FOLLOW THE FASHION
HYUNDAI KONA ARRIVES LATE BUT WELL DRESSED
Another week, another soft-roader for the city. This time it’s Hyundai late to the party, with its first pint-sized SUV called the Kona.
As it turns out the timing is impeccable, arriving in Australia as SUVs overtake passenger car sales for the first time. It may look unusual, but the formula is familiar.
The Kona is effectively a high-riding version of the Hyundai i30 hatchback, with a more rugged-looking body and a new interior.
Not everyone will be a fan of the Star Trekstyle design but at least it’s functional.
The “eyebrows” are bright LED daytime running lights, while the headlights are relocated in the bumper.
The $27,000 drive-away starting price means Hyundai is no longer in the bargain basement business — it’s dearer than the top two sellers in the class and not necessarily better equipped.
The Mitsubishi ASX has been at $25,000 drive-away for an eternity and the Mazda CX-3 with auto starts at $26,000 drive-away.
The Kona range stretches to an eyewatering $40,600 drive-away before options are added.
As we’ve reported ad nauseam, as long as buyers are happy to pay, car companies will keep taking their money — even if, on paper at least, city SUVs may not make financial sense.
As with its peers the Kona is smaller and has less standard equipment than the hatchback on which it is based, and yet carries a price premium of $2000 — or more, depending on the model.
Compared to the i30 hatch, the Kona has a smaller footprint, a smaller boot, lacks a fullsize spare tyre, and misses out on built-in navigation.
This is despite Hyundai’s claim that the Kona is designed for people who want to escape the city limits on weekends and get lost on mountain bike trails.
To make sure the Kona covers as much ground as possible in the fastest growing segment of the market, there are six combinations from which to choose — not including the myriad colour and trim alternatives.
There are three model grades — Active, Elite and Highlander — but each is available with a choice of two four-cylinder engines.
The 2.0-litre is matched exclusively to a sixspeed auto and front-wheel drive while the 1.6-litre turbo is paired with all-wheel drive and a seven-speed twin-clutch auto.
All models run on regular unleaded, none get automatic stop-start fuel saving in traffic.
Standard fare includes six airbags, rear-view camera with guiding lines that turn with the steering, rear parking sensors, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, digital speed display, cruise control, individual tyre pressure monitors, remote central locking and extendable sun visor arms, which mean you can easily block side glare when the sun gets low.
An optional $1500 safety pack on the Active includes automatic emergency braking up to 80km/h, crash mitigation up to 160km/h, lane keeping, blind-zone warning and rear crosstraffic alert. The Elite and flagship Highlander get these extra safety aids as standard.
Hyundai follows a familiar small SUV formula with six variants — and myriad colours
The Elite starts from $32,300 drive-away and gains leather seats, sensor key and pushbutton start, rain-sensing wipers, front fog lights, tinted rear glass and 17-inch alloy wheels (up from 16s on the Active).
The Highlander picks up 18-inch wheels, front parking sensors, LED headlights and taillights, auto-dipping high-beam, poweradjustable front seats with heating and ventilation and a dash-top head-up display.
Conspicuously absent on even the dearest versions are dual zone aircon, rear air vents, sunroof, radar cruise control and full-size spare.
On the plus side, service intervals are a convenient 12 months or 15,000km. And the routine maintenance is among the cheapest in the business: $777-$807 over three years (2.0 and 1.6 respectively).
ON THE ROAD
As with many cars in this category the seating position is tall enough to give you a better view of the road ahead but not so high you’ll risk rolling an ankle when getting out.
The vast grey dashboard may look as if it’s made of recycled outdoor furniture plastic but sections of technical grain make a decent attempt at boosting the overall appearance.
Vision all around is surprisingly good, despite the tapered rear windows.
The seating and steering positions are comfortable and all buttons and dials are well placed and easy to use. The lane keeping tech works relatively well, however it’s better when travelling in the middle lane, making it is easier to detect markings. Near centre dividers, the system goes on the blink.
An unusual observation, but one that’s relevant to one in 10 males, it’s next to impossible for those who are colour blind to distinguish when the lane keeping symbol switches from red to green once it’s detected a lane. A tick or a cross would solve the problem and potentially prevent some near misses.
That said, the Kona will only allow hands to be off the wheel for a maximum of 15 seconds before warning the driver to pay attention.
The 2.0-litre petrol with a conventional sixspeed auto will suit the needs of most buyers and is much more responsive than rivals with constantly variable transmissions.
Ride comfort on the base model’s 16s is superb, and yet it still corners with confidence. All Kona models have electric power steering but the base model has been tuned to be slightly heavier and give more feedback. It was my preference on the preview drive.
Konas equipped with 17 or 18-inch wheels have a slightly lighter steering feel.
The ride comfort across all models was impressive; customarily, low-profile tyres contribute to more jitter over bumps. Tyre noise was more apparent on the 17-inch Continentals. The base and high-grade cars run Hankooks.
The turbo 1.6 has noticeably more zip — for not much extra fuel — and the seven-speed twin-clutch auto slips through the gears smoothly and almost seamlessly.
The only downside to the twin-clutch is when doing a U-turn and switching from drive to reverse and back to drive quickly. There’s a noticeable delay compared to the regular sixspeed auto in the 2.0-litre.
Pictures: Mark Bramley