Review

2018 Hyundai Kona review: first Australian drive

  • Elite 2.0L 2WD 
  • | $28,500 

the verdict

Pros

  • Zippy turbo’s engine and gearbox
  • Turbo’s sorted independent rear
  • Attractive, intuitive interior

Cc rating

7.5/10

cons

  • 2.0-litre’s choppier ride
  • Some harsh cabin plastics
  • ‘SUV tax’ over equivalent i30
Review
Photos
Specs

Journalist
1 week ago

Hyundai is a brand that is on the continual rise. Once known only for being cheap and cheerful, the South Korean marque continually proves naysayers wrong by serving up reliable, functional cars that remain – yes – often cheaper than their competitors. Flush with confidence, Hyundai are in the process of branching into luxury product with offshoot Genesis, and the sporty end of the market with the N sub-brand – but the mainstream still sits at the heart of the Hyundai badge. But with sales off 5.9 per cent this year, the time is ripe for Hyundai to address a conspicuous hole in its range: the lack of a small SUV. Insiders will know the Creta – Hyundai’s city SUV for the developing world – but with that car deemed unacceptable for picky Western markets, a superior alternative has been under development for some time. Enter this: the 2018 Hyundai Kona.


The Hyundai we know plays a straight bat when it comes to design – but the Kona throws that caution to the wind, with an extroverted, polarising look – something that Hyundai are unabashedly happy about. There’s certainly a lot going with the styling – the Kona has 10 different lighting functions at the front, and, combined with Hyundai’s new ‘cascade’ grille, the front end won’t be confused for another member of the small SUV set. Things are fresh at the rear, too, with a set of pretty individual cladded taillights.


2018 Hyundai Kona Elite Tangerine Comet Rear End


Inside, though, the Kona is less radical, sporting a layout similar – though not identical – to the brand’s new i30 hatchback. Quality, though, is noticeably off from the i30’s high benchmark, with greater use of harder plastics and less of a feeling of plushness. The Kona does, however, offer a cool level of interior customisation, with coloured seat belts and vent surrounds on the top-shelf Highlander trim.


The entry level Active starts at $24,500 and includes a healthy standard equipment list such as 16-inch alloys, air-conditioning, automatic headlights, a 7.0-inch infotainment system with smartphone mirroring, a reversing camera and LED daytime running lights, though it does not include any active safety equipment. The $26,000 Active safety pack does though, with equipment such as AEB with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, rear traffic alert and lane keep assist now part of the equation.


2018 Hyundai Kona Active Ceramic Blue Front End Driving


The $28,000 Elite is expected to be the most popular model, with 17-inch alloys, leather upholstery, climate control and rain-sensing wipers as standard. The top of the local Kona tree is the $33,000 Highlander, which adds equipment such as 18-inch alloys, a heads-up display, LED headlights with automatic high beam and some segment-exclusive equipment such as heated, cooled and powered front seats, as well as a heated steering wheel and Qi wireless phone charging.


Uniquely for the segment, Hyundai is offering the two available drivetrains - a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine with a six-speed automatic and front-wheel drive combo and a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine with all-wheel drive - in the four different model levels.


2018 Hyundai Kona Interior


We drove the broad spectrum of Hyundai Kona specification at the SUV’s local launch in the Canberra region, driving the car across high-speed motorways, pockmarked B-roads, urban backstreets and on gravel.


Armed with that information, does the Kona have what it takes to compare against sales favourites, the Mazda CX-3 and Subaru XV, as well as the excellent Toyota C-HR? Have they missed the boat or arrived fashionably late to the small SUV party? Based on the drive program at the national launch, Hyundai appears to be onto a winner with the Kona. Why is that? Read on.

DRIVE

7.5/10

Locally, the Kona is available with two different drivetrains. The first of which is a 110kW/180Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that is also used in the i30 hatchback. It’s matched to a six-speed torque converter automatic, and is only available with front-wheel drive and a torsion beam rear suspension setup. Choose the $3,000-3,500 more expensive 130kW/265Nm 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine, and not only is it matched to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, but also a reactive and lockable all-wheel drive system and with multi-link independent rear suspension.

Hyundai Australia predicts that the 2.0-litre variant will be the more popular drivetrain in a 70/30 sales. We think that’s a shame, because the 1.6-litre turbo and all-wheel drive combination is by far the sweeter partnership, and one that will sadly be overlooked by many buyers based purely on the price premium over the more pedestrian 2.0-litre drivetrain.

