DRIVEN: Hyundai Kona – styled up, best when boosted

DRIVEN: Hyundai Kona – styled up, best when boosted

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.

DRIVEN: Hyundai Kona – styled up, best when boosted

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.

DRIVEN: Hyundai Kona – styled up, best when boosted

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.

DRIVEN: Hyundai Kona – styled up, best when boosted

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.

DRIVEN: Hyundai Kona – styled up, best when boosted

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

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Mick Chan

Open roads and closed circuits hold great allure for Mick Chan. Driving heaven to him is exercising a playful chassis on twisty paths; prizes ergonomics and involvement over gadgetry. Spent three years at a motoring newspaper and short stint with a magazine prior to joining this website.



  • YAP TAI WAI on Sep 19, 2020 at 1:02 am

    Facelift dy out….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • (Like) Hyundai Kona 115k.
    (Dislike) Proton X50 75k

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1
  • Daleema on Sep 19, 2020 at 7:31 am

    View from the side profile, turns me off, too long front overhang similar to typical Japanese SUVs.
    At least bring the wheel arch’s forward 3-5 inch further or trim the overall front design.
    Best short front overhang reference is the new Skoda Enyaq iV:

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
  • Farid on Sep 19, 2020 at 8:50 am

    The pricing is not right. For Malaysian car buyers perception, Japanese cars are superior than Korean cars. If Kona is priced higher than HR-V, good luck.. I will be happy if you can sell more than 100 of this

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5
  • romance on Sep 19, 2020 at 9:26 am

    (Like)X50 and Kona
    (Dislike) HRV

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0
  • MeiLi on Sep 19, 2020 at 9:40 am

    Malaysian will likely not to get the variant with AEB and ACC. Wanna bet?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  • Semi-Value (Member) on Sep 19, 2020 at 9:55 am

    so outdated. got x50 still want this for inferior kimchi what.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 5
  • M & B on Sep 19, 2020 at 10:24 am


    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  • We are so exciting to see this. It will be fun

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
  • Chow Wei Zhen on Sep 19, 2020 at 10:42 am

    Good impressive looking. Launch here soon. Would love to drive this

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  • Hyundai Tucson 1.6TGDI is RM143k

    The catch is it uses a Dry Clutch

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • X70 Buyer on Sep 19, 2020 at 11:11 am

    Prefers X50 over this

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3
  • Mahadzir Lokman on Sep 19, 2020 at 11:20 am

    I am just so amazed how this Kona looks and performs. Truly Korean engineers are smart. It is no wonder why they can sell 8 million cars globally, having just rolled out their first car in 1974, just 10 years before Proton rolled out our first car.

    Well done Koreans. In the 90s, Korean cars were looked down upon, now, it is top selling in nearly every first world country in the world

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5
    • The Swede on Sep 21, 2020 at 12:44 pm

      Similar pricing as Kicks at Indonesia. Why without Indonesian national car, is a B-segment Crossover more expensive than national car C-segment proper SUV and a competitor crossover in Malaysia? It show these Japanese and Korean brands are overpricing their cars. At Sweden, our national car is priced to compete with Mercedes Benz & BMW but we still buy Volvos because their value is on par. The Kicks & Seltos has no equal value to an X70 whatsoever. If both were sold here in Sweden, nobody would buy it due to such ripoff pricing from these two brands.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
    • Copy Paste on Sep 21, 2020 at 1:07 pm

      Copy paste: “You can have all the silly, hi-flying, camera stunts you want but when you dont provide Malaysian customers with a reliable, family car for the money, customers like us walk away from the Kia brand never to return. Your priorities should be proper customer service, not silly stunts.”

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
    • History Bender on Sep 21, 2020 at 7:03 pm

      Hyundai started 10 years before Merdeka and by the time they rolled out their first cars, they were already a billion dollar conglomerate compared to puny Proton. Based on what resource available to Proton, if they had the money and market size of Hyundai/KIA, they could have been a world beater today.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • Ol Skool on Sep 19, 2020 at 1:34 pm

    Dead on arrival

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2
  • Jungkook on Sep 19, 2020 at 5:27 pm

    Such an outdated interior. A shame because the exterior is stunning. RIP

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3
  • JustANormalGuy on Sep 19, 2020 at 8:28 pm

    The interior is way outdated, it’s like not refreshing at all. This could be a okayish bargain until X50 came out. I
    ‘m sorry hyundai…. You produced great cars around a decade ago now you just feel old and incompetent..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3
  • deded on Sep 19, 2020 at 8:52 pm

    Gamma 1.6? Hyundai and Kia still think Malaysian are all sohai?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  • Rafieah on Sep 20, 2020 at 12:31 am

    Hyundai adalah trrhebat ciri2 bentuk menkagumkan Mari penanduan hebat Dari hyu ndai best the best

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • davenport on Sep 20, 2020 at 7:23 pm

    will be Dead-on-Arrival just like the KIA Seltos, thanks to the X50.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3
    • Dzulkifly on Sep 21, 2020 at 7:44 am

      Don’t syok sendiri with the X50. After all, it is someone else who did the hard work to make the X50 a car.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3
      • So as the Kona too, what you trying to say here? Everyone is doing it?

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
      • davenport on Sep 22, 2020 at 2:16 am

        So? What does that have anything to do with the Seltos and Kona being dead in the water?

        perasan much?

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
    • Ksatria on Sep 21, 2020 at 9:24 am

      nuff said.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  • the latest generation of Kona is already in the market , but what we get is an old version.
    better skip this car.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
  • err … where did they recycle the dashboard from?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
  • sam123 on Sep 22, 2020 at 8:21 am

    the sales will be like Mazda CX-3 in msia

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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