Hyundai Kona

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

Wheels (Australia) - - First Drives - ANDY ENRIGHT

WHEN ASKED whether the Kona can hope to beat the sales of ri­vals like the Mazda CX-3 and 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.

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