The 1.6-litre turbo noticeably faster in all situations – the blown four’s low-range torque is particularly impressive. It sounds better, too, and despite the AWD system’s circa-120kg of additional heft, the 1.6-litre uses less fuel and produces fewer emissions. Hyundai claims combined fuel consumption from the 2.0-litre of 7.2L/100km and CO2 emissions of 169g/km – 0.5L/100km and 15g/km more than the 20kW/85Nm more powerful 1.6-litre turbo.

2018 Hyundai Kona 1.6 litre turbo engine

The 2.0-litre engine is not a bad engine, per se. In town, it’s a quiet companion paired to a mostly clever six-speed auto. However, when more power and torque are needed – think highway onramps – the engine’s lower outputs are noticeable. Overtaking, in particular, can take a while. Part of the 1.6-litre turbo’s advantage is the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. It’s not as quick as a DSG from a Volkswagen Group car, but it features none of that brand’s renowned low-speed lurching issues, and Hyundai’s DCT instantly downshifts as soon as the throttle is pressed. It won’t hold a gear until redline however, even in manual mode – though few Kona buyers will mind that.

The Kona’s overall dynamic ability also depends on which drivetrain you choose, because the independent rear end of the 1.6-litre endows it with much better ride quality and superior agility. The 2.0-litre doesn’t ride poorly, but the Kona’s short wheelbase when paired to the basic torsion beam makes for a choppier run along more technical country roads. The torsion beam rear is much less adept at ironing out bumps than the independent setup of the 1.6-litre turbo. Put simply, a 2.0-litre Kona with is a car that’s mostly adept in handling Australian roads, though it feels a touch stiff.

Swap into the more expensive 1.6-litre, though, and you could be driving a car designed specifically for Australian roads. The (considerable) extra spend is worth it, in our opinion, because of the enhanced dynamic nous of the independent rear, not to mention the performance gains. Equipped like so, the Kona easily challenges the dynamic leaders of this segment – the Mazda CX-3 and Toyota C-HR.

2018 Hyundai Kona DCT automatic transmission

Regardless of drivetrain, the Kona’s steering is speed-variable, feeling largely free of feel at low speed. At a crawl it’s light, making parking a doddle. Add speed, and the tiller weights up nicely, boosting driver confidence. The Kona’s drive modes alter the steering weight: in Eco, it’s dull, just like the throttle. Comfort mode adds marginal weight, while Sport adds greater steering resistance while quickening the transmission and throttle mapping. But no matter how much (artificial) weight is dialled into the steering, feel and communication is left out in the cold, making Kona feel a bit too resistant in sportier driving.

The all-wheel-drive system standard on the Kona turbo is a reactive system, capable of sending up to 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels. The driver can also select via a button a fixed distribution between the front and rear wheels. On fast gravel, the Kona’s AWD system proved largely effective – it provided quick power redistribution when slip was detected and, whilst it’s not a rally car, the ground clearance is superior to the CX-3 and the Kona is more capable off the tarmac than the Mazda. The gravel roads on the Kona’s launch gave us a chance to test out the Kona’s brakes, too. The ABS was a touch slow to react, though the brakes themselves are powerful, and pedal feel is good.

On the safety front, active safety technologies are standard on three of the four Kona grades: the entry-level Active misses out as Hyundai claims shoppers here prefer a lower price, not more equipment. The lack of AEB across the range is, however, disappointing.

2018 Hyundai Kona Highlander Green Rear End Driving

The effective level two Kona, the Active with Safety Package, is $1,500 more and adds the aforementioned autonomous braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane keep assist. The Elite gets the same set of safety tech; the flagship Highlander adds automatic high beam. Radar cruise control isn’t available at all, which is a disappointment. Impressive, however, is the subtle intervention of the technologies that are available. In many competitors including the C-HR, the safety technologies constantly beep, distracting the driver.

COMFORT

7/10

Anybody who’s stepped into a recent Hyundai will find the Kona’s cabin instantly familiar. The dashboard layout is similar to the new i30 hatch, with central-mounted air vents located below a ‘floating’ infotainment touchscreen. There are legible dials, and in general, the hard buttons and controls are easy to understand and use. If you have to resort to the owner’s manual, you’re doing something wrong.

