Kona Raises the Benchmark

An impressive step forward for the Korean brand in the SUV crossover sector

Wynter Murdoch

From many perspectives, Hyundai’s new Kona – recently crowned North America’s Utility Vehicle of the Year – represents an impressive step forward for the Korean brand in the SUV crossover sector.


Though compact, the model is spacious, comfortable and practical – its willing performance and keen agility making it easy to drive whether in heavy traffic or on the open road.


Under scrutiny here is the manual-shift version which is powered by a petrol-fuelled, three-cylinder, 1,0-litre, turbocharged engine. A variant with automatic transmission – which utilises a similarly fuelled, four-cylinder, 2,0-litre, naturally aspirated plant – is also available, though at a price R20 000 higher than the R379 900 for which the sibling sells.


In my view, the manual-shift model represents venerable value since its specification level matches that of the more expensive derivative while the engine returns better fuel consumption with lower carbon emission figures.


Despite its diminutive displacement, the 88kW and 172Nm produced by the unit – the larger, four-cylinder plant is credited with 110kW and 180Nm – proves more than adequate in keeping the Kona up to speed under a variety of traffic conditions.


In urban areas the vehicle easily maintains pace with other cars between traffic lights and, away from the city, it cruises with aplomb at the 120km/h open road speed limit, leaving plenty of power in reserve for overtaking.


While the transmission’s sixth gear is a fuel-saving, overdrive cog, the vehicle still picks up speed reasonably quickly if the throttle pedal is pressed hard while cruising, though shifting into fifth sees brisker acceleration to aid safe passing manoeuvres. Top speed is rated at 181km/h.


The engine is quiet and the ride smooth, the Kona’s sleek styling aiding aerodynamics as well as looks. Suspension is firm without being harsh, the inclusion of a stabiliser bar at the front – along with high performance gas dampers, which are also used at the rear – helping to reduce body roll in corners.


Clutch action is light and gear lever placement slick. Brakes are easy to modulate. Steering is good, too, Hyundai having introduced to the model its latest version of Motor Driven Power Steering (MDPS) – a system designed to quicken response times to steering inputs. The result is a helm that is sharp, accurate and fast.


Economy is eye-opening. A leisurely journey incorporating city driving as well as open road travelling with four adults and their luggage on board yielded a fuel consumption figure of 6,8 litres/100km according to the trip computer – in line with the official return claimed by the manufacturer for the vehicle’s combined cycle usage. Since fuel tank capacity is 50 litres, a cruising range in excess of 700km is possible.


A well-proportioned, well-equipped cabin that is light and airy with attractive finishes helps to reinforce the Kona’s outward expression of modern, stylish design. Scalloped front seats are adjustable and supportive, while the two on the outer extremities of the rear bench – which emulate the scallop design – offer sufficient leg and knee-room even for long-limbed adults. However, the centrally place rear seat is best-suited for a child.


Cargo space is reasonable for a compact SUV, the load bay capable of holding 361 litres of luggage. When large objects are transported, the seat backs at the rear can be folded in a 60/40 split to create more volume.


Comfort and convenience features in the cabin include an infotainment system with a seven-inch touch screen that’s compatible with Apple- or Android-based smartphones; cruise control; a reverse park camera; air-conditioning; Bluetooth and USB ports; plenty of storage space in the centre console, doors and seat-back pockets; and a centrally placed arm rest at the rear with cup holders.


Sun visors incorporate illuminated vanity mirrors; there’s a roof-mounted sunglasses holder above the rear view mirror and exterior mirrors fold in when the car is locked. All headrests are height-adjustable, as are the B-pillar mounting points for front occupants' seat belts. The trip computer offers a wide menu, including a tyre pressure monitor.


Remote control buttons on the height and reach-adjustable steering wheel enable the driver to operate the cruise control system, answer phone calls, toggle the onboard computer's information screens, change radio stations or mute the sound system.


Safety features include front, side and curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, an electronic stability programme, downhill brake control, blind-spot warnings and rear cross-traffic alerts. More than half of the vehicle’s body is said to comprise ultra-high-strength steel, with the cabin described as a rigid safety cell. In recent Euro-NCAP tests, the Kona was awarded a five-star safety rating.


In my view, the vehicle raises the benchmark in the compact SUV sector while filling an important slot as an eye-catching crossover model in Hyundai’s local line-up. The high level of specification – coupled with good performance and excellent economy – makes it an alluring proposition.



  • 1,0 T-GDI Executive Manual: R379 900
  • 2,0 NU Executive Automatic: R399 900

Prices include a seven-year/200 000km warranty; five-year/90 000km service plan; and five-year/150 000km roadside assistance.