Hyundai Kona review

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

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Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

Hyundai's Kona small SUV gets more sophisticated in second generation guise. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.

Ten Second Review

Hyundai's compact Kona SUV has evolved in this second generation form. As before, there are mild and full-Hybrid options, plus an EV. And all offer more space, greater sophistication and smarter looks. Sounds promising.

Background

Hyundai is perceived very differently now to the way it was back in 2017. And you could argue that the primary reason why is down to one model: the Kona small SUV, a car named after the Western district of the island of Hawaii. 2017 was the year combustion Konas were launched, but even more significant was the arrival of the full-battery Kona Electric a year later, which along with its close cousin the Kia e-Niro kick-started EV sales in Europe. But that original Kona model line was a little cramped inside. And felt a little cheaply furnished and low-tech for a car supposed to bridge the gap between the brand's old-era i30 family hatch and the slightly larger, more futuristic IONIQ 5 EV.

This second generation Kona though, must do just that. Again, it shares much with its similarly engineered Kia Niro cousin, including a new K3 platform. Last time, the EV version was a spin-off; here though, the combustion variants we focus on in this Review are derived directly from the MK2 Kona Electric model that was designed first. As before with the combustion models, there's a choice of mild hybrid or full-Hybrid powertrains, but not (interestingly) a Plug-in Hybrid model; unlike its partner Kia, Hyundai sees very little future for that approach. And this second generation Kona is very much about the future - as you're about to find out.

Driving Experience

The powertrain line-up here sees combustion models offered with mild hybrid and full-Hybrid versions of the Hyundai Group's usual 1.6 litre SmartStream petrol engine; there's no PHEV option. The full-Hybrid Smartstream unit is shared with the Kia Niro but surprisingly, the EV drivetrain in this Kona is different from the one in the Kia, using a more powerful 214bhp electric motor and a larger 65.4kWh battery. Hence the class-leading 304 mile driving range, 90 miles more than the Niro EV. If you don't need to go that far between charges, Hyundai also offers the Kona Electric with a smaller 48.4kWh battery, a feebler 154bhp electric motor and a reduced range of 212 miles.

The price entry-point with the range lies with the mild hybrid version, which as in the old car is just 1.0-litre in size and offers 120PS, available with the option of either a 7DCT 7-speed auto gearbox; or a sophisticated 'iMT' intelligent Manual Transmission, which de-couples the engine from the gearbox after the driver releases the accelerator. There's also a 1.6-litre turbocharged four cylinder conventional petrol engine, which develops 198PS and again, comes with either manual or auto transmission.

For electrified engine technology that'll really make an efficiency difference to your Kona though, you'll need the properly electrified full-Hybrid powertrain we mentioned earlier. Here, a self-charging petrol/electric engine working with a 6-speed auto gearbox is mated to a 60PS electric motor powered by a 1.49kWh battery. Total output for this full-Hybrid version is 141PS. With all Kona variants, you can expect a big refinement improvement thanks to the sleek aerodynamics and lessons Hyundai says it's learned from the slippery IONIQ 6.

Design and Build

At first glance, you might think that the styling here has only subtly evolved - but take another look. This is now significantly larger car. True, it's still slightly smaller than its Kia Niro close cousin but compared to the original Kona, this 4.35-metre-long version is 175mm longer and 25mm wider, sitting 20mm higher. It's also far more aerodynamic and, in its own way, quite eye-catching thanks to expensive touches like the full-width front light bar. Big 18 or 19-inch wheels add the finishing touch.

Inside, the cabin is vastly different from the rather cramped, plasticky affair served up before. Material quality has taken a big step forward and it all feels a lot more spacious, helped by the relocation of the main driving controls from the centre console to a steering column stalk. Upper-spec models feature a pair of joined 12.3-inch screens and a head-up display. The things you regularly interact with like the door handles, the switchgear and the steering wheel now feel considerably more solid.

Where you really notice the extra space of this MK2 model (and its 60mm wheelbase length increase) though, is in the rear. Head room and knee room, both restricted with the previous Kona even by modest class standards, are now far more acceptable. And as you'd hope, there's more boot space too, luggage capacity for the Electric version having jumped from 332 to 460-litres. Plus with the EV, there's an extra compartment under the bonnet to store the charging leads.