Kona’s cabin vibe is modern and playful, with the seat belts adding a splash of colour on the Highlander grade. Underlying quality is much better than less salubrious competitors, the Ford Ecosport and Holden Trax. That said, an i30 hatchback makes much more generous use of soft materials than the Kona, which uses too much hard plastic – a factor that was instantly noticeable. The only soft touch point is a narrow strip on the dashboard face in Elite and Highlander grades. A Toyota C-HR has plusher, more thoughtful cabin materials in this segment.

2018 Hyundai Kona Highlander Black and Green Leather Front Interior

The Kona’s infotainment system is a 7.0-inch touchscreen unit, with built-in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Using the screen is nearly foolproof, thanks to well-designed software that is easy to navigate – though navigating the software is all you’ll do, as there is no integrated satellite navigation available at all, even on the pricey Highlander. That’s odd: all i30s have navigation; this is a feature we thought was essentially becoming standard on most new cars, and it’s standard on every Toyota C-HR and nearly all Mazda CX-3s. Joining navigation on the no-show list is DAB+ digital radio, again something that is found in the i30 small car, as well as dual-zone climate control – the Kona’s is, strangely, single-zone.

The Kona’s seats appear to have been taken straight from the i30. They’re mostly comfortable, though they lack some lateral support for harder driving. On all models bar the Highlander, the driver’s seat is six-way manually adjustable, and the passenger’s four-way: adjustable lumbar is missing from both sides, which grates on longer journeys. The top-shelf Highlander features eight-way electric adjustment in both driver and passenger seating, with the driver’s side sporting the prized lumbar adjustment, so if you do lots of miles, you’ll want this specification. The rear seats are quite comfortable as well, with a perfect squab length that is not angled too high, providing an overall good seating position.

2018 Hyundai Kona Highlander Black and Green Leather Leather Back Seat Space

Like the i30, the Kona’s overall visibility is excellent, with thin pillars and a large rear window to see out of. Over-the-shoulder visibility is also good, and certainly much better than a CX-3 or C-HR. At speed, the overall refinement levels are disappointing however – this is where many small SUV competitors feel like their supermini siblings. On coarse-chip roads or motorways, road noise is a constant companion and strong vibrations are felt through the steering wheel. Whilst these issues are also common to the CX-3, a C-HR is noticeably better insulated from the outside world.

PRACTICALITY

8.5/10

The Kona takes its dimensional inspiration from the Mazda CX-3: while it’s a compliment to Mazda, it’s a recognition that the miniature CX-3 strikes about the right size in the city SUV segment. The Kona, which measures in at 4,165mm in length, is actually 110mm shorter than the Mazda, though the Hyundai’s 1,800mm width and 1,565mm height are very similar to what you’ll find from the Japanese alternative.


Despite its similarly small dimensions, the Kona feels noticeably roomier inside than the CX-3 – a reflection of Hyundai’s tremendous packaging. However, there’s only so much you can make of a fairly tiny vehicle, and the Hyundai does feel smaller in the cabin than the Toyota C-HR and, especially, the much larger Subaru XV.

2018 Hyundai Kona Boot Space

The Kona’s boot space impresses. Despite being shorter than the aforementioned Mazda, the Kona’s 361 litres make the cargo space 36 per cent larger – and the tall-ish Hyundai even has more than a 50 litre advantage over the Subaru XV, which is a bigger car. Only the Toyota’s 377 litres, or the Honda HR-V’s 437 litres, win the day here.

It’s a clever space in the boot, too, as the Kona features a shopping bag hook, a storage area to the right of the floor, a handy luggage net on Elite and Highlander, and, on all models, a split-level floor. The boot’s opening, too, is much lower than a CX-3 or C-HR, making it easier to get heavy suitcases in or out. Also a relief is the fact that the back seats fold completely flat, unlocking a competitive 1,143 litres of space.

2018 Hyundai Kona Elite Black Leather Interior Front Space

From the front seat, the Kona feels largely like driving an i30. There’s ample space for front passengers in all directions, even for taller people: headroom is especially good. However, incidental cabin practicality isn’t the Kona’s strongest suit. Door bins are only large enough for a small water bottle, while the centre storage box is only middling. The central armrest doesn’t adjust. However, unlike the CX-3, the Hyundai at least offers covered storage compartments, and feels like more than just a raised supermini inside. Plus, Qi wireless phone charging for compatible devices is fitted to the Highlander.

Room in the Kona’s back seat is less impressive. While legroom and headroom are better than in the Mazda, Hyundai’s own i30 is noticeably roomier in the rear. One-upping the CX-3 and C-HR, however, the Kona features a rear centre armrest with cupholders – useful, considering the door pockets are very small. The lack of rear air vents will be frustrating for parents, though, although not a single competitor vehicle features vents in back. The i30 hatchback does feature rear vents on upper spec models that represent better value for money, so it’s certainly worth considering the hatchback.

