No-one needs reminding that car buyers the world over have gone SUV/Crossover mad, so much so that very worthy sedan models from a multitude of manufacturers are becoming liabilities. Hyundai perhaps spotted the trend a little earlier than most and ensured that its product-line-up, once known more for sharply-styled sedans such as the Elantra and the Accent (which are still on the menu), is well-populated by high-riding SUVs led by the iX35 which subsequently assumed its original moniker, Tucson.
At the top of the Hyundai SUV armada is the Santa Fe, albeit that this is temporarily off the price list pending the arrival of an all-new model. Then comes the aforementioned and hugely popular Tucson which in my opinion has tended to take some attention away from its big brother, and until recently, the range was completed by the refreshed and value-led Creta.
As of now, a new 4.16 metre interloper has slotted in between the Creta and the Tucson and it continues the theme of sporting a name derived from a geographic location – in this case “Kona” which we are advised is sourced in the Hawaiian archipelago.
“Dare to be different” is the theme the company commonly applies to the Kona whether it relates to interior or exterior execution. While existing Hyundai SUV models are neat, tidy and smartly-presented, they could perhaps be accused of being safely conservative, but no such accusation could be levelled at the Kona which presents a new corporate face that seems likely to extend to the upcoming Santa Fe.
That face is dominated by high-mounted and slender LED daytime running lights which sit atop primary driving lights that flank the now familiar Hyundai cascading grille. Lots of black inlays add drama and a dash of sportiness. The back sports a prominent rear spoiler but it’s the very high-mounted and slender horizontal lamp clusters (a tad Alfa-esque) that stand out along with loads more black detailing.
Two petrol derivatives are offered on launch, these being a 1.0TGDI Executive with 6-speed manual box and a 2.0 Executive with 6-speed auto box. Both drive the front wheels only. The former is a truly modern engine, relying on three cylinders and forced-induction to produce 88kW@ 6 000 rpm and a torque peak of 172Nm that spreads all the way from 1 500 to 4 500rpm. The latter is an old- school normally-aspirated four producing 110kW and a torque peak of 180Nm.
As for which is the better unit, a lot depends on where you live and how you use the vehicle. If you want auto, you have no choice but if you don’t mind shifting cogs yourself, and you live at an altitude above 1 000 metres, then the 1.0 Turbo would be the better companion. If, however, you live at sea level, I feel the 2.0 auto will be the more satisfying day-to-day drive. Having said that, let it be known that both are decently-refined, shrugging off extraneous noises very competently and running with pleasing smoothness that’s complemented by a comfortable yet controlled ride and minimal suspension noises.
The eye-catching external styling cues extend to the interior of the Kona where flashes of colour – red or yellow – are introduced according to the external paint coating. As for equipment, the Kona lacks for little. The spec for example includes LED daytime running lights, blind spot detection, rear camera with park assist and rear cross traffic alert, keyless entry, a full-house of air bags, a free-standing infotainment touch screen incorporating Apple CarPlay, air con, electric windows, on-board computer, sound system, Bluetooth, central locking, hill-hold and downhill brake control, alloy wheels, ABS. ESC and much more.
A 200-minute acquaintance on a launch event isn’t always the best platform from which to make judgements, particularly as most of the driving is undertaken on the open road away from the tedium and annoyances of bumper-to-bumper daily driving, but be under no illusions that Hyundai has turned a corner with the Kona and succeeded in marrying style with practicality.
Pricing as at October 2018:
1.0TGDI From R379 900
2.0 Executive Auto: From R399 900
Warranty: 5yr/150 000km + 2yr/50 000km powertrain cover
Service plan: 5yr/90 000km