2018 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Highlander Road Test
AU$36,000 (plus on-roads)
(3.5 / 5)
Hyundai’s funky compact SUV looks set to change the game for the segment, but is it really worth getting the top-of-the-line version?
The Hyundai Kona has certainly made an impact, even if just with its flashy ad campaign.
But buyers are smarter than being convinced to purchase just by watching a funny TV spot.
They want to know whether the car is any good, and whether it’s worth the money.
And here we may have a problem. We can tell you straight up that the Kona is a great car, but in Highlander form, it’s the most expensive version you can buy.
Does having all the toys make it the best model? Read on to find out.
Let’s look at the styling first
There’s no denying it – the Kona is a great looking car.
Hyundai has nailed the DRL eyebrow look much more successfully than the Jeep Cherokee and it’s far better looking than the Nissan Juke which kicked off the upside down headlight design.
Citroen’s Cactus is up there, but we think the Kona is the winner in this race.
The rest of the proportions are just right and it nails the brief for a compact SUV.
Okay, but what’s powering it?
Lift the bonnet and you’ll find Hyundai’s 1.6-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine, and with the addition of a turbocharger, it produces 130kW and 265Nm.
Even better, though is that most small turbocharged petrols require a minimum of 95RON.
The Kona only needs 91RON, making each tankful just that bit cheaper. It all adds up in the end.
The 1.6-turbo powers all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox of Hyundai’s own design.
While it’s not quite as decisive as the VW Group’s DSG fitted to every second model, it’s a lot better than having a CVT gearbox.
There’s a fraction of hesitation off the line, but when it’s hooked up, it’s nice and smooth.
The engine is well mated to the ‘box, with each gear landing nicely in the thick of the torque curve, making brisk progress very easy.
The engine’s torque comes on very strong, like a small diesel, but with none of the rattle.
Instead, it’s smooth, quiet and even when revved higher, it sounds a bit rorty and its refinement is excellent.
So what makes the 1.6T different to 2.0-litre cars?
Not only is it different from the 2.0-litre models thanks to its engine, but because it’s all-wheel-drive (the 2.0-litre versions are front-wheel-drive) it has a more sophisticated rear suspension setup.
The front-wheel-drive cars get a torsion beam rear axle, but the AWD models get a multi-link rear suspension, making it a bit more sure footed.
Also helping in this respect are the larger wheels.
Fitted with 18-inch alloys, there’s a smaller sidewall profile than lower models and that helps with cornering.
There’s plenty of grip on offer, and with the surety of all wheel drive (and stability control), in the wet, the Kona sits confidently on the road.
Can you tow with it?
You can, which is good for a small trailer full of garden much, but weirdly, the Kona that has the most power (the AWD) also has the lowest towing capacity – 1250kg braked versus 1300kg braked for the FWD version.
You’d think that the car with more grunt and more grip would be better to tow with, but it comes down to the gearbox’s being able to handle the pulling weight.
The dual clutch fitted to the 1.6T can’t quite handle the towing that the 2.0-litre’s automatic is able to.
Sure, no-one is going to buy a Kona to try to tow a boat, but in the interests of research, we need to let you know about its limitations.
And the interior is pretty good
Inside, it’s not quite as funky as the exterior would have you believe, but it’s certainly not boring.
The material quality is fine, but there are a few harder plastics plastics around, particularly on the upper door trims, where you’d expect something a little more comfortable to rest your arm.
The front seats have plenty of room and adjustment, but the back seats are a little tight for most adults.
Because the windows are low enough, kids won’t feel claustrophobic, but this car is more suited to couples.
What else do you get inside?
Well, there’s a heated steering wheel, leather seats with the fronts getting both heated and cooled seats (and they’re adjusted electrically), auto high-beam, head-up display, lane departure assist and a drive mode button (with Eco, Comfort and Sport).
Most of the time you’ll opt for Comfort, but Sport allows it to feel a little bit peppier.
There’s a lot of tech
Of course, the Kona gets Android Auto and Apple CarPlay – as you’d expect these days – and to keep your phone charged, there’s a QI inductive charging pad under the centre stack.
But there’s an interesting addition called Hyundai Auto Link.
With an Android or iOS app, the car connects to your phone and sends you data on your driving habits, lets you know about any faults with the vehicle, and provides vehicle driving statistics and analytics.
You can log trips for tax purposes, connect to a dealer network (in case you want to buy another Hyundai), and soon there will be “Accident assist”.
This gives you all the steps to take at the scene of an accident, and if the airbags were deployed, it can send an automated SMS to a nominated contact.
Annoyingly, though, it doesn’t come with sat-nav, instead it expects you to use an app on your phone through Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
That’s fine if you’re a millenial, but for anyone over the age of 40, and there will probably be a few who buy a Kona, they may not want to hook up their phone each time they get in.
Having no sat-nav on a $36K car in 2018 is a big oversight.
Is it practical?
As mentioned, there’s not a heap of space in the back and the boot space is 360 litres.
But there are a few cupholders (two front, two rear) and bottle holders in the doors, and the centre console has a small space under the armrest.
The Kona is definitely safe
Safety is taken care of with driver & front passenger front and side airbags, plus side curtain airbags for both front and rear passengers.
There’s also a roll over sensor that will use the stability control to try and keep the car upright if it detects a possible roll.
There are two ISOFIX mounting points in the outside rear seats, but all three rear seats get a top tether anchor point.
A reversing camera (with guides) is standard, as is rear cross-traffic alert, which lets you know if anyone is approaching while you’re reversing out of your driveway or parking space.
In EuroNCAP testing, the Hyundai Kona received a five star safety score, which translates to a five star ANCAP rating as well.
How much is it to service?
Unlike the 2.0-litre versions, with their 15,000km intervals, the higher-spec 1.6T engine, needs service intervals of 12 months and 10,000kms.
Thanks to capped price servicing, over five years it will cost $1405, covering 50,000kms.
Is the Kona Highlander worth the money?
That all depends on your priorities.
Almost all the tech (apart from some active safety gadgets) come in the Active and Elite models.
Do you really need leather seats and a start button? Do you have to have rain sensing wipers?
If you can do without all the fripperies, and just want to get from A to B, then the 1.6T Active will more than cover the bases.
And at $28,000, it’s a whopping $8K less, with a better ride from its smaller wheels.
We know which one we’d be buying.
Here’s the deal
The Kona is a great car. It’s easy to drive, easy to park, very safe and looks and feels great.
While the Highlander is a bit expensive, it does come with everything you want.
You’ll just have to decide if that’s everthing you need.
Can you take the Hyundai Kona offroad?
Surprisingly, yes you can.
With a short wheelbase, it’s able to get up and over objects without getting stranded on them.
It’s more than capable of driving in sand, with the best method to turn off the traction control, leave the stability control on and press the 4WD lock button.
You also need to drop the tyre pressures to around 18psi, and then you’ll find the Kona is able to tackle a lot more than most people would believe.
With 170mm ground clearance, you won’t be able to handle anything too deep, but for a quick trip down the beach for some fishing, for example, it will get you there and back.