RELIABILITY & RUNNING COSTS

8/10

The following data is based on the predicted volume seller, the 2018 Hyundai Kona Elite 2.0-litre.

Servicing the Hyundai Kona

Compared with most competitors, the Kona Elite 2.0L is inexpensive and convenient to service, with lifetime capped pricing and once yearly or every 15,000km service intervals. Choosing the higher-powered 1.6-litre turbo AWD drivetrain reduces the servicing intervals to 10,000km or once yearly, and the service cost increases to $269 per service up to 60,000km.

Over three years or 45,000km of ownership, the Kona will cost just $777 to maintain, or an average of $259 per year. This is higher than the Toyota C-HR, which is the first new Toyota to usher in once-yearly servicing – its $195 service cost per year/15,000km comes to $585 for three years of maintenance. The Subaru XV’s newly-yearly/12,500km service intervals come out to a much higher $1,297 over three years, or $432 per year. Its capped price arrangement also only lasts for three years.

Thanks to the Mazda’s shorter 10,000km service intervals, the CX-3 needs an extra service to cover 45,000km if travelled more than 10,000km per year. Its $1,522 service cost over three years/45,000km equals a high average of $507 per year.

2018 Hyundai Kona Elite Tangerine Comet Front Three Quarter

Hyundai Kona fuel consumption

Hyundai claims reasonable fuel consumption numbers for its new small SUV. Choosing a 2.0-litre FWD drivetrain – as most people are expected to do – and the combined cycle average is 7.2L/100km. We didn’t experience the Kona in all conditions, though in harder country road driving, we saw an indicated 8.2L/100km through the trip computer. Choose the more powerful 1.6-litre turbo AWD drivetrain and Hyundai claims 6.7L/100km – 0.5L/100km less than the 2.0-litre, despite 20kW more power, 85Nm more torque and 124kg more weight, thanks to the all-wheel drive system and more sophisticated independent rear suspension.

Compare this with competitors, and again the Kona appears to be reasonably well placed. The all-wheel drive Subaru XV claims 7L/100km combined, though our experience with it suggests that figure is quite optimistic. The front-wheel drive Toyota C-HR CVT claims 6.4L/100km combined, and the front-wheel drive Mazda CX-3 claims 6.1L/100km. Choose the all-wheel drive 1.6-litre turbo Kona, and its 6.7L/100km average compares even better against the all-wheel drive 1.2-litre turbo C-HR and its 6.5L/100km, and the all-wheel drive and less powerful Mazda CX-3’s identical 6.7L/100km.

2018 Hyundai Kona Active Ceramic Blue Rear End

Predicated Hyundai Kona depreciation

Glass’ Guide predicts that the Kona will be worth slightly less than competitors, with approximately $15,300 of its $28,500 original value equalling a 53.8 percent return after three years/40,000km of driving (the Australian average). The Subaru XV 2.0i returns $15,600 or 55.7 percent of its original $27,990 asking price. The Mazda CX-3 sTouring and Toyota C-HR FWD automatic have an equal 55.8 percent on resale, with a $16,200 return on their $28,990 asking price.

VALUE FOR MONEY

7/10

Hyundai currently offers the Kona in Australia in four specification levels. The brand is unique in offering both available drivetrain choices – a 2.0L front-driver or 1.6-litre turbo all-wheel drive – throughout the range, with the more powerful and much sweeter 1.6-litre turbo asking between $3,000 and $3,500 more than its front-wheel drive equivalents.

The entry-level Active – $24,500 for the 2.0 or $26,000 for the 1.6 turbo – is well equipped for a base model, with 16-inch alloy wheels, six airbags, air conditioning, LED daytime running lights, projector headlights with dusk sensing functionality, cruise control, a rear foglight, a 7.0-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, a reversing camera with rear parking sensors, tyre pressure monitoring, roof rails, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearknob and a dual-level boot floor.

