Car Review

Hyundai Kona: this funky crossover stands out from the crowd

Cooler than a K-pop band, the Hyundai Kona is fun to look at and good to drive

21 April 2019 - 00:06
By thomas falkiner AND Thomas Falkiner
The Hyundai Kona has good looks and a generously high specification level.
Image: Supplied The Hyundai Kona has good looks and a generously high specification level.

Hang on a second - are you sure this thing is a Hyundai? It looks a bit too radical for them, if you ask me.

Believe it, my friend, because it's true. Apparently somebody slipped something strong into Hyundai's office water-coolers because its designers penned the zaniest-looking car to ever roll off the Korean firm's production line.

Named after a place in Hawaii because, well, why not, the Kona borrows elements of the Nissan Juke and Citro├źn Cactus (especially up front with those slit-eyed headlights) to make one very sleek and attractive crossover. In a segment that's terribly oversubscribed this Hyundai manages to stand out. And that's important.

Cool. So does the interior mirror the exterior's visual extroversion?

Nope, not at all, I'm afraid. Melt into that extremely comfortable driver's seat and you could be in practically any other Hyundai/Kia product - it's that generic.

It doesn't feel particularly premium either: I counted no less than five different plastics adorning the dashboard and centre console. Fortunately said plastics meld together well and there were no squeaks or rattles to speak of - even across rougher road surfaces. So in terms of long-term durability you should be golden.

Equipment levels in the Kona are high with cruise control, blind-spot detection, tyre- pressure monitoring plus front and rear park-assist all shipping as standard. You also get multiple charging ports, Bluetooth and an easy-to-use seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system that's Apple CarPlay compatible. In terms of value for your money Hyundai have certainly come to the party.

You've in the past been disappointed by some of the engines in Korean cars. What's the story with this Kona?

This is true. Hyundai and Kia are often guilty of fitting their local product with lacklustre, naturally aspirated powerplants. A perfect example of this is in the Kia Rio I drove a few weeks ago - it's a great car let down by a terrible engine. Fortunately this is not the case with the Kona. 

My test car came bolted to a three-cylinder turbocharged motor and it is one of the best things about this vehicle. Though comparable engines can be annoyingly "laggy" when fitted to small SUVS (the Nissan Juke 1.2 DIG-T comes to mind), this is anything but. Partnered to a six-speed manual gearbox it pulls well out of the blocks with no lack of lowdown torque, which means unlike the Juke the Kona never bogs down from a standstill - even on an incline. You'll appreciate this in stop-start traffic.

Performance is pleasantly brisk around town and on the highway the combination of tall gearing and a meaty midrange give the Kona some unexpected cruising legs. While consumption is acceptable I found this engine noisy - especially on start up when it makes mechanical clicking and ticking noises. Sometimes it was a bit disconcerting.

Interesting. I was going to ask how it handles but I guess that's not a relevant question considering what this car is and who might buy it, right?

Well oddly enough I found the Kona to be a surprisingly good thing to pilot. Much better in fact than the Hyundai i20 and i30, which, let's face it, it shouldn't be. With not much weight in front of those front wheels (that little three-pot motor doesn't weigh all that much) it turns in well and resists understeer better than its closest comparable rival, the Nissan Juke.

While it's true the electric power steering may lack feel (which doesn't these days, though?) it is reasonably well weighted and direct. Again, this never used to be the case with Korean cars so it's nice to see them making progress in this department.

Though the suspension is tuned slightly firm of centre the overall ride quality of the Kona is decent, absorbing most of what Joburg's roads fling at it without much issue at all.

So you'd recommend one then, would you?

I think if you're shopping for a crossover that can stand out from the crowd this Hyundai is definitely worth a closer look.

For despite some strong rivals (Nissan Juke, Toyota C-HR and the soon-to-be-released Kia Soul), the unconventionally styled Kona manages to leave a lasting impression thanks to its spritely performance, nimble handling and generously high specification level.

Oh, and not to mention that utterly formidable seven-year/200,000km warranty.

FAST FACTS: Kona 1.0 T GDI Executive

ENGINE: 998cc three-cylinder turbo

POWER: 88kW at 6,000rpm

TORQUE: 172Nm from 1,500rpm to 4,000rpm

TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual

0-100KM/H: 12 seconds (claimed)

TOP SPEED: 181km/h (claimed)

FUEL: 8.2l/100km

PRICE: From R384,900