Hyundai's Kona small SUV gets more sophisticated in second generation guise. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
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.
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 entry-level Bayon SUV and the mid-sized Tucson model.
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.
The powertrain line-up here is divided into two parts. There are the combustion models - a 1.0-litre three cylinder mild hybrid with 120PS or a 1.6-litre four cylinder variant with 198PS. Both are offered with a choice of either iMT manual or 7DCT 7-speed auto transmission. Or you can take the electrified route. Either with the 141PS 1.6-litre full-Hybrid model we tried. Or with the full-EV Kona Electric, which is offered at entry-level with a 48.4kWh battery but will mainly be chosen in bigger-battery 65.4kWh form which offers a class-leading driving range of up to 319 miles.
We'll cover the Kona Electric with its own separate Review: here, as we said, we're trying the full-Hybrid version, engineered around basically the same Smartstream 1.6-litre GDI petrol engine Hyundai's been using for a decade, mated to the same 6-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox driving the front wheels with the assistance of an electric motor. That motor's pretty much the same as previously too (developing 32kW as before), but unfortunately the tiny battery that powers it isn't, reduced in size to 1.32kWh (down from 1.56kWh before), which means it's even less likely to ever power the car on its own.
Like all Konas other than the entry-level 1.0-litre model, this Hybrid gets multi-link rear suspension, but the ride is still on the firm side. That benefits the car through the turns though, where it rolls a little less than its similarly-engineered Kia Niro close cousin. 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
As befits its changing era, this second generation Kona was developed first as an EV, then as a combustion model. Either way, it's quite a striking-looking thing - and very different to its predecessor. It's bigger too, 60mm longer, 25mm wider and 20mm taller. 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 and a contrast-coloured roof would 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. Combustion versions have a 12.3-inch instrument display linked to a 10.25-inch centre screen that's expanded to 12.3-inches in size with the Electric model. Across the range, 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 across the line-up having jumped from to 460-litres. With everything flat, up to 1300-litres of space is available with all the different powertrain options.
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
Like its Kia Niro cousin, this second generation Kona can make all the style statements it likes but if its cost of ownership figures don't stack up, then it won't sell. So Hyundai's worked hard on this issue when it comes to the Hybrid version we tried here, which officially records up to 60.1mpg on the combined cycle and up to 106g/km of CO2. For comparison, the base 1.0-litre mild hybrid manages 48.7mpg and 131g/km, while the 1.6-litre 198PS model returns up to 47.1mpg and 136g/km.
With the full-Hybrid Kona, unlike with the 1.0-litre mild hybrid version, the engine is regularly able to run independently on battery power. Though not for very long, thanks to the combination of a near-1.5-tonne kerb weight, a relatively feeble 32kW electric motor and the small size of the 1.32kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack that powers it. If you want to run on electric power for longer, then your only other option is the Kona Electric full-EV. That model's not our focus here, but for reference, in volume 65.4kWh form, it manages a range of up to