2018 Hyundai Kona Active Ceramic Blue Front End

Disappointingly, like i30, there is no active safety available on the entry-level Kona Active, with even autonomous emergency braking – standard on all Mazda CX-3 variants – unavailable. Hyundai Australia claims that through market research, a lower entry price – as opposed to a higher price point with irrelevant equipment – is prioritised by buyers. To acquire active safety equipment, buyers must step up to Active safety pack, which costs a reasonable $1,500 more at $26,000 for the 2.0-litre. This safety pack adds autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring, rear traffic alert, lane departure warning with lane keep assist, driver attention alert, as well as auto-folding and heated side mirrors. Unlike all C-HR models, radar cruise control remains unavailable.

Step up to the Elite model from $28,000 ($32,500 for the 1.6-litre turbo) and you receive larger 17-inch alloy wheels, single-zone climate control, leather upholstery, keyless entry and start, rear privacy glass, front foglights, rain-sensing wipers and a number of detail changes, such as a carbon grey grille and exterior cladding. The Kona Elite is expected to be the highest-selling model locally, with buyers likely to be attracted to the extra equipment for just $2,000 over the Active safety pack.

2018 Hyundai Kona Elite Tangerine Comet Side Profile

The highest specification Kona you can get in Australia is the Highlander, which receives 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights with automatic high beam functionality, LED tailights, a heads-up display and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. The Kona Highlander also adds some segment-exclusive features, including centre console-mounted Qi wireless phone charging, heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel and eight-way electric front driver and passenger seat adjustment with electric lumbar support for the driver.

Kona Highlander starts from $33,000 for the 2.0-litre, and adding the 1.6-litre turbo adds $3,000 for a total of $36,000 plus on-road costs. While this compares well in both equipment and performance levels with higher-end variants of the Mazda CX-3 and Toyota C-HR ranges, we can’t help but feel that all of these cars have a small SUV tax applied to them. Look elsewhere in the Hyundai range, and the much larger Tucson – itself starting from only $28,590 – is available in highly-specified Elite trim with the same 1.6-litre turbo petrol and AWD drivetrain from $41,750.

2018 Hyundai Kona Highlander Acid Yellow Driving

There are also some strange equipment deficiencies with the Kona, such as that inbuilt satellite navigation – standard on the less expensive i30 hatchback and overseas Kona models – is unavailable anywhere in Australia. DAB+ digital radio and radar cruise control fall into the same category.

COMPETITORS

Subaru XV

2018 Subaru XV 2.0i-S Orange Front End – Chasing Cars

Subaru’s new XV is a far superior car than its predecessor, with a mature feel throughout and richer standard equipment list. Its interior is higher quality than the Kona and it boasts the best off-road ability of the small SUV segment. However, the 2.0-litre engine is underpowered and because of its higher kerb weight, uses much more fuel than expected. Read or watch our Subaru XV review here.

Mazda CX-3

2017 Mazda CX-3 sTouring white front

The CX-3 has mostly been the small SUV sales darling since its release in 2014, where its combination of handsome styling, usual Mazda quality and reliability, fabulous driving dynamics and well-specified equipment lists have won it many fans. Like the XV however, practicality is not its strong point, its 10,000km service intervals are less than rivals and its expensive service pricing can add up quickly if travelling many kms. Read or watch our Mazda CX-3 review here.

Toyota C-HR

2017 Toyota C-HR Koba yellow – Chasing Cars

There’s no other way of putting it – Toyota’s C-HR is its best product in years. Thanks to a new platform that’s shared with the Prius and new Camry, the C-HR features youthfulness and dynamic ability not seen from the brand for a long time. Add in reasonable practicality with genuine rear seat room – if not outward vision – and bootspace, and the C-HR provides a product that appeals equally to head and heart. Just don’t expect to buy one instantly – wait times can be up to four months. Read or watch our Toyota C-HR review here.

wrap up

DRIVE 7.5
COMFORT 7
PRACTICALITY 8.5
RELIABILITY & RUNNING COSTS 8
VALUE FOR MONEY 7
Total cc score 7.5

Engine

Capacity 2.0 litres
Fueltype Petrol
Cylinders 4
Configuration In-line
Induction Naturally aspirated
Power 110kW at 6,200rpm
Torque 180Nm at 4,500rpm
Power to weight ratio 81.3kW/tonne
Fuel consumption (combined) 7.2L/100km
Fuel capacity 50 litres
Average range 694 kilometres

Transmission and Drivetrain

Transmission Automatic
Configuration Torque converter
Gears 6
Drivetrain Front wheel drive

Dimensions and Weights

Length 4,165mm
Width 1,800mm
Height 1,565mm
Unoccupied weight 1,353 kilograms
Cargo space (seats up) 361 litres
Cargo space (seats down) 1,143 litres