Handsome but polarising looks give character to Hyundai’s Kona crossover Pic: SUPPLIED
Handsome but polarising looks give character to Hyundai’s Kona crossover Pic: SUPPLIED

First up, Hyundai looks to be winning the grille wars of the lower segments. The company’s latest interpretation is by far the best since the Korean carmaker’s inception. It’s Audi-esque, yet not quite, Lexus-like, but not as bold. The Kona’s gaping maw is particularly eye-catching and theatrical, more so thanks to this small crossover’s dramatically divergent looks, with its thin letterbox-type headlights.

In all fairness, anyone who finds the Kona quirky shouldn’t be censored. The frontal styling and acres of dark-patch mudguards precede the outlook of a Hyundai crossover not aimed at everyone. Conservative tastes will be better served by the more mainstream-looking and R30,000 cheaper Hyundai Creta or the R34.000 dearer Hyundai Tucson. But for those who like their motoring oddities, the Kona continues along the same Hyundai path of practicality, packed-in features, performance and economy.

Cabin in lime or red accents is a cool factor of appeal Pic: SUPPLIED
Cabin in lime or red accents is a cool factor of appeal Pic: SUPPLIED

The Kona is 11cm shorter and 7cm lower than a Creta. But because the hipster Kona is shapelier, it only has 371l of boot space compared to 475l in mom’s Creta. Interior styling is altered in the Kona — it’s fun yet minimalistic, accented in lime, and features a dominating cylindrical-shaped section that houses the air-conditioning vents below a floating command screen.

From a features perspective, our test Kona had the basics, plus more, covered. Full electric windows, remote central locking, enough climate control, a pair of USB ports and a not-so-premium sound-system ticked the boxes (see full list in Tech Specs).

It’s available in two engine choices, a 2.0 MPI petrol four-cylinder or 1.0T TGDI. Drive is exclusively sent to the front wheels in either guise and our test TGDI was fitted with a six-speed manual transmission, which unfortunately for haters of gridlocked traffic is the exclusive fitment for this small-capacity engine.

The cargo area can swallow nearly as much as its Creta sibling Pic:SUPPLIED
The cargo area can swallow nearly as much as its Creta sibling Pic:SUPPLIED

You’ll either love or loathe the distinctively coarse thrum of a three-cylinder, but nonetheless the downsized turbo engine is peppy and impressive for a first stab at the genre. It delivers its 85kW and 175Nm with reasonable verve and is able to dispatch overtaking manoeuvres fairly decisively.

In case you were wondering, it’s only 8Nm down on torque than the larger four-cylinder variant.

Hyundai claims a thrifty 6.8l/100km, however the best fuel consumption I managed to draw was 7.0l/100km, helped along by a rare midweek cruise down the N3 south during the test period. In typical traffic conditions it shot up to 7.6l/100km. 

It’s also a pretty decent ride. The typically light and easy responses expected from Hyundai are all there. Steering it in city conditions is effortless and actually masks its real size.

Though it’s no Lexus, the damping absorbs a lot of road ugliness very well and rattles and squeaks were noticeably absent. It was only the sound deadening in the panels that soured the experience, allowing that love-or-hate engine noise to filter through into the cabin.


Hyundai Kona 1.0 T-GDI Executive Manual

WE LIKE: Comfortable ride quality, looks, ease of driving

WE DISLIKE: Lack of automatic gearbox, expensive price

VERDICT: A Hyundai for hipsters


The noise is mostly voluble when furiously working through its gearbox, dipping the rev needle into the red zone.

This isn’t much of a bone to pick as the Kona should largely be driven in a civil manner to allow more time for onlookers to either appreciate or disapprove of its looks.

Overall, it’s an agreeable car. I love the look and it can also tackle terrain and rough roads that would be unhealthy for its Elantra sedan siblings. There is enough space for sizable luggage and it has a general vibe that suits young parents or first-time car owners.

I’m all for its fancy-enough business area and apt amenities, including its mechanical prowess that shouldn’t be faulted much, except perhaps if the three-potter could be availed with an automatic gearbox. It’s also unfortunate that it competes against some truly desirable alternative vehicles that cost less.


Tech Specs

Engine

Type: In-line turbo three-cylinder

Capacity: 998cc

Power: 88kW

Torque: 172Nm

Transmission

Type: six-speed manual

Drivetrain

Type: Front-wheel drive

Performance (claimed)

Top speed: 181km/h

0-100km/h: 12.0 sec

Fuel consumption: 6.8l/100km (as claimed) 7.6l/100km (as tested)

Emissions: 150 g/km

Standard features 

Six airbags, manual air conditioner, audio system, 7” display infotainment system, Carplay, iPod/USB/ aux connection, Bluetooth, on-board computer, electric side mirrors with folding function, cruise control, ABS brakes, electronic stability programme, downhill brake control, blind-spot collision warning, rear cross-traffic collision warning.

Cost of ownership

Warranty: 7 years/200,000km

Price: R379,900

Lease*: R8,166 per month

* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit


Motor News star rating

Design ****

Performance **

Economy ***

Ride/handling *****

Safety ***

Value For Money **

Overall ****


Competition

Ford Ecosport 1.0T Titanium, 92kW/170Nm — R334, 9000

Mazda CX-3 Active, 115kW/206Nm — R299,400

Fiat 500X Cross, 103kW/230Nm —  R362,900      

Toyota C-HR 1.2T, 85kW/185Nm — R346,200 

Honda HR-V 1.5 Comfort CVT. 85kW/145Nm — R354,900

Subaru XV 2.0i. 110kW, 196Nm — R360,000