Hyundai Kona

Punctuality not a strong suit, but it makes up for lost time

ANDY ENRIGHT

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Hyundai Kona 1.6T Highlander 1591cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 130kW @ 5500rpm 265Nm @ 1500-4500rpm 7-speed dual-clutch 1414kg 7.9sec (claimed) 6.7L/100km $36,000 Now

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

WHEN ASKED whether the Kona can hope to beat the sales of rivals like the Mazda CX-3 and Mitsubishi ASX, Hyundai Mitsubishi ASX, Hyundai Australia’s chief executive, JW Lee, appears momentarily affronted. “Why not?” he shrugs, regathering his composure. “It’s a better car.” Confidence is clearly not in short supply.

Timeliness, on the other hand, is. Since 2011 there’s been an explosion in the Aussie compact SUV market, and as Hyundai’s Japanese rivals carved up this lucrative pie, the Koreans sat on their hands.

Based on a modified version of the PD platform that underpins the i30 hatch, the Kona looks to stake its claim with striking body armour, a chunky stance, a sleek glasshouse and neat detailing such as the split daytime running lights and main driving lamps.

At 4165mm in length, 1800mm in width and 1565mm in height, the Kona is 110mm shorter than a CX-3, but boasts a 30mm longer wheelbase and measures 35mm wider too, resulting in a cabin that feels airier. The flipside of this is that with the wheels pushed out to each corner and passenger cell space prioritised, luggage space suffers. Except that it doesn’t, the Kona delivering 361 litres with the rear seats in place, compared to the Mazda’s 264-litre capacity.

Both use a space-saver spare to do this, rather undermining the outdoorsy brief, especially as the i30 hatch gets a full-size item.

Buyers get to choose between a 110kW 2.0-litre normally aspirated engine, paired with front-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic gearbox or, if you’re feeling a few grand flusher, a 130kW 1.6-litre turbo unit with all-wheel-drive and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Hyundai also offers three trim levels – Active, Elite and Highlander – and all of these trims are offered with either engine.

The 1.6-litre turbo is similar to that found in the larger Tucson, and feels peppy when asked to shunt 1414kg of Kona up the road; the claimed sprint to 100km/h takes just 7.9 seconds. With 265Nm arriving at 1500rpm, it rarely feels short of zip, but the dual-clutch transmission can be a little reluctant to downshift, even when set to sport.

The 2.0-litre engine that 80 percent of buyers will choose is a good deal more vocal when pushed, but the six-speed automatic feels a suitable partner, giving the front-wheel drive car a relaxed loping nature. Here, zero to 100km/h takes 10 seconds, and the arrival of peak torque is a similarly languid affair, the 180Nm serving waiting until 4500rpm to make an appearance.

The ride is firmish but not intrusively so, only sharper road imperfections sending a jolt through the superstructure.

Body control is only average for the class, the Kona lacking that chuckable junior hot hatch feel of a Mazda CX-3.

Intriguingly, no version of the Kona comes with built-in sat nav. Hyundai has decided to fit standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.

Identifying the sweet spot in the Kona range is tough. If pushed, I’d nominate the base 2.0 Active or the top-spec 1.6T Highlander.

While it may not leap straight to the top of the class, I’m sure you’ll be seeing a lot of these on Aussie roads very soon. Despite its chief exec’s bold proclamation, that’s something Hyundai Australia looks set to be content with. The Kona might have been late to the party but, hey, if you’re there before it’s over, you’re on time.

PLUS & MINUS

Bold styling; interior space; 1.6 turbo’s zest; equipment in top models So-so body control; unadventurous cabin; space-saver spare

Dynamic lifter

The front-drive Kona and the all-wheel drive model have very different rear suspension architectures. The frontdrive gets a cheaper and simpler torsion beam rear end, while the all-paw variant gets a more sophisticated double-A-arm arrangement.

The team responsible for local tuning went through 13 different front and 29 rear damper combinations and appraised two different antiroll bars, but fitting inferior non-production tyres then renders this largely moot from a tester’s perspective.

The electrically assisted steering has a quick ratio but feels gluey as you wind on more lock. The brakes are beyond reproach, with an excellent pedal feel and strong performance.

OR TRY THESE...

Mazda CX-3 Akari AWD $35,490

Feels tighter than the Kona inside, but offers plenty of recompense with sparkling handling, a mature and assured interior finish as well as extra safety kit with the latest revision. Allwheel drive petrol version is the go.

Toyota C-HR Koba AWD $35,290

Although C-HR sounds like a formal written warning, the baby Toyota SUV is a fun steer with stacks of gear.

Compared to the Hyundai’s 130kW 1.6, the C-HR’s 85kW 1.2 is puny and vehicle supply has proven an issue.