Driven: Korean Cool – A review of the Hyundai Kona


Korea’s usually conservative automotive brand breaks out with an eye-catching new crossover

The Third Wave is upon us. With the initial Korean expedition having established a firm hold in the world’s automotive subconscious with their value-for-money offerings … and the Second Wave reinforcing this with handsome, contemporary design and excellent build quality … this third assault from Seoul adds another compelling layer – one mixed with equal parts hip, cool and trendy.

And this Hyundai Kona has it in spades. With SUV crossovers gradually taking over the world, small boutique versions are the hot sub-segment – think Audi Q2, BMW X2, Mazda CX-3, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Mini Countryman, Renault Captur, Toyota CH-R and the upcoming VW T-Cross. The members of this list may vary in price but they are all aimed at the same buyer … someone who is happy to forgo a little space for a sportier silhouette, distinctive styling and higher spec.



The Kona gains entry to this hip-and-happening club courtesy of a distinctive exterior execution, characterised by an aggressive nose with slim daytime running lights that sit above headlamps housed in plastic cladding. This somewhat eye-catchingly avant-garde arrangement flanks an aggressive mesh-like grille and is not dissimilar to the brave design of both Jeep’s Cherokee and the Citroen C4 Cactus.

The rear echoes this arrangement with similarly slim brake lights above plastic-clad reflector/reverse cluster and a coupé-like profile courtesy of a dipping roofline and gently rising shoulder line. “Safe” wouldn’t describe the design and that’s exactly what its target market appreciates.



Open the door, however, and Hyundai’s design team has clearly adopted a more familiar approach. While still sportily accented, it doesn’t quite have the exterior’s exuberance … and that’s a good thing.

It’s a more pragmatic environment with red piping, trim and seat belts providing a little colour to a dark grey/black faux-leather interior that’s ergonomically comfortable with well-laid out instrumentation. A seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system stands tall on the dash and links to CarPlay on Apple iPhones or Android Auto on Android cell phones, plus there are secondary controls on the multi-function steering wheel, along with cruise-control buttons.

As you may have guessed by the relatively long wheelbase and sloping roof, the interior prioritises rear passenger legroom over boot space. These passengers will be comfortable enough but that roof does mean it imposes on head and shoulder room. In terms of safety, the Kona gets a full Euro NCAP five-star rating that includes active safety features such an ABS brakes, Electronic Stability Programme, blind-spot collision and rear cross-traffic collision warning, along with front, side and curtain airbags.


The two-model Kona range has two engine options: a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre petrol; and this 1.0 turbopetrol. With it’s surprisingly punchy 88kW engine providing maximum torque from 1 500 r/min, it’s this little turbo motor that you want. Coupled with a six-speed manual gearbox that allows you to hook straight into the powerband, performance is pretty impressive – even with four adults on board.

Small capacity turbos often have to work quite hard in bigger vehicles and, as a result, can be quite thirsty. The Kona, however, returned a respectable figure of 7.0 L/100 km during my time with it – marginally more than Hyundai’s claimed 6.8L. I will admit that the engine and a few traffic-free mornings along Cape Town’s wonderfully cambered Philip Kgosana Drive may have resulted in that extra 0.2 litres.



As I’ve just alluded to, this is a fun car to drive. Set up to be a little firmer than your average SUV crossover, with a lower ride height than it’s other Hyundai siblings, and sitting on low-profile 17-inch rubber, the front-wheel drive Kona is a nimble vehicle that doesn’t mind a spirited blast through the twisty bits. The steering is well-weighted and accurate for a vehicle like this and the suspension feels nice and supple too, with the ride quality that’s both composed on smooth flowing asphalt and deals well with rougher sections of road.

I’m a fan of cars that, in terms of design aesthetics, are prepared to be brave and this Hyundai Kona does exactly that. Offering buyers an alternative to Hyundai’s more pragmatic and immensely popular Tucson and Creta, the Kona marries chic styling with a stylish but functional interior, adding impressively dynamic handling and a real little peach of an engine. Spot on for its younger, trendy urban target market.



ENGINE 1.0-litre 4-cyl turbopetrol



TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual

TOP SPEED 181km/h

FUEL ECONOMY 8,9L/100km*

SERVICE PLAN 5 year/90 000km






For a bit more

  • Mini Countryman R444 424
  • Audi Q2 30TFSI R516 500
  • BMW X2 sDrive20i R577 904

For a bit less

  • Renault Captur 66kW Dynamique R290 900
  • Mazda CX-3 2.0 Active R299 400
  • Toyota CH-R 1.2T R339 400




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