Test: Hyundai Kona: Freedom of choice !

For many years, Korean manufacturers have been a major player on the Belgian car market. Extensive ranges, consensual products that meet the demands of a majority of buyers, the Kona fits well into this framework… without forgetting the long and reassuring warranty schemes!

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The city is certainly the Kona’s favourite place to play, but it can easily escape to the motorway for long journeys. A mid-career restyling brings a new face, with reworked headlights and bumpers.

A wide range

If there’s one thing the Hyundai Kona is almost unbeatable at, it’s choice: petrol, diesel, light or heavy hybrid and full electric are there to tempt you. The Kona is a C-segment crossover, one of the most competitive ones : its competitors are nearly countless, on top of its Kia Niro cousin :  Nissan Juke,  Renault Captur, Opel Mokka,  Peugeot 2008, Ford Puma, Seat Arona, Skoda Kamiq or VW T-Roc… and all the others! Therefore, in such a crowded market, it is not easy to stand out and be successful. Hyundai has understood the situation and offers a very wide range consisting of petrol, light hybrid, hybrid and electric engines, on top of unique styling. Equipment levels are : « Air », followed by « Twist » and « Techno », « Sky » being the fully-loaded one. What’s more, a sportier ‘N Line’ look is also available in combination with “Twist” and “Sky”. Are you still with us? Add a few extras on top and you’ve really got the right car for everyone. In Belgium, the range starts at €20,990 including VAT, excluding promos and discounts. Our test car retails at €32,649 including VAT, again excluding promos and discounts.

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Like the front, the rear also gets minor changes, including LED lighting on this top-of-the-range ‘Sky’ version.

Subtle tweaks

The Kona was introduced in 2017 but has just been slightly revised. For the second half of its career, it has received modified bumpers, headlights and lights.  Engines have been tweaked as well, just like the chassis, in order to improve ride comfort.  The interior equipment list is now being longer than ever.  According to Hyundai, compared to the previous version, comfort has been improved. The anti-roll bars were modified, as well as the rear axle stops, in order to improve on-road behaviour and limit body roll. The version we tested for you is a 48V light hybrid diesel with a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox. The engine is the brand’s familiar 1582cc four-cylinder engine, which is offered on several models. It develops 136 bhp at 4000 rpm and has a torque of 280 Nm between 1500 and 3000 rpm or 320 Nm between 2000 and 2250 rpm. The manufacturer announces  0 to 100 km/h acceleration in 9.9 seconds and a 190 km/h top speed. This is enough to take your passengers confidently on a long trip, even far away from the city. The average fuel consumption is 5.2 litres and the emissions are 136g CO2/km.

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Our test model has these discreet « 48V » monograms on the front wings, the only external signs of its light hybrid system.

These values are quite correct and realistic, as our fuel consumption ranged from 4.9 litres in the city, with the hybrid system used to its full effect, up to 6.4 litres on the motorway, with pleasingly fast accelerations to boot. This 48V Kona benefits from energy recovery during braking. It is rather compact, measuring 4.205m in length, 1.60m in width and 1.565m in height. The wheelbase is 2.60m: interior space is excellent in the front, a little less so in the rear. The Kona weighs 1,370 kg, which is quite reasonable for its size and equipment count. Our test version was the top of the range ‘Sky’ which is also distinguished by its glossy black grille. The sunroof, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats are still available as options. However, it doesn’t need much more as its equipment level is very generous: heated and electrically folding mirrors, 18″ wheels with 235/45 Continental Premium Contact tyres, rain sensor, LED lighting with automatic high beam assistance and static cornering light, front fog lamps, front electric seats with lumbar support, automatic air conditioning, athermic windscreen and dark-tinted rear windows. The digital instrument cluster is configurable and, like the large central touch screen, measures 10.25″. In the centre, are satnav, Blue Link system, Krell audio system with 8 speakers, DAB+ radio, Bluetooth and Android Auto and Apple Car Play compatibility, as well as front and rear USB sockets. There’s also a reversing camera, head-up display, leather upholstery, heated front seats and steering wheel, electrochromic interior mirror and inductive smartphone charging.

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Big change inside : two 10.25″ screens are fitted : one is the instrument panel while the other, in the centre, is also touch-sensitive and masters all infotainment functions.

