2018 Hyundai Kona 2.0 Active – $24,500
(3.5 / 5)
Hyundai’s new baby SUV comes in several flavours, but does the front-wheel-drive version miss out on a little too much?
Hawaii’s west coast has long been a drawcard for tourists, especially for those wanting to experience the main island drive.
It’s known by locals as the “Kona-side” – the inspiration for the name for Hyundai’s latest compact SUV.
Perhaps the Kona’s bright colours have been inspired by the Hawaiian shirt – maybe someone should have mentioned that to the PR team which picked the grey metallic of our test car.
The colour is a bit underwhelming, but thankfully the overall design makes up for the drab grey.
The light arrangement looks great, the pverall shape is more small wagon/hatch than SUV, and the only thing that looks odd are the smaller wheels. But the payoff is a better ride (more on that later).
Inside, the quality of materials is identical to the top-tier trim level, with the most notable exception being the cloth seats.
The Active’s cloth seats are comfortable, with smallish bolstering (which suits all body shapes), yet have enough colour and texture to lift the interior ambience.
The air-con is manually controlled, while the rear seats get floor mounted air vents.
What you get
There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but like the more expensive grades, to get any mapping, you’ll have to use your phone.
You expect that on the Active, but for the Highlander to miss out is a bit strange.
But there’s an interesting inclusion called Hyundai Auto Link.
Using an Android or iOS app, the car will connect to your phone and will send you data on your driving style and let you know about any faults with the vehicle.
It will also give you vehicle driving statistics and analytics, while you can log trips for tax purposes, as well as connect to your local dealer.
Soon there will be “Accident assist” which gives you the steps to take at the scene of an accident, plus if the airbags were deployed, it can automatically send an SMS to a nominated contact.
The controls are all laid out as you’d expect, with everything falling nicely to hand.
How’s the space?
There isn’t a stack of storage, but then, this is a small car, so you can’t expect to haul five people and their luggage – it’s called a compact SUV for a reason.
The front seats have manual adjustment but the driving position is good. But the back seats are a little tight for adults. Kids will be fine, with their shorter legs.
Because the windows are low enough, rear passengers won’t feel claustrophobic, but this car is more aimed at small or young families.
Open the bonnet and you’ll discover a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol four-cylinder.
It produces 110kW (147bhp) and 180Nm – not huge outputs, especially considering that peak power is 6200rpm and peak torque at 4500rpm.
What that means is it needs to be revved to get it up and going. And when you do that, it’s a bit of a buzzy engine.
It’s nowhere near as refined as the 1.6-litre turbo, nor is it as quick. But it is $3500 cheaper.
Is that enough of an incentive? We’re not so sure, considering the 1.6T also gets all-wheel-drive.
But here’s something that doesn’t make sense.
It seems strange, but the front-wheel version actually has a higher towing capacity than the all-wheel-drive Kona.
That’s because the 2.0-litre engine is paired to a conventional (and smooth) automatic, while the 1.6-litre turbo gets a dual-clutch transmission.
The DCT simply can’t handle the higher towing load, and it also doesn’t give a roundly better drive experience than the auto.
The engine, though, is a different story.
So, what about that engine?
The 1.6-litre turbo is more refined, more torquey and more efficient.
It’s particularly evident during medium acceleration; the smaller engine is quiet and smooth, while the 2.0-litre feels a generation or two older, being a bit more thrashy.
But if you do put the boot in, it’s not as slow as the figures suggest. With no turbo lag, it will rev easily (though a bit louder) and as long as you keep it above 4500rpm, you can hustle it along.
How it drives
The Kona’s electric steering isn’t anything to write home about, with a light, distant feel, though it does turn in sharp enough.
We have to get used to electric steering and not getting much feedback – the quest for less fuel use requires car makers to reduce engine load, and switching from hydraulic steering (and the use of a power steering pump that runs from the engine) to electric has meant more efficiency.
The ride is excellent, with a fabulous tradeoff between handling and ride comfort, something the Active does a lot more successfully than the Highlander. We still think the bigger wheels look better, though.
The Kona handles quite well, thanks to its lower centre of gravity, but the Active won’t go far off-road with only the front to wheels powering it.
What you’ll find is that people won’t be buying the Kona Active for its on-road experience, which is nothing extraordinary.
The Kona will sell on its style and the fact that it’s a safe SUV.
With a five star ANCAP and EuroNCAP rating, and myriad acronyms such as ABS, BAS, EBD, DBC, HAC, TCS, VSM, it certainly seems like all bases are covered.
But what you need to know is that stability and traction control, brake assist, hill descent control, and brakeforce distribution are all standard.
Six airbags (including two full length curtain airbags) are included as is a reversing camera with guides.
Here’s the deal
The Kona is an excellent machine. And the Active is probably the model we’d go for, given its value for money.
However, the extra $3500 to get the 1.6T and all-wheel-drive is well worth the extra money spent.
Sure, you lose out on 50kg of towing capacity, but if you’re going to be towing a lot, then perhaps a Kona isn’t the machine for you.
The Kona is the machine for you, though, if you want something that’s easy to park, easy to drive, is safe, looks great and is well built.
It’s not quite a trip down Hawaii’s west coast, but hey, it’s more stylish than a Hawaiian shirt.