Although it did not take away the supreme accolade, the inclusion of the Hyundai Kona as a finalist in the recent AutoTrader-backed South African Car of the Year organised by the SA Guild of Motoring Journalists is testament to the esteem in which the small SUV is held by the fraternity.
And rightly so.
Available on the local market as a 2,0-litre naturally aspirated option or a 1,0-litre turbo unit – the subject of this review – the Kona came through a vigorous voting process before being selected as a finalist where it faced stiff opposition from other cars that had also raised the level of buyer expectation in their respective categories.
Raising the bar in the small SUV sector is a tough ask considering the fact this growing segment has a number of top-end manufacturers all competing – and, while the sector may be growing, the overall market is shrinking.
Largely penned by Hyundai’s California-based Design & Engineering centre, the Kona’s bold lines reflect its American DNA compared with the often more subtle and conservative styling emanating from Korea – the twin headlight design with LED daytime running lights leading into the cascading grille just one example.
The bold front and rear are emphasised by the car’s wide stance and its voluminous, confident crossover vehicle body styling. The 17-inch alloy wheels, standard on both derivatives, further contribute to the character of the car.
The interior design of the regular Kona reflects the exterior theme, featuring smooth, contoured surfaces on top of the instrument panel contrasting with the dark painted parts.
The interior of the Kona come with two distinctive colour themes: Lime, for the Acid Yellow exterior colour; and Red, for the other four exterior colours. The interior colour accents are featured on the air vent surrounds, around the gearshift, the engine start button ring, the stitching on the seats and the steering wheel.
The floating screen of the 7-inch navigation touchscreen allows drivers to stay tuned to the traffic ahead at all times. The infotainment system, with sound from four speakers and two tweeters, integrates navigation, media and connectivity features and the Display Audio allows passengers to mirror their smartphone’s content onto the system’s 7-inch display via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The Kona offers plenty of space for both passengers and luggage. The front-seat legroom, measures 1 054 mm and 880 mm for passengers in the rear sit ahead of a trunk capacity of 361 litres (VDA) that can be increased by removing the hidden storage tray. When large objects are transported, the 60:40 split rear seat back rest creates the necessary space.
Convenience features include air-conditioning, rear passengers’ arm rest with cup holders and the 7-inch infotainment system.
Remote control buttons on the height and reach-adjustable steering wheel enables the driver to operate the speed cruise control, answer phone calls, toggle the onboard computer’s information screens and change radio stations or mute the sound system.
The exterior rear-view mirrors can fold in with remote control to protect it from damage in tight parking spaces. The sun visors include vanity mirrors with illumination and the centre roof console includes a sun-glass holder.
The Kona’s Kappa 1.0-litre T-GDI 3-cylinder turbo-charged petrol engine provides 88 kW at 6 000 r/min. and 172 Nm maximum torque between 1 500 r/min and 4 000 r/min. It is a perky 998 cc engine that gets its boost from a turbo-charger that is equipped with an electronically controlled waste-gate actuator which improves fuel efficiency by reducing pumping losses as well as improving throttle response and low-end torque. The unit features a six-hole GDI injector, pressured to a higher-than-average 200 bar, securing a clean combustion.
Power goes to the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox. The maximum speed of the Kona 1.0 TGDI is 181 km/h and fuel consumption, measured in a real-life combined cycle, can be as low as 6,8 l/100 km.
Precise handling on the road is helped to a large degree by the enhanced Motor Driven Power Steering (MDPS). It delivers better responsiveness and comes with an increased gear ratio of 58 mm per revolution, enabling quicker steering action by reducing steering wheel turns.
For the front suspension McPherson type struts with a stabiliser bar, coil springs and gas filled high performance dampers are used. At the rear, a coupled torsion beam axle – also with gas filled high performance dampers – provides ride comfort with sporty handling.
The 17 cm ground clearance makes the Kona a competent vehicle to tackle a gravel road with confidence.
The Hyundai Kona is one of the safest cars in its segment, confirmed by the five-star safety rating that it achieved in the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP). The active safety features include anti-lock braking, Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), Downhill Brake Control, Blind-Spot Collision Warning and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Warning.
Passive safety features include driver and front passenger crash bags, complemented by curtain and side-impact bags.
Hyundai is the only car manufacturer to make its own steel for the global production of its vehicles – with benefits for the new Kona, which features a strong, light body with 51% ultra-high-strength steel that enhances the dynamic performance and increases passive passenger safety. An optimised joint structure enhances side and roof rigidity, while the under and upper body has been designed to optimally absorb and disperse crash energy around the rigid safety cell.
Yadda, yadda, yadda – what’s it like to drive?
The presentation, feel and performance of the Kona is quite impressive taken in context of what it is and where is aimed in the market.
On the road the small capacity engine is willing and able and can scoot to highway speed rapidly enough to prevent it becoming a mobile chicane in a sea of traffic. It also does this without the rasping breathlessness shown by some other 1,0-litre engine offerings on the market.
Equally, once at that speed, there is still more than enough in reserve to accelerate smartly past slower moving vehicles – and to maintain the speed up most inclines.
Road feel is good with limited wind noise intruding into the cabin space and the brakes do a solid job of rapidly decelerating the car with little sign of fade after a repeated test braking exercises – these tests also showing it maintains a straight line without become ‘squirly’ during hrd, emergency braking.
Cornering is confident with limited body roll even when it is chucked in hard – although, it must always be remembered this is an urban crossover and not a low-slung roadster.
Pricing includes a 7 year/200 000 km manufacturers’ warranty (comprising the 5 years/150 000 km warranty with a 2 years/50 000 km drivetrain warranty), a 5 year/90 000 km service plan and 5 years/150 000 km roadside assistance.