The hotly contested small SUV segment got even more crammed full when Korean car maker, Hyundai, threw off the covers off Kona.

We spoke with Kevin Kang, USA car designer, about the reasoning and inspiration for the interiors…

The small SUV was driven in hideous Canberra traffic, delightful dirt roads, and stunning country lanes, where dust was kicked up in the true Aussie tradition of a road trip.

Hyundai are selling a lifestyle, not merely a way to get from A to B.

4 adults are comfortable, in a cabin that simply bursts with exciting visual cues.

There are 3.5 levels:

Active, Active with safety pack, Elite, and Highlander.

The drivetrains:

A choice of 2, 16 valve engines, drive the front, or all wheels.

Both engines are Euro 5, of course, and importantly drink the very cheapest of 91ron, and E10 fuels. There is no diesel available. Diesel sales are falling off the cliff.

There is no manual, which is suffering the same fate as the diesel engine.

A Nu 2.0L 110kW/180Nm naturally aspirated (Atkinson cycle) 4cylinder drives the front wheels via a smooth 6 speed auto.

The more powerful 1.6L 130kw/265Nm Turbo GDi gets a brilliant 7 speed DCT (dual clutch automatic) transmission.

A clever on-demand AWD system has a 50/50 front/rear lock mode.

The 6speed auto has decent 7.2L/100k, but the DCT is a winner, winner, chicken-dinner with a claimed 6.7L/100k.

Steering and Suspension:

Kerb weight is between 1290 and hefty 1509kg. All models have Macpherson struts at the front, with the lighter FWD models having a rather disappointing Torsion beam axel. AWD cars get a sophisticated multi-link rear end, and is my pick.

Hyundai have opted for column mounted electric steering over the more costly, but better feeling, rack mounted system. There are 2.5 turns lock-to-lock with a turning circle of 10.6m.

The exterior:

The outside is daring, and, dare I say, polarising.

With a wheelbase of 2600mm, and a length of 4165mm, the design is chockers full modern design ethos.

The front cascade grille sits between a lighting array split between the slimline upper assembly for the DTRLs, and the main headlights below. Highlanders get LEDs all-round.

I have a love/hate relationship with all the brands who are doing this split-lighting thing at the front. It might take a few years to get my head around it.

Kevin made particular note of the muscular lines over the wheel arches, and the character line which joined them. It incorporates the door handles culminating in a sexy-looking “shark fin” as the body sweeps up to meet the blackened roof.

It makes the modern, young, side profile, look unique, even in Hyundai’s own range.

Kona is 2600mm high with the roof rails, and with an Approach / departure / ramp break over angle of  17 / 29 / 16 degrees, can manage a little light off-roading, but who would want to?

There are sliver highlights set in the grey plastic “sacrifice” panels on the lower body.

These panels can be refitted at a cost less than repainting body should scratching occur during enthusiastic weekending.


The cabin is a visual feast.

It has a classic Korean flavour, combined with a young, “always connected”, millennial approach to 21st century motoring.

Our Acid Green car came with matching interior cues around vents, controls, and seating. Even the seat belts are replete with colour-matched theme.

I love it.

Design always makes more sense when the person who designed it is on-hand. The intricacies and minutiae become a coherent story, and this story has a happy ending.

Ergonomically, the cabin is near perfect.

I’m potty about controls that are easy to use, and, hallelujah, the USB port is accessible without having to fold yourself like a martial artist.

Apple CarPlay/Android Auto is standard, and is millennial must-have.

The Hyundai people are so chuffed about their system, they’ve been confident enough to leave out the all-important Satnav. Google Maps suffice, and, in fact, do a better job most of the time.

Our trip was programmed in to the system, so all we had to do was hit “continue” periodically. Even batty old journos can manage that, without having nervous breakdowns every 5 minutes.

You can even have your car connect to your smartphone to give you vehicle status, fuel use, service info, and more. Gadget lovers will be beside themselves.

Depending on model choice, your “leather appointed” seats are both heated and cooled, and a full suite of driver aids can be had. “Appointed” means a mix of leather from a cow, and a laboratory.

Blind spot monitoring, emergency braking, and lane keep assist may well now be ubiquitous, but are always welcome to find.

Hyundai have decided the forward emergency braking sounded too frightening, so have re-named it, “Assistance”.

There is an assistance package which includes: blind spot collision warning, driver attention warning, forward collision warning, high beam assist, lane keep assist, and rear cross-traffic warning.

This is standard on upper models.

These can be turned on or off as you wish, but I find them all as invaluable as the reversing camera.

Some models have full climate control, with the rest making do with manual AC. Either way, it works brilliantly.

All air is filtered as it enters the cabin.

There are cup holders aplenty, bottle holders in the doors, a sunglass compartment, seatback pockets, and a nifty ticket holder.

Who hasn’t panicked at the boom gate in a car park?

The cargo hold has a net to stop your oranges from rolling around the place. Shopping can be tied down to the mounting points if you’ve been particularly busy.

The Drive:

What a peach!

The driving position is incredibly comfy. Even with the seat set for a six-footer, the rear passengers are not riding with their knees beside their ears.

We had 3 beefy lads, and a diminutive American designer, on board, and none reported discomfort. Perhaps it was because the bloke who designed the cabin was there, but I doubt it.

Course chip tarmac was a trifle noisy, otherwise the cabin was fairly quiet.

We switched between gravel, dirt, tarmac and cement, with great aplomb.

The AWD was especially capable in dirt.

As I’ve already pointed out, the less-expensive column-mounted system has been used, but local calibration makes the feeling more natural than you might expect.

The AWD’s mutli-link rear end felt just that bit more competent.

Surprisingly, I didn’t miss the manual transmission one bit.

As smooth as the 6-speed auto is, the 7-speed DCT is that little bit better. Changes are crisp and well timed. We left both transmissions to do their thing, with no driver intervention required.

The driver’s view is excellent. I chose to have my seat set very high.

Although the blown 1.6L felt a little more spritely than the 2.0L, the difference in power was probably offset by the fact that the AWD cars are heavier than the FWD ones.

The performance wasn’t noticeably different.

Both engines were free-spinners, and a pleasure to drive.

Brakes felt solid with 280x23mm ventilated discs up front on the FWD, and 305x25mm on the AWD.


We drove the i30, which shares Kona’s platform, at the local launch this year. Kona drives every bit as well as the i30. It says a lot about engineering when SUVs drive like cars.

There is a shedload of space, a great driving position, and materials that feel of quality.

One or two places in the cabin could be treated to nicer plastics, as they felt a bit cheap, but were the only things that let the interior down.

My upgraded iPhone (when I get it) will be able to use the wireless charging. You’re freed from nasty cables cluttering up the place, and that is a plus.

This segment is a busy one, and Kona will compete with the likes of Sportage, 3008, Trax, Ecosport, and others.

You can tow if you have to, but only 600kg unbraked, and 1300kg (auto) and 1250kg (DCT) braked.

It gets my vote, and I’d buy one with my own money.

Kona Pricing

Engine Drivetrain Active Active with Safety Pack Elite Highlander
2.0 MPi Petrol 6 speed automatic


$24,500 $26,000 $28,500 $33,000
1.6 T-GDi Petrol 7 speed DCT


$28,000 $29,500 $32,000 $36,000
Option Pricing Active Active with Safety Pack Elite Highlander
Premium paint $595 $595 $595 $595
Two tone roof $295 $295

Kona Lifetime Service Plan Pricing

Engine Recommended Service Interval 12 mths 24 mths 36 mths 48 mths 60 mths
2.0 MPi km 15k 30k 45k 60k 75k
Customer payment (incl. GST) $259 $259 $259 $359 $259
1.6 T-GDi km 10k 20k 30k 40k 50k
Customer payment (incl. GST) $269 $269 $269 $329 $269
Engine summary 2.0 MPi 2WD 1.6 T-GDi AWD
Transmission 6AT 7DCT
Power 110kW 130kW
Torque 180Nm 265Nm
L/100km 7.2 6.7

Specification overview

Kona Active 2.0 MPi or 1.6 T-GDi
Key specifications:
6 airbags Rear view camera 3.5” TFT colour supervision cluster
LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL) Tyre Pressure Monitoring System Leather appointed steering wheel & knob
Downhill Brake Control (DBC) 16” alloy wheels Cruise control
Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) 7” multimedia system Front & rear power windows;
Auto dusk sensing headlights Apple CarPlay compatibility – driver’s one touch auto down
Electronic Stability Control (ESC) Android Auto compatibility Hyundai Auto Link
Rear park assist system Bluetooth connectivity Roof Rails
Kona Active with safety pack 2.0 MPi or 1.6 T-GDi
Key specifications above Active:
SmartSense™ including; – Lane Keeping Assist – Driver Attention Warning
– Blind-Spot Collision Warning – Forward Collision Warning Power folding exterior mirrors
– Rear Cross Traffic-Collision Warning – Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist Heated exterior mirrors
Kona Elite 2.0 MPi or 1.6 T-GDi
Key specifications above Active with safety pack:
17” alloy wheels Front fog lights Carbon grey grille
Leather appointed seats Rain sensing wipers Carbon grey exterior cladding
Smart key & push button start One touch up/down drivers window Side garnish insert
Climate control w/ auto defog Driver seat back pocket Skid plate – rear
Solar control glass w/ rear privacy Front passenger seat back pocket Luggage net
Kona Highlander 2.0 MPi or 1.6 T-GDi
Key specifications above Elite:
18” alloy wheels Head-up display (HUD) Heated front seats
Front park assist system Air ventilated front seats Electro-chromatic interior mirror
LED headlights and front indicators 4.2” TFT colour supervision cluster Wireless charging pad (Qi standard)
LED taillights Power driver’s seat Heated steering wheel
High Beam Assist Power passenger’s seat