Hyundai Kona vs Seat Arona vs Volk­swa­gen T-roc

What Car? - - Con­tents -

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irony is the no­tion that buy­ing a small SUV is some­how a left-field or re­bel­lious choice is at least five years out of date.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

Photography: John Bradshaw

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