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Hyundai Kona (2017) preview drive

CAR logo CAR 14/06/2017 CARMagazine
Hyundai Kona (2017) preview drive © Bauer Media 2017 Hyundai Kona (2017) preview drive

► Hyundai’s first B-seg SUV

► Tested on track in Korea

► An early preview drive

The Hyundai Kona is going to be the next big thing from Korea. Or at least that’s what the top brass at the ambitious car maker are hoping.

It’s the first global B-segment SUV offered by Hyundai, and underneath its smart Californian designed skin lies an all-new platform and a tech count that puts Hyundai near the head of the pack – from a standing start.

It’s priced and designed to fight the likes of the Nissan Juke, Vauxhall Mokka X, Peugeot 2008 and Renault Captur, and it’s comparatively late to the market. So, does that mean it’s good enough to see off its rivals straight from the box, or is it a case of too little too late?

Before we go into too much detail, or make definitive judgments, let’s spell out a few caveats. Firstly, our Kona is an Asian-spec model, which means that the ride and handling are more tailored towards comfort than its European equivalent. Also, we’re limited to a high-speed run around Hyundai’s handling circuit at its R&D base in Korea.

The inside story

Before the off, we get a good chance to spend some time inside the Kona. As it’s primarily designed for active families, we’ll start from the back and work forwards. So, the boot suffers from a high loading lip, associated with its high-riding stance, but it’s well-shaped and is uncluttered inside. It isn’t particularly large at 360 litres – a reminder that this car is available with four-wheel drive.

The rear compartment is surprisingly tight. Stick an averagely tall adult behind someone of the same height in the front, and it just about gets away with it. Taller passengers will find their head is rubbing the headlining, and their knees the front seat back, but it’s roomier than the Nissan Juke and Vauxhall Mokka X. But it’s airy and there’s decent width – we’re being a tad over-critical perhaps, because it’s easy to forget that this car has such a small footprint.

Up front, there’s a good range of seat and steering wheel adjustment, and the driving position is flawless. Clearly this global design caters well for all shapes and sizes. Forward visibility is good, and the feeling of airiness, even in a car with a dark-coloured interior – is impressive. But despite all of these positives, the interior is conservative to look at – even if it’s impressively screwed together.

And the kit, tell us about the kit

Final UK specifications aren’t set yet, but it’s a good bet that the Kona will tread the same high-value path as previous Hyundais. Go for a mid-to-upper-range SE model, and it’s likely you’ll benefit from a large 8.0-inch infotainment screen, head-up display, and the usual safety kit – Autonomous Emergency Braking, Cross Traffic Assist, Blindspot Warning, and Lane Keep Assist. The only notable miss is that you can’t get active cruise control.

For the hip and active millennials who’ll buy the Kona, the good news is that the infotainment system is quick, easy to use and visually pleasing. There are plenty of storage spaces inside for all of your toys, too – including that all important space for an induction charger for your smartphone.

What’s it like to drive? The engine first…

The first thing to mention is that due to the limited time we had, we only managed to grab a drive of the 1.6-litre petrol in automatic form. It probably won’t be the bestseller – that’ll be the 1.0T-GDI engine – but it’s a good all-rounder if you want a combination of speed and good promised economy.

It’s smooth at idle, and if you’re after a smart getaway, it responds quickly thanks to its well-programmed dual-clutch transmission. Power delivery is smooth and spike-free from low revs to red line. Refinement on this pre-production car is slightly lacking compared with the jewel-like 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol in the Peugeot 2008. That’s not aided by the above average levels of wind and tyre noise – we’ll put that down to pre-production build and Asian-spec rubber.

It doesn’t feel like it’ll match Hyundai’s claimed 7.7 seconds for the 0-62mph time, but it does feel muscular and punchy. Although it’s not blessed with class-leading refinement, it settles down well to the legal-limit cruise, ticking over at a long-legged 2200rpm at 70mph. The gearbox works well, and is smooth in its changes, but if you want to get more life out of it, you’ll have to use the paddle shifters.

How does it handle?

This car’s a four-wheel-drive example, which means it gets a sophisticated rear suspension setup. It’s also in Korean-spec, which means it doesn’t benefit from the retuned dampers the UK market gets. In a nutshell, it’s something like 10% softer than a UK car.

Despite that, it turns in well, has plenty of lateral grip, and enough suspension travel to avoid being upset by mid-corner bends. The steering is direct, weighty and although not fizzing with feel, it’s communicative enough to allow you to play in the bends with some confidence.

Normal and Eco modes don’t appear to do too much to the dynamic behavior of the car, but they make the engine a lot lazier, and prone to change up at the earliest instance. These modes actually suit the car more than Sport. Because let’s face it, people won’t be buying Konas to drive like they stole it. But this does point to faithful responses at the limit – and sometimes active lifestyle types like to let their hair down.

Hyundai offers three driving modes (Sport, Normal and Eco), optimising torque split and gearchanges to get the best out of it if you want to crack on. Wind it back to Eco mode for lazier throttle mapping and gearing to get the best fuel consumption.

Expect decent steering and brakes, competent body control, and handling that’s biased for comfort. You can be sure its sister car, the Kia Stonic, to be the sportier of the pair.

Verdict

Hyundai freely admits that it’s late to the B-SUV sector. But with tardiness comes the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others – and this car feels just like that. It’s a considered design that looks good on the road, feels like it will be easy to live with in the long term, and there’s every chance it will stack up dynamically.

It’s no revolution. Nor is it a re-invention of the car market. It’s a niche-filler, and one that performs this task perfectly well. It’s too early to give it a definitive verdict, but we can conclude that from the short drive we enjoyed, it’s roomy, packed with thoughtful features, kitted out well, and is actually pretty good to drive.

Top of the class? We won’t know until a more thorough drive, but let’s just say that some of the class underachievers (Vauxhall Mokka X, we’re looking at you) will be blown out of the water by the Hyundai Kona.

Specs

Price: £18,000

Engine: 1591cc 16v 4-cyl turbo, 175bhp @ 5500rpm, 195lb ft @ 1500-4500rpm

Transmission: Six-speed manual or dual-clutch auto, four-wheel drive

Performance: 7.9sec 0-62mph, 131mph, 36.7mpg, 119g/km CO2

Weight: 1400kg / steel

Dimensions: 4165/1800/1550

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