Quirky is quickly becoming the new cool in the world of automobiles.
It isn’t exactly a revolution, there have been a huge number of designs through the decades that have ranged from simply interesting to radical, from game changing to downright ugly. The original Mini, Beetle, Citroen DS (1955), Subaru Tribeca, Suzuki X90 and the Rolls-Royce Carmague are all worthy of mention though I will leave it up to you to decide into which category they fall.
Car-buyers’ hunger for ‘something different’ can be traced back to the Nissan Juke which arrived on our shores way back in 2010 and launched the whole supermini crossover segment. Its styling was radically different to anything else on the market and no one could accuse the Japanese of playing it safe.
It’s success has, perhaps a little belatedly, encouraged other manufacturers to be a little bolder with their designs – Honda’s C-HR, Kia’s Soul and Citroen’s C3 Aircross spring to mind – and now to that list you can add the Hyundai Kona.
There’s plenty of plastic cladding to give the Kona a rugged appearance. It sports a twin headlamp design – much like the C3 Aircross – with slim LED daytime running lights sitting above the main LED headlight assemblies that are integrated into the cladding.
There are some matte silver accents around the fog lights, lower air intakes and adorning the rear skid plate and an accent line along the sills.
It wears the company’s latest corporate “Cascading Grille” face with a new mesh pattern designed, in the Korean firm’s words, to enhance its expressive and dynamic appearance. I’ll let you decide whether that goal has been achieved.
The rear mimics the front with slim driving lights are arranged above the indicators and reversing lights which are embedded in the wraparound cladding.
Thanks to short overhangs and a wheelbase of 2,600mm in a total length of 4,165mm the Kona has a planted, broad stance that adds to its read-for-anything appeal.
There are ten metallic exterior colours that can be matched with three roof configurations to give the Kona a decent degree of personalisation, on the outside at least.
The interior is far more conventional. The instrument binnacle houses traditional dials and a multi-function display while the centre console is home to analogue controls for the air con beneath either a seven or eight-inch ‘floating’ touchscreen display, unless you’re sitting in the entry-level S trim, in which case all you get is a monochrome LCD display-based set-up.
The screen is mounted in a chunky plastic housing with manual controls on either flank
There are a few flashes of colour around the air vent surrounds, the gear selector, the engine start button and the stitching on the seats and steering wheel. There’s a choice of three colours – orange, lime and red – with the lime and red options are also available with coloured seatbelts and gloss black door handles and steering wheel spoke.
Hyundai claims all the cabin materials have been ‘carefully’ selected to ‘transmit the highest quality standards in the segment’ and it’s very hard to argue that they’ve not come remarkably close to achieving their ambition.
On the whole the passenger space is a plush, pleasant environment with soft touch, tactile materials in places where you might expect to find cheaper plastics, such as the door lining. In fact, you have to look really hard to find examples of budget constraint.
It’s a comfortable space, with plenty of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel to help you get yourself comfortable and the ergonomics are just about spot on.
Passenger space is adequate, but not exceptional. It’s little more than a supermini on stilts, so no one should be surprised to discover that it’s a bit of a squeeze for taller people in the back, particularly in the lower-limb department.
My test car arrived in Premium GT spec, which includes a few little toys that helps make the driving experience juts a little bit more special, such as a head-up display and, uniquely in this sector, three-step heated and ventilated front seats.
The boot is about average for the class. The S spec car makes do without a spare wheel and so has the largest boot in the range – 361 litres – while other models make do with 334. Fold the rear seats away and that rises to 1,143 and 1,116 litres respectively. Again, just about par for the class.
As I mentioned earlier, the entry-level Kona’s infotainment system is very basic but, in Premium spec – including SE and GT derivatives – that is replaced with an eight-inch display (SE models get a seven-inch display) plus an eight-speaker KRELL audio set-up.
You also get sat nav but, as the system includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and is neither as clear nor as easy to use as either, it’s added value is limited.
The 1.6-litre T-GDi petrol engine is refined at speed but there’s a fair amount of noise permeating the cabin under heavy acceleration. This version is equipped with a more complex rear suspension set-up compared to other models in the range as well as dual-clutch seven-speed gearbox driving all four wheels.
It’s a decent power unit, with 175bhp and 265Nm of torque on tap that will propel the Kona to 62mph in a spritely, but noisy, 7.9 seconds. Top speed is 127mph. There’s plenty of mid-range punch too.
Small SUVs have hardly set the world on fire when it comes to driving dynamics and the Kona, even with the more sophisticated chassis set-up, does nothing to change this. It’s benign, safe and uninspiring but, as that doesn’t seem to have slowed sales of any of its rivals, it’s hard to imagine that it will harm the Kona’s prospects.
There’s very little body roll in corners and the front end actually serves up plenty of grip if you’re driving moderately quickly but the steering requires to much heft to tackle quick changes of direction with either fluidity or pleasure.
The ride can be fidgety over all but the smoothest of roads, with a rear end that jars over bumps and potholes and is reluctant to settle over high-frequency imperfections.
There’s a lot to recommend the Kona. It’s looks might be divisive but they certainly set it apart from the crowd. It’s also refined and comfortable at cruising speed while there are generous personalisation options.
It’s hard to be too critical of the driving experience because, while it won’t impress keeners drivers, it certainly doesn’t deliver dynamics that are inferior to anything else in this class. It is let down slightly by a inconsistent ride and interior space that falls a little short of the very best but the build quality is certainly a match for its rivals.
Hyundai Kona Premium GT 1.6 T-GDi 7-speed DCT 4WD
Price (as tested): £25,415
Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cylinder
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Max power: 177PS @ 5,500
Max torque: 265Nm @ 1,500rpm
Max speed: 127mph
Acceleration (0-62mph): 7.9sec
Emissions (CO2): 153g/km
For more information visit www.hyundai.co.uk