First Drive: 2018 Hyundai Kona

Denis Droppa gets behind the wheel of South Korea's quirky new SUV

25 October 2018 - 11:29 By Denis Droppa
Eye catching styling and bright colours for the new Kona.
Eye catching styling and bright colours for the new Kona.

The hatchback and SUV/crossover segments are where all the action is, and they’re the only two SA vehicle segments to have grown in 2018.

Into this ever-growing playground comes Hyundai’s new Kona, a front-wheel drive crossover with a 170mm ground clearance that will spar against the likes of the Mazda CX3, Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR and Nissan Juke. And that won’t be an end to the Korean car maker’s onslaught into this highly competitive segment, which now represents 22.1% of the new-vehicle market (behind hatchbacks at 32.9% and light commercials at 26.4%).

In the third quarter of 2019 Hyundai SA will launch the higher-riding Styx SUV, which has just been unveiled overseas, as a direct rival to the market-leading Ford Ecosport.

The Kona is similarly priced to Hyundai’s slightly larger Creta SUV, but is aimed at buyers more concerned with image than practicality. Not that the Kona is deficient in the space department; it’s roomy enough for four adults and the boot’s a practical size at 361l, which can be increased by removing the hidden storage tray. It’s just that the Kona’s styling radiates more flamboyance with its sleek curves and slit-shaped LED headlamps. The vibrant interior reflects the funky exterior theme, featuring smooth, contoured surfaces and premium-feeling soft-touch plastics on the bottom part of the dashboard.

The cabin is perked up with colourful interior accents: in red for four of the exterior colours, and in lime for the striking acid yellow exterior colour.

For now the Kona is launched with a choice of two petrol engines: a normally aspirated four-cylinder 2.0l or a three-cylinder 1.0l turbo, while Hyundai may consider bringing in a more powerful 1.6l turbo petrol later.

The Kona is the first Hyundai to offer the 1.0l turbo engine in SA, and it’s an impressively punchy little powerplant with a lot more zing than its modest cubic capacity suggests.

The Kona certainly grabs attention, with distinct hints of Alfa Romeo in its styling.
The Kona certainly grabs attention, with distinct hints of Alfa Romeo in its styling.

Paired with a six-speed manual transmission, the 1.0 Kona felt peppy being driven around the urban jungle and comfortably maintained the national speed limit (and more) on the open road, with a factory-claimed top speed of 181km/h. It’s a refined engine that doesn’t sound buzzy or strained, though it does make a distinctive three-cylinder sound.

At sea level it’s down on grunt compared to the 2.0l version, which is rated for 194km/h, but at Gauteng altitude, where normally aspirated engines lose about 17% of their power, the two engines are closely matched. I couldn’t feel any significant difference between them at the Gauteng media launch. The two Kona derivatives are identically specced, so the choice (at altitude) will essentially come down to whether you prefer an auto or a manual. The smaller engine is also credited with slightly better fuel economy, at 6.8l/100km versus 7.2.

Both versions come standard with high safety levels comprising six airbags, ABS brakes, and stability control. Equipment is quite comprehensive with aircon, height-and reach-adjustable steering, onboard computer, electric windows and mirrors, navigation, cloth and leather seats, and remote central locking. The infotainment consists of a seven-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.

The compact Kona delivers taut and predictable handling, with motor-driven power steering that delivers some feel and isn’t excessively light.


Kona 1.0 TGDI Executive manual — R379,900

Kona 2.0 NU Executive automatic — R399,900

Includes five-year/ 150,000km warranty with roadside assistance, and five-year/90,000km service plan.