Amusingly petite even by B-segment SUV (small crossover) standards, the Kona (named after a region in the island of Hawaii) is out to change the way we look at crossovers.
It is impressively shorter by at least 100 mm compared to most vehicles in its segment but only gives up some 10 mm in wheelbase – and in some cases, even has more. We’re splitting hairs here really but these tiny measurements are the difference between relaxed and wrecked knees after a long drive. More about that later.
Its design is unlike any Hyundai in the current market. This unique looks comes from the way designers worked around the front overhang. The façade is highlighted with several items: a large mesh chrome grille inspired by molten iron flowing out from a furnace, very stylish-looking DRLs along the corners of the hood, and the rugged cladding from the front fenders extended all the way and even around the low-positioned headlamps. Senior chief designer, Chis Chapman, calls it a ‘Spartan helmet’, so you’ve technically got license to impersonate Gerard Butler when you’re behind the wheel. What you get is a lot of presence despite the rather short body because of its highly expressive face.
Just like most modern Hyundais, it uses a smart key, which allows you to simply press a button along both front door handles to unlock the vehicle. The tailgate simply unlatches when you pull on the handle or press the marked button on the keyfob.
Remember those extra 10 or so millimeters? This is where it comes into play. Despite the seemingly small size of the Kona, the cabin feels and looks spacious three-dimensionally; there’s head space, arms have wiggle room, and your legs won’t be cramped.
Seat material is fabric and even though the dashboard and panels are of plastic, everything was snug and fit, tastefully done to befit its PhP 1.118 million price tag.
There are a few soft-touch surfaces including the steering wheel, which has cruise control, audio and call buttons, and as customary with Hyundai, the layout is easy to figure out with its large buttons and clear markings.
Its entertainment system comes with AUX-in and Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port in front, and I can live with the modest non-touchscreen display but I personally would upgrade the preinstalled six speakers.
The large cabin’s tradeoff though is the small cargo area at just 19.2 cubic feet. That’s about 5 cubic feet less than competitors. While it can seat five people comfortably, they may not have enough space to store anything more than overnight bags.
Unlike its competitors, the Kona goes bigger under the hood with a 2.0L Atkinson engine that sends 149 PS and 179 Nm of torque to a six-speed automatic transmission. The effect is immediately palpable. It clearly has more push and pull compared to counterparts and doesn’t struggle for power under any driving scenario.
A button beside the shift knob switches the drive mode between Normal, Eco and Sport. Normal isn’t far too different from Eco save for the slightly delayed throttle response on the latter. Compared to similar modes from competitor units, the Kona definitively has higher and more immediate power output. The result is a more engaging drive because you’re not constantly wasting a second or so waiting for the power to kick in. It doesn’t drag itself forward in Eco mode either, which adds a little excitement during acceleration. In the Kona, you don’t actually have to select Sport to overtake.
Sport’s effect isn’t as pronounced in the city as it is on the highway. Performance isn’t overly enhanced in bumper-to-bumper traffic to warrant the stresses on the engine and the excess fuel used, but when you want that extra boost and agility while going at 80, Sport mode is exactly where you want to be.
In the city, stay on Normal or do as I did and keep it on Eco the whole time. I averaged a solid 8.6 kilometers per liter in pure city driving for four days. Two days of pure highway driving returned 10 kilometers per liter. Remember, this is an SUV with a 2.0L engine!
Ride height and comfort are excellent and makes it worthy to be labelled a crossover. NVH levels are very low even on the roughest patches on the road thanks to the use of structural catalyzed aerospace adhesives, which also adds rigidity to the body while reducing road noise.
The motor-driven power steering makes it light and highly maneuverable, but it does take away a little of the feel and feedback from the road.
Hyundai Asia Resources, Inc. only offers one trim for now but they did say that a diesel engine may become available down the line.
It’s large enough, has a better engine than most in the segment, and drives as great as it looks. Fresh, hot and all brand-new, say aloha to the Hyundai Kona!
Text and photos by Eric Tipan