2018 HYUNDAI KONA
Hyundai have changed the game with the brand new Kona, says Michael Westlake in this review for Bartons.
THERE are about 1400 words written on this page in front of you right now, so let me highlight the two you are looking for: Buy it.
If you are reading this because you are thinking of buying the new Hyundai Kona from Bartons, or you are still tossing up a few options in the baby SUV market before settling on the right one for you, let me repeat: Buy it.
The Kona is exactly what you are looking for. Certainly it was for me, and I didn’t even realise I was looking for it in the first place.
Doing car reviews, it is always exciting to test something new, and the Kona is brand new.
It is Hyundai’s first entry into the baby SUV market, or “city SUV market” for those who consider themselves more of the urban professional – so it really is “new”.
And it is not just the nameplate that is new for Hyundai. One look at the Kona and it is easy to see that styling and attitude have also taken a new direction.
The Kona comes with a bucketful of personality as a standard feature, but none of the bells and whistles ever take away from the most important feature of all: This is a seriously good car.
There are two factors that made the Kona such a standout to me: The fact it is so similar, and the fact it is so different.
Let me explain by starting with the differences, which are apparent the first time you lay eyes on the Kona.
Have a look at its face to start with, which is nice and aggressive, but has also given tradition a kick in the pants on the way through.
LED daytime running lamps sit in the space where headlights would normally be, with the headlights pushed further south to where most cars would house their running lamps.
It’s the same story at the back, with the brake lights sitting high on the body, while the indicators and reversing lights sit in a separate cluster a little further down.
The bold styling extends all the way around the car, with black fender cladding giving the Kona the look of an American football player decked out in full body armour and ready for action.
And then there is the paint. Even this has been electrified.
There is no beige option here, folks. Instead, the colour palette consists of hues such as “acid yellow”, “blue lagoon”, “pulse red” and “tangerine comet”.
My first test model – yep, I drove two of them – was the top-of-therange Highlander variant, decked out in acid yellow. The name could not have been more fitting.
This colour is so bright, the closer I stepped towards the Kona, the more I had to squint, and I could almost swear I tasted lemon in my mouth.
It was brilliant in every sense of the word.
With the Highlander model, you also get to choose a separate roof colour if you so desire. You can have the roof the same colour as the rest of the car, or have the lid in “dark knight” or phantom black”.
Opening the door, it quickly becomes obvious that this type of customisation was a very strong theme in the Kona’s design.
That brilliant acid yellow was so intense, it had actually seeped through to the interior where the – again – traditional black cabin had been turned on its head.
Yellow seats belts, yellow stitching on the leather seats and yellow trims around the air vents and other normally forgettable elements of a car’s interior made the inside of the Kona pop with a sense of fun.
The traditional black option is available if you think there is such a thing as too much fluorescent yellow, and a red option if you want to land somewhere in the middle or you adhere to the old adage and believe it may make the car go faster.
I loved the yellow, but I loved the concept more.
We customise so many other things in our lives – smartphones, screensavers, hairstyles – why shouldn’t we be able to buy a car that allows us to make our new car more “me”?
I challenge anyone to not get even a small smile from strapping in under a bright yellow seatbelt.
The old saying goes that a change is as good as a holiday, and the Kona’s cutting-edge design is proof of it.
These little changes help to break the monotony of your driving routine and pump a bit of life and joy back into your experience behind the wheel.
You can’t help but feel happy in the driver’s seat, particularly when every new passenger getting into the Kona for the first time reacts with “wow”.
But the Kona is not a car all about the style with no attention to substance.
Remember before when I was talking about how it was the differences and similarities that made the Kona so good?
The differences we have covered, so let’s turn to the similarities.
Pleasingly, the similarities leap out at you just as dramatically as that acid yellow paint because they are the high-quality hallmarks of all of Hyundai’s best vehicles.
While the Kona is definitely a unique looking car, it is easy to see the resemblance to its very popular brother, the i30.
I have been lucky to drive a lot of cars for Bartons over the years, and without a shadow of a doubt the i30 is right up there with the best I have driven.
And it’s not just me that thinks so. The i30 has picked up a host of “car of the year” awards, so the Kona is doing well to share a lot of the i30’s DNA.
Those similarities extend well beyond the exterior.
Inside, even with the bright yellow trims and inserts, the Kona feels comfortable and familiar.
The ride and handling feels firm and grippy, just like the i30, even with the Kona’s extra ride height.
I mentioned before that I drove two of the Konas. This was so that I could have a play with both engine options – the 2L petrol engine with the six-speed automatic, and the 1.6L turbo-charged motor paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch auto.
Both are terrific engines, particularly with the Kona offering comfort, eco and sport driving modes depending on how heavy your right foot is feeling.
Old motor heads will tell you when it comes to engines that “there is no replacement for displacement” – meaning you can’t beat size under the bonnet.
But for as much fun as I squeezed out of the bigger engine, and there was plenty, I have to say if I was ordering a Kona for myself I would be going with the smaller 1.6L turbo because it gives you the best of both worlds.
When you want to poke along on your daily commute, it will sip petrol like granny taking tea from a china cup – keeping your petrol bill low.
But when you need the performance, having that little turbo force-feeding big mouthfuls of air into the cylinder sees the Kona come alive like it had just jumped out of the stalls at Doomben.
That Hyundai familiarity also extends to the toys inside the cabin as well, with incredible technology and safety features literally at your fingertips to make the driving experience even more fun.
Like with the i30, the Kona brings Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, wireless smartphone charging, dual-zone climate control, push button ignition with smart-key entry, and a seven-inch touchscreen to control your apps and display images from your reversing camera.
There’s even one bit of tech in the Kona that the i30 doesn’t have – an exceptionally clever head-up display that projects your speed and other important driving information onto a glass screen, meaning you never have to take your eyes off the road.
The Driver Attention Warning system may be even more clever however.
Using this system, the Kona analyses steering angle, steering torque, the car’s lane position and the amount of time spent behind the wheel, and will activate an alert tone and message on the display panel if it thinks your driving patterns indicate the onset of fatigue and an increased likelihood of an accident.
It is just another reason to be impressed with the Kona which, even in a market as competitive as the small SUV segment in Australia, is a step ahead.