You get one shot at a first impression, so it has been said, and most times this encounter falls to the sense of sight. On that count, the Hyundai Kona should comfortably have its immediate competition licked, wearing a very distinct face courtesy of its two-tier lighting arrangement and the automaker’s Cascading Grille.

This being a crossover, the assertive look up front carries on along the profile of the vehicle with the SUV-requisite cladded wheel arches, while the rear end ties in the visual theme set at the front of the Kona, where the plastic cladding encases the lower light assemblies.

Bright colours make for a cheery disposition, depending on one’s taste, the brightest of which is the Acid Yellow that you’ll be able to sample from our image gallery here. Other bright hues include Pulse Red and Tangerine Comet, while the safer, more conventional grayscale choices are also available – how extroverted do you want your Kona to be? Read on for our sampling of the crossover in New Zealand.

Things are a bit more restrained in the cabin, although flashes of exterior colour make it through to selected trim pieces inside. Customers who have chosen from the aforementioned brighter colours will get colour-matched punctuations of flair in an otherwise unimposing and friendly-to-use interior. Though most of the interior is grey, there are soft-touch materials to elevate the ambience somewhat.

It is here where mention must be made of its Japanese rival, the Honda HR-V. While the shapes and curves applied throughout the cabin feel generally well-judged, the HR-V is noticeably more spacious, even despite the Honda’s higher-set centre console that consequently raises the gear lever position.

Briefly sampling the rear seats also confirm that the HR-V’s (mostly) larger exterior dimensions translate to an airier cabin at the back. The middle seat passenger in the Kona will have more of a central transmission tunnel to contend with, and the B-segment Hyundai’s more style-led design also makes for a more snug-feeling rear quarters with the taller window line towards the rear.

On the other hand, rear seat passengers will fare better here than in the even more snug Mazda CX-3. Finishing off with luggage capacity, the HR-V wins the space race, as the Hyundai’s 361 litres plays the Honda’s 437 litres. Here, too, the Kona beats the CX-3, which packs just 350 litres.

Starting out in the 2.0 litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder variant, the Kona’s outputs of 149 PS and 179 Nm of torque are about par for the course for this segment. The Honda HR-V produces 142 PS and 172 Nm of torque from its 1.8 litre naturally-aspirated engine, while the Mazda CX-3 that matches the Kona on capacity makes 151 hp and 204 Nm of torque.

In practice, and from separate experience back home closer to Kuala Lumpur, the 2.0L Kona feels closer to the slightly smaller-engined HR-V than it does to the CX-3 of similar displacement. The Kona’s pairing of a 2.0 litre mill with a six-speed torque converter automatic is more obliging than engaging, and while the transmission fares better than the CVT in the HR-V, it hasn’t the measure of the CX-3 powertrain’s alertness and eagerness.

The Kona chassis continues the theme started by the 2.0 litre engine, which is to do the job well, without truly pandering to the keen driver’s whims. The CX-3 possesses the more tautly controlled body over a challenging stretch of road and has the more engaging – and therefore entertaining – steering. That said, the Kona still acquits itself well with more eager responses than the HR-V, which is paired with a more compliant ride and bump absorption than the CX-3.

The 1.6 litre turbocharged petrol engine is a more enticing prospect. The example we tried was paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic and all-wheel-drive, which – in Hyundai’s way of configuring the Kona – also meant the use of a dual-arm multi-link independent rear suspension layout, instead of the torsion beam setup on the 2.0 litre car.

With differences in both powertrain and chassis across the two versions sampled, it is the turbo/DCT combination that makes a bigger impression, helped in no small measure by the bump in output to 177 PS and 265 Nm, which is a 28 PS and 86 Nm increase over the NA.

That additional torque is key to the enjoyment of the 1.6 T-GDI powertrain over the NA 2.0L unit, as it offers meaningful shove just off the bottom of the rev range, making it significantly more sprightly than the NA 2.0L.

The turbocharged powertrain also delivered near-effortless overtakes, and as the raw numbers indicate, it feels demonstrably stronger in a straight-line than its two naturally-aspirated Japanese rivals.

Though the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic isn’t likely to elicit too many racer fantasies, it is competent, and makes mostly well-judged decisions when left to its own devices. Parking manoeuvres and low-speed driving are handled well by the dual-clutch unit too, the unit reacting smoothly to part-throttle inputs.

Here, the 1.6 litre T-GDI version did also seem just slightly more sure-footed than the torsion beam-equipped 2.0 litre, though in practice, the chassis advantage is marginal. With its added punch, the 1.6 litre turbo is the powertrain we’d recommend you stretch to.

Given that the Malaysian market is likely to receive its selection of both naturally aspirated 2.0 litre and 1.6 litre turbo variants in FWD, the torsion beam rear suspension layout looks like the one we’ll be getting, which, on evidence of our time in the 2.0 litre car, is no bad thing.

Against its more prolific Japanese brand rivals in Malaysia, the Hyundai Kona will have to forge its own path in offering a unique proposition to customers shopping in the B-segment SUV category, especially given its late entry.

With the aforementioned Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3 having staked out the niches of spaciousness and driver appeal respectively, the Kona forges a third path; one that plays on its strengths of outward visual appeal, and – when specified as a 1.6 T-GDI – straight-line performance as well.

Generous standard equipment levels that have been confirmed for Malaysia, including infotainment that is comprised of a six-speaker sound system with seven-inch touchscreen, auxiliary audio input, USB, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

On the safety front, six airbags are standard across the range, while the top 1.6 T-GDI gets the Hyundai SmartSense active safety suite that includes forward collision avoidance assist (AEB), lane keeping assist and Smart Cruise Control (adaptive cruise control).

Starting from RM115,000 as announced during the commencement of pre-orders in Malaysia last month, the Kona should be priced right in between the HR-V, which starts from RM104,000 to RM118,582 and the CX-3, which is priced at RM126,829.

Exact specifications are pending the Malaysian market launch of the Kona, though on available information, the Korean brand’s B-segment SUV looks to be joining the fray as a richly appointed offering.

GALLERY: Hyundai Kona 1.6 Turbo at 2018 KL International Motor Show