With a new powertrain and added equipment, we find out if the refreshed entry-level Hyundai Kona justifies its price hike.

The Hyundai Kona first graced the small-SUV segment in Australia in 2017, its funky urban styling designed to target an urban buyer. It worked, too, with the Kona consistently near the top of the sales chart in the small-SUV segment.

That segment is a boon for carmakers and buyers alike. Representing almost 15 per cent of the new-car market, the small high-riding soft-roaders are gracing our streets like never before.

The Hyundai Kona fares well in the sales charts, too, trailing only the cut-price MG ZS in the segment, while outselling perennial favourites like the Mitsubishi ASX, Nissan Qashqai and Toyota C-HR.

Now, to keep the Kona front and centre on buyers’ consideration lists, Hyundai has given its small SUV a freshen-up with a new face and some added technology, as well as a couple of new performance-focussed models. That refresh hasn’t come cheap, though, with most models scoring a hefty price rise over the outgoing equivalent models.

Six models comprise the range, starting with the entry-level 2021 Hyundai Kona from $26,600 plus on-road costs (up $1900), the Active from $28,200 (up $2140), the Elite from $31,600 ($1000 increase), and the Highlander from $38,000 (up $1340).

Bolstering the Kona line-up are two all-new performance models, the Kona N-Line and N-Line Premium, which start from $36,300 and $42,400 plus on-road costs respectively.

A Kona for all tastes and budgets, it seems.

2021 Hyundai Kona (base)
Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol
Power and torque 110kW @ 6200rpm, 180Nm @ 4500rpm
Transmission Continuously variable (eight-step CVT)
Drive type Front-wheel drive
Kerb weight 1280kg
Fuel claim, combined (ADR) 6.2L/100km
Fuel use on test 8.1L/100km
Boot volume (rear seats up/down) 374L/1156L
Turning circle 10.6m
ANCAP safety rating Five-star (tested 2017)
Warranty Five years/unlimited km
Main competitors MG ZS, Mitsubishi ASX, Nissan Qashqai, Toyota C-HR
Price as tested (ex on-road costs) $26,600

And for this test, we have the budget-conscious in mind, bringing the entry-level Kona to the table. It’s priced at $28,990 drive-away including its Dive in Jeju cloak of paint, one of two no-cost hues. Four additional metallic colours can be optioned for $595.

Despite serving duty as the price-leader for the range, the ‘base’ Kona is pretty well equipped. Standard-kit highlights include 16-inch alloys, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, a rear-view camera, wireless phone charging and a 4.2-inch driver information display.

Additional equipment includes manual air-conditioning, an electric park brake, automatic halogen headlights, and LED daytime running lamps.

The Kona range – bar the ‘N’ models that share a 1.6-litre turbo powertrain – is powered by a new 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine developing 110kW and 180Nm. Power is sent to the front wheels only (there are no AWD models other than ‘N’-badged models) via a new continuously variable transmission (CVT) tuned to replicate eight ‘gears’. The CVT replaces the older model’s six-speed conventional auto.

Inside, the base Kona presents decently, if on the budget side. The seats are trimmed in cloth but are comfortable enough. The steering wheel and gear lever miss out on the leather trim of higher grades, adding to the ‘base’ model vibe.

Still, the younger urban demographic will be enamoured by wireless smartphone mirroring and wireless phone charging, although we did find CarPlay a little glitchy with sporadic drop-outs. It soon reconnected itself, but it did become a little bothersome.

The second row isn’t the last word in roominess, but it’s decent enough. The drivetrain tunnel is on the large side for a front-wheel-drive model, and that eats into valuable foot room back there.

There’s not much in the way of creature comforts back there either, with no fold-down armrest and no cupholders, although second-row passengers will be grateful for a single USB charging outlet to help keep their devices topped up. And little ones won’t love the high window line on the rear doors, which can obscure outward vision.

The seats fold in 60:40 fashion to free up boot space, which measures in at 374L with the second row in play and 1156L with the seats stowed away. A cargo net comes standard, something of a rarity at this end of the small-SUV spectrum, while a space-saver lives under the boot floor.

Where the Hyundai Kona begins to sparkle a little is on the road. The 2.0-litre inline four is decent enough with a peppy willingness to get things moving. Acceleration isn’t breathtaking, but it’s decent enough around town. There’s certainly no sluggishness or hesitation. Instead, the Kona just gets on with the task of moving with minimal fuss.

The CVT does a decent job of providing the right level of engine revs to keep the little SUV humming. Tellingly, there is little of the tell-tale CVT ‘drone’ sometimes found with transmissions of this type.

Out on the highway, the Kona’s gloss around town does lose a little of its shine. With peak power not available until 6200rpm, and maximum torque quite high in the rev range at 4500rpm, the little SUV can make a bit of noise in getting up to speed. Once at cruising speed, though, it’s fine. Just don’t ask too much of it in terms of acceleration beyond 100km/h. Plan your passing manoeuvres is what we’re saying.

The ride around town is nice and supple, no doubt the smaller 16-inch alloys with fatter rubber playing their part. Road noise, too, is kept to a minimum with again more rubber doing its bit to isolate rough and scratchy surfaces.

Navigating larger hits is done easily, too, the Kona happy to up-and-over before settling quickly with little fuss – a testament to locally tuned suspension. Cornering induces little in the way of body roll, the Kona remaining decently planted and flat through roundabouts and 90-degree turns.

The steering is light and nimble – a boon when parking the Kona, which thanks to its reasonably diminutive stature (it measures 4205mm long and 1800mm wide) is easy and effortless.

Hyundai reckons the base Kona with its perky 2.0-litre atmo four will need just 6.2L per 100km on the combined cycle. Our week spent behind the wheel of mostly urban driving saw an indicated 8.1L/100km. Hyundai says the Kona can take 91RON regular unleaded.

The Kona range wears a five-star ANCAP safety rating awarded at launch back in 2017. That carries over for this refreshed midlife model.

Standard safety tech for the base Kona includes autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-keep assist, lane-following assist, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, driver-attention monitoring, and rear occupant alert (prompting the driver to check for passengers or pets left in the rear seats when exiting the vehicle).

It does miss out on a couple of key items, including blind-spot alert and rear cross-traffic alert. A suite of six airbags covers both rows of occupants.

Hyundai covers the Kona range with its standard five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. Service intervals are 12 months or 15,000km for 2.0-litre models and can be pre-paid at the time of purchase – $957 for three years/45,000km, $1276 for four years and 60,000km or $1595 for five years/75,000km.

The Hyundai Kona is certainly an attractive – if polarising – proposition in the small-SUV segment. With a plethora of choices greeting buyers, any carmaker needs to offer something a little different to capture attention.

The Kona certainly does that with its slightly offbeat styling designed to appeal to a youthful audience. Those suitably lured by the Kona won’t be disappointed, as the small SUV gives enough in return to deliver on its promise.


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