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Driven: Hyundai Kona. Image by Hyundai.

Driven: Hyundai Kona
Top-of-the-range Kona tested on the UKs challenging roads.


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Hyundai Kona

4 4 4 4 4

Good points: Striking looks, largely attractive cabin, powerful performance from 1.6 petrol, decent handling, commanding driving position

Not so good: Expensive in this guise, ride occasionally fidgety, weird whirring from engine, mediocre fuel economy off main routes, too much tyre roar

Key Facts

Model tested: Hyundai Kona 1.6 T-GDi DCT AWD Premium GT
Price: Kona range starts from 16,445; 1.6 T-GDi DCT AWD Premium GT from 25,415 as tested (including metallic paint)
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: all-wheel drive, seven-speed DCT automatic
Body style: five-door crossover-SUV
CO2 emissions: 153g/km (VED 500 first 12 months, then 140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 42.2mpg
Top speed: 127mph
0-62mph: 7.9 seconds
Power: 177hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 265Nm at 1,500- to 4,500rpm

Our view:

We've said it before with a lot of these small crossovers - a market niche that has exploded in recent years, once the automotive companies all cottoned on to how much money could be made from such vehicles - but if you're hankering after this type of machine, then really all it needs to be in order to succeed is attractive to behold and easy to use when behind the wheel. It doesn't matter how good the chassis is, it doesn't need an absolutely storming engine, the price difference to a regular, hatchback-shaped supermini is almost (to a degree) irrelevant... The thought process in a buyer's mind runs 'looks nice, has a bigger-than-average boot... I'm sold'.

Take this Hyundai Kona as a case in point. If you're going to ignore the i20 five-door (from 9,995) or the i20 'Coupe' (it's a three-door, really, from 12,145) or the i20 Active (from 14,145) that sit alongside it in the marque's showrooms, then it's presumably because you like the way the Kona looks - and the fact it's physically taller than its hatchback siblings. And, let's be fair, this model is a lot more interesting to gaze upon than any of the i20 family.

Thus, the reason the Kona bags a cast-iron four-star rating from the off is solely down to its appearance. When it first arrives and you clap eyes on it in the metal for the first time, you raise an appreciative eyebrow and think 'hmm, looks better and less busy than I was expecting from the photographs'. And then, in the space of a week, its bold aesthetic treatment just grows and grows on you. Trimmed up in a high specification with a contrast roof, it's a car that can confidently pull off loud and exciting colours like yellow or the Tangerine Comet of our test model, and it's one where you continually drink in new and interesting details - like the swage line above the door handles, or the dominant cascading grille, or the thin and mean light clusters, or the compact proportions. We really like the look of the Kona; to be bold is better than to be meek, so bravo for the Hyundai bean-counters for signing this singular design off.

Inside, it's comparatively too staid; in this regard, it's a lot like one of its key competitors, the excellent SEAT Arona, in that both the Spanish crossover and this Kona are a lot more interesting on the outside than they are within. Hyundai has tried hard with splashes of body-coloured trim encircling the air vents, centre console, door switches and the like, and there's more orange piping and stitching on the comfortable seats. And we like the infotainment screen, instrument cluster array and the general ergonomic rightness of it all. But there's no hiding that it's a rather Plain Jane fascia rendered in a variety of hard, unyielding charcoal plastics. We're not saying it's a bad cabin, far from it, but youthful, or particularly premium-feeling, it is not.

It's also not massive in terms of rear passenger accommodation, and the 334-litre boot is adequate by today's standards, rather than gobsmacking. However, there's an absolute wealth of toys on this flagship Premium GT model, including luxuries like heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel and a head-up display, among masses more. Weirdly, amidst all this noble equipment generosity, the climate control is only single-zone.

A brilliant kit count, then, for this particular Kona, but then the price tag of 25,415 is not what you'd call inexpensive, even if you buy it via PCP. Of course, few people will opt for this range-topping, all-wheel drive model with the 177hp, 1.6-litre T-GDi petrol engine and the dual-clutch gearbox. Instead they will look further down the range at better value, more economical 120hp 1.0-litre T-GDi models in trims like SE, Premium or Premium SE. Yet one part of this Kona's technical make-up is another USP, if you want it, and that's the four-wheel drive.

So many of these crossovers don't even offer AWD as standard, and while the Hyundai's set-up is perhaps not the most sophisticated four-wheel drive available, it'll reassure some buyers that their car has the best possible traction in abject conditions. In terms of the driving experience, though, the Kona feels resolutely front-drive - and it's a rather pleasant machine in which to tool about. The ride is good; not perfect, as there's still too much low-speed fidgeting and it can't match up to the Arona's all-round composure, but it's certainly better and more pliant than the last Kia Stonic we tried. There is a little bit too much tyre roar at middling road speeds, which seems to echo around the rear of the Kona's cabin, but it's quite good at keeping the engine's exertions and wind noise to minimal levels, especially on the motorway.

That 1.6-litre T-GDi is also a good'un, in the main, but there are one or two issues. Stretched out to beyond 4,000rpm it performs strongly, but it sounds a touch four-pot coarse and wheezy, while at very low speeds there's a weird, clockwork-like whirring that persists somewhere near the front bulkhead; it's most odd and not a little bit annoying. However, the DCT is pretty impressive and the performance feels every bit as lively as the 7.9-second 0-62mph hints at, with the Kona proving to be a really nippy contrivance. The handling is good too, as the Hyundai feels more like a hatchback than an SUV in the corners, keeping its body upright and providing safe, neutral four-square grip.

Yet, like so many crossovers, it's not exactly exciting. The steering is typical Hyundai, with varying weighting in different modes but not much to talk about in terms of feel. And you'll have to be driving like an utter maniac to make the Kona do anything but hold a steady, trustworthy line through corners. Also, that largely innocuous AWD system leads to some fairly punitive fuel economy. Until we had to go to a friend's 40th birthday party (he really won't like us mentioning this; remember, mate, it's just your tenth anniversary of being 30...) in the West Midlands, necessitating an 80-mile-each-way trudge down the M1, M42/A42 and back, it was struggling to breach 28mpg when it was merely running gently about on quiet, English country lanes.

On that motorway slog, it gave back an indicated and much better 39.7mpg on the return home from the party, and over the course of a 319-mile week in its company, it just managed to get beyond 30mpg overall - the final average pegged at 31.4mpg. As a comparison, the Stonic diesel we tried a few weeks back did 47.7mpg in much the same circumstances, with up to 55mpg on offer on A-roads, which rather exposes Hyundai's decision to only offer the Kona with petrol power for now as a risky one.

Overall, however, the Hyundai Kona 1.6 T-GDi AWD proved to be very likeable and a fine-looking machine, replete with kit, easy to drive and reasonably good on fuel (once it got out onto a motorway run). And so that's more than enough to secure it a favourable review. It's a bit too expensive in this guise, it can be thirsty just doing local pottering about, the interior isn't particularly clever, spacious or funky and on occasion the good-to-firm ride quality, elevated tyre noise and whirring 1.6-litre motor impinge on its refinement.

But even taking all this into account, you've got to admit the Hyundai is a strong contender in the B-segment marketplace. It's far more interesting than any model of i20 and there's little else on the market that looks like it; it's as distinctive as the Nissan Juke, without being anything like as unapologetically ugly. Stick to the 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, front-wheel drive and a slightly lower spec, and the Kona will make an awful lot of sense if you're interested in buying something of this ilk.


Kia Stonic: The Kia, while undeniably good-looking, is styled more conservatively than the Kona - and there's no AWD option, nor engine with more than 120hp. The ride is also firmer on the top-spec Stonic, to its detriment.

Nissan Juke: While the Citroen C3 Aircross is the modern alternative to the Kona's striking appearance, the Juke has been doing idiosyncratic crossover looks since 2010. The Hyundai's better all-round, though.

SEAT Arona: Handsome, if not quite as visually daring as the Hyundai, but the Arona feels like the more rounded, quality item when compared to the Kona. It's still our class leader.

Matt Robinson - 19 Feb 2018    - Hyundai road tests
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2018 Hyundai Kona drive. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai Kona drive. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai Kona drive. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai Kona drive. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai Kona drive. Image by Hyundai.

2018 Hyundai Kona drive. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai Kona drive. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai Kona drive. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai Kona drive. Image by Hyundai.2018 Hyundai Kona drive. Image by Hyundai.


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