Hyundai Kona vs Seat Arona vs Volkswagen T-roc
All three of these fashionable small SUVS are brand new, but which is the best?
Volkswagen has been slow to the small SUV party, but it has arrived in style with the T-roc. How will it fare against two keenly priced rivals?
YOU’VE PROBABLY SEEN the TV ad by now. A black sheep is born on a stormy night and then proceeds to wreak havoc on its farm, fronting up to dogs and cows and then smashing through a barn before finally being cowed when it comes face to face with the new Volkswagen T-roc.
The irony is the notion that buying a small SUV is somehow a left-field or rebellious choice is at least five years out of date. There isn’t a more de rigueur type of car on the planet right now – and it’s not hard to understand why. After all, we’ve had decades of small hatchbacks that all followed the mould of the original Mini, whereas small SUVS offer similarly low running costs while being somewhat more attention-grabbing.
The T-roc may be the newest of these 4x4 lookalikes, but so
many have flooded the market in recent months that we were spoilt for choice when it came to lining up rivals. It’s the cheaper end of the T-roc range that has the most appeal, so we had to include the Seat Arona – a car that’s already seen off the Citroën C3 Aircross and Kia Stonic in a previous test.
More of an unknown quantity is the Hyundai Kona because this is the first time we’ve put it through our rigorous group test treatment. However, since it’s built on the same underpinnings as the Stonic, it should be reasonably tidy to drive and you certainly get lots of creature comforts for your money.
DRIVING Performance, ride, handling, re nement
You might imagine a small 1.0-litre petrol engine would struggle to haul around an SUV, but remember these cars all have a smaller footprint than a VW Golf. Besides, all three engines are turbocharged so actually pump out a respectable amount of power.
The Arona is nippiest when you put your foot down hard and allow its engine to rev before changing up through the gears. However, the others aren’t far behind and the Kona actually builds speed most swiftly from low revs in the higher gears. Even with four passengers on board and a boot full of bags, you won’t find any of our trio frustratingly sluggish.
That said, if you were hoping for a bit more performance, engines of up to 148bhp are available in the Arona and T-roc, while the Kona is offered
with an even punchier 175bhp turbocharged petrol.
When accelerating in any of our trio, you do hear an offbeat thrum and feel a bit of vibration through the soles of your shoes. However, the T-roc does the best job of isolating you from this and, thanks to its low levels of wind and road noise, is easily the most peaceful companion at a steady cruise. The Kona has the least refined engine, although the Arona’s greater road roar makes it the rowdiest on the motorway.
Changing gear in the Arona and T-roc is a largely pleasant experience; both cars have gearshifts that are precise and free from any irksome notches. The Kona’s isn’t bad, but there isn’t the same positive snick as you shift from one cog to another. You might also find the brake pedal a bit spongy and slow to respond, whereas the middle pedal in the others is that bit sharper – maybe even a little too sharp in the T-roc.
There’s no cheating physics here; none of our protagonists handle corners as well as a conventional small hatchback, such as a Seat Ibiza. Their taller bodies inevitably lean more through faster corners and that makes them feel a little less agile. In the case of the Arona and Kona, we really do mean ‘a little’, though; both cars change direction remarkably smartly by SUV standards, but particularly the Kona.
That said, you’ll enjoy the experience of threading your way along a country road more in the Arona because its steering is more precise and tells you more about the relationship between tyre and road. The T-roc actually has the most feelsome steering of the bunch, but it behaves the most like you’d expect an SUV to, with the least grip and the most body sway through tight twists.
All things considered, the T-roc rides bumps in the most comfortable fashion, though. It breezes over speed humps with the least drama and deals best with the sort of long-wave undulations you regularly encounter along country roads. However, in FR Sport trim, the Arona has a clever suspension set-up that allows you to stiffen and soften the dampers at your whim, and in the more comfortable of two settings it actually stays more settled than the T-roc along pockmarked roads – no matter what speed you’re doing.
The Kona, meanwhile, is always the least agreeable; it jolts the most violently over potholes
‘Kona’s engine makes itself heard when you accelerate, but the sound isn’t unpleasant’ ‘The worst for road noise, so ultimately the Arona is the least peaceful cruising companion’ ‘T-roc is the quietest of our contenders, especially when it comes to road noise’
and jostles you the most along scruffy town roads. There are less comfortable small SUVS (the C3 Aircross and Nissan Juke, for example) but the Kona is certainly no better than average for the class for ride comfort.
BEHIND THE WHEEL Driving position, visibility, build quality
If you’re hoping for a towering Range Rover-esque driving position then we’re sorry to be the bearers of bad news. In truth, from behind the wheel of the Arona you really wouldn’t know you’re driving an SUV at all; its seat is barely any farther from the ground than a Ford Fiesta’s.
The Kona’s seat is mounted a few centimetres higher, but you still don’t really feel as though you’re driving an SUV. It’s only in the T-roc that you get a semblance of looking down on the world; its driver’s seat isn’t actually mounted any higher than the Kona’s, but a higher window line and lower dashboard gives the impression that it is.
How high you like to sit is, of course, down to personal preference, but setting up your driving position is definitely easiest in the Kona, thanks to its electrically adjustable front seats and standard adjustable lumbar support. The latter feature is a hideously expensive option on the T-roc and isn’t available at all on the Arona, although both cars have enough lower back support for all but the longest of journeys. What’s more, the Arona’s figure-hugging sports seats actually hold you in position most effectively of the trio through corners.
The T-roc is easiest to see out of in all directions, but particularly when looking back over your shoulder. The chunkier rear pillars and smaller rear screens in the Arona and Kona make reversing that bit trickier, although all three cars come with rear parking sensors and the Kona even has a rear-view camera to help. The Arona is the only one of our protagonists without parking sensors at the front, although it does have the best headlights; powerful LED units rather than the weaker halogen bulbs in the Kona and T-roc.
Chances are you’re expecting the T-roc to look and feel the poshest inside. After all, VW has a history of building its dashboards out of upmarket, soft-touch plastics – even in the much cheaper Polo. Well, quality is actually the most disappointing thing about the new T-roc; its
interior feels surprisingly cheap, with hard and unforgiving plastics the order of the day throughout.
Granted, the Arona’s interior isn’t much plusher, but at least Seat has gone to some effort to hide the brittle plastic on the face of the dashboard by wrapping it in stitched leather. The standard part-leather, partalcantara seats also help lift the overall impression of quality just above the T-roc’s – not a bad effort considering the Arona is the cheaper car.
And the Kona? Well, even in this company, it’s decidedly lowrent inside. Its dashboard feels the least robust and well-finished, while the leather on the steering wheel feels the most plasticky. The leather seats do at least lift the ambience a little, and with selected paint colours you get some matching highlights on the seats and dashboard.
In the Arona, there’s plenty of red stitching and subtle ambient lighting to brighten the mood, while in the T-roc you can opt for orange, blue or yellow dashboard panels without paying a penny extra.
SPACE AND PRACTICALITY Front space, rear space, seating exibility, boot
When it comes to front leg and head room, the differences are so small they aren’t even worth pointing out. What’s important is that you won’t feel remotely cramped in any of our contenders, even if you (or your front passenger) are extremely lanky.
If you had to sit in the back of one of these cars on a long journey, you wouldn’t pick the Kona. It’s the tightest for both rear leg and head room, to the point that