High-end connectivity

Hyundai‘s own ‘Bluelink’ system allows you to control the car from your smartphone. As far as driving aids are concerned, it’s hard to believe that a driver is still needed ! Among braking assist, hill start assist, low-speed downhill braking, adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning, car, pedestrian and even cyclist detection, rear cross-traffic alert and assist, front and rear parking sensors, rear seat occupancy detection, road sign recognition, driver alertness monitoring or even motorway driving assistance with safe exit warning, where does the driver stand?  Back in 2017, the Kona had already been awarded a 5 star NCAP rating. No doubt this revised version will keep them, with such a whole  ADAS count.

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The front seats are electrically adjustable. Along with the rake and reach adjustable steering wheel, they make it very easy to find an ideal driving position. The ergonomics are excellent and getting at ease with the Kona is very quick.

I quite like it

On the road, the hybridisation is rather unnoticeable… a charge level appears on the dashboard but on the road the system is very well integrated and mature, just like on the Ioniq. The dual-clutch gearbox is very pleasant, with no jerks or hesitation. The extra power offered during acceleration phases contributes to the Kona driving pleasure. This is a rather agile and pleasant car in « sport » mode: economy doesn’t suffer much and the steering firmness is better, allowing the driver to better feel the front end.

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Hyundai has revised the chassis : suspension, joints, anti-roll bars… On a good-surfaced winding road, the Kona is pleasant to drive. The shock absorbers are pretty stiff but, on the other hand, road behaviour is rather neutral and it is not affected by body roll.

Pretty clever

The various controls ergonomics are excellent. It’s easy to find a comfortable driving position. The steering wheel can be adjusted in many ways, as can the driver’s seat. The seat being mounted a few centimetres higher than in some of its competitors, you get a feeling like if you were driving a much higher vehicle… which can be reassuring for your lady. The windscreen pillars are rather slim and the general visibility is good. The reversing camera and the front and rear sensors make parking operations a doodle, even in tight spaces. The interior furniture, the various buttons, switches and other controls seem robust and should withstand years of use without any problems… even if they are rather hard and give the feeling they will easily be scratched. The rear seat folds down in a 1:3-2:3 ratio and doesn’t take up much space when lowered. The boot capacity is average, its shape is regular and the opening is quite large.

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The rear passengers are a little less well off than those in the front. Headroom is a few centimetres shorter than in the front and taller people will quickly find their legs touch the hard plastic trim at the back of the front seats. Rather tiring over long distances…

Not so good

The range of driving aids can be disconnected… but you have to do it every time you start up the car, which is a real pain! The lack of a warning light on the electric parking brake control means you never really know whether it is on or off. Automatic braking function in reverse can sometimes be very surprising. In Apple Car Play mode, only 2/3 of the screen is used.

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The well-known 1600 cm3 four-cylinder Diesel engine develops 136 bhp DIN. It is mated to a high-quality dual-clutch gearbox that contributes effectively to the driving pleasure.

Why I buy it

Its comprehensive equipment level and everyday versatility make it a credible proposition against the competition. The Kona is fun to drive, with crisp acceleration and a rev- happy engine that nearly turns  it into an old-school GTI. The suspension settings prevent unwanted body roll and the steering is easy to handle. It’s more consistent and better in the « sport » driving mode. In all the other ones, it is much lazier and feels rather disconected. The on-road behaviour is rather neutral as long as the surface is good. If you often drive on cobblestones, the Kona behaves much better there than on bad surfaces. Space is sufficient at the front, although some extra headroom would be welcome for taller drivers and passengers. A cubby is located between the front seats and easily accommodates two small bottles of water ; another large storage space is located in the centre front armrest.

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Why I don’t buy it

The suspension is stiff. On good quality surfaces, it is firm and therefore rather pleasant, however things deteriorate very quickly on bad surfaces. Depending on speed,  the Kona seems to have a natural  tendency to bounce or even tramline and obviously, this is not very pleasant. Its tendency to move about potholes quickly becomes tiresome and doesn’t make you want to drive it on rough roads. The 18″ wheel size gives it a nice look, but certainly don’t help with handling. The rear space is on the smallish side and taller people won’t be at ease there, with their legs bouncing in the hard plastic front seatbacks trim. Both front and rear door bins are too small.

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Compared to its competitors’, the boot capacity of the Kona is average. Its regular shape compensates, as does the folding rear seat.

It’s always a matter of taste and budget, but if you like the look of the Kona and its unique style, go ahead and treat yourself. Even if the Kona doesn’t stand out for anything in particular, it’s a good compromise, with solid warranties and reasonable maintenance costs. (Text: Dimitri Urbain – Pictures: Pierre Fontignies)

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The Kona’s suspension is rather stiff and quickly tiring on bad roads. On the other hand, a cobbled road can be tackled with confidence, in which case both comfort and handling will be fairly neutral.

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