Market and Model

There are four trim levels - 'Advance', 'N Line', 'N Line S' and 'Ultimate'. Expect the most affordable mild hybrid 1.0T Kona to sit in the £26,000-£32,000 bracket, while the far more frugal full-Hybrid version, you'll need to think more in terms of prices somewhere in the £30,000 to £35,000 bracket. For the Kona Electric, budget from just under £35,000 to just over £43,000 and you should be in the right kind of ballpark.

Whatever version you choose, you should find it to be very well equipped. All variants get large alloy wheels with rims at least 18-inches in size, as well as roof rails and front and rear LED lights. Interior features include air conditioning, tinted glass, cruise control with a speed limiter and 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto 'smartphone-mirroring. But you'll need to buy in at the top of the range to get the sophisticated joined twin 12.3-inch dashboard screens that the brand makes so much of.

Safety features are well up to class standards, all models getting 'Forward Collision Avoidance with pedestrian detection', 'Lane Keep Assist', 'Driver Attention Alert' and the brand's clever 'Lane Follow Assist' and 'Leading Vehicle Departure Warning' alert systems. Plus there's Tyre Pressure Monitoring and an 'eCall' emergency button that'll activate automatically to inform the rescue services should any of the front, front side and curtain airbags inflate.

Cost of Ownership

As we told you in our 'Driving' section, the entry-level Kona powertrain is a 1.6-litre petrol Smartstream powerplant with an MHEV mild hybrid electrified system built-in. As usual with a mild hybrid, the MHEV battery isn't big enough to allow this SUV to ever run independently on battery power. Instead, with this kind of set-up, a belt-driven integrated starter/generator replaces the standard alternator and enables the recovery and storage of energy usually lost during braking and coasting to charge a tiny 48volt lithium-ion air-cooled battery pack. The starter/generator also acts as a motor, integrating with the engine and using the stored energy it harvests to provide extra pulling power during normal driving and acceleration, as well as running the vehicle's electrical ancillaries and helping the powerplant's stop/start system in urban traffic. And the combined result of all this MHEV tech? Well a manual gearbox Kona MHEV model should manage around 45mpg on the combined cycle and around 140g/km of CO2.

Which isn't spectacular and all merely illustrates what we've been saying for some time, which is that mild hybrid tech doesn't really have much to offer the modern motorist. To start seeing more of an efficiency benefit, you'll need a full-Hybrid engine - one that is able to run independently on battery power. The HEV self-charging unit fitted to the full-Hybrid petrol Kona can certainly do that. Though not for very long, thanks to the combination of a relatively feeble 60PS electric motor and the small size of the 1.49kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack that powers it. Still, this front-driven HEV model's efficiency showing - just over 50mpg combined and not much more than 120g/km of CO2 - is appealing. With a full-Hybrid engine, it's all good. But not quite as good as with the Kona Electric full-EV. We gave you the top 65.4kWh battery version's class-leading 304 mile range figure in our 'Driving' section (and the 212 mile figure for the lesser 48.4kWh variant). For the 65.4kWh version, we expect the battery recharging times to be pretty much the same as the Kia Niro EV. For that, recharging from 10 to 80% at a public rapid charger takes as little as 45 minutes. And topping up the battery from an 11kW garage wallbox takes six hours 20 minutes. 

Summary

It's pretty straightforward to see why the first generation Kona sold so well. It was good to look at, well priced and the Electric version had class-leading range. But it was equally obvious to see how it could be improved, primarily with a more spacious, higher quality cabin. With this in place, plus a much greater air of sophistication, this second generation Kona's sales future seems assured.

It's disappointing that the new K3 platform doesn't have the ultra-rapid 800-volt electrical architecture used in the brand's only slightly larger IONIQ 5. And we'd like to have seen the option of the Plug-in Hybrid powertrain you can have in the mechanically very similar Kia Niro. But otherwise, there's much to like here, particularly with the class-leading range of the Electric version. The original Kona gave other mainstream brands in the sector for small SUVs quite a lot to think about. We predict this replacement will cause even more furrowed brows amongst the competition. It's a class contender you can't ignore.

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