fun, edgy, comfortable, and more than capable of fulfilling the requirements of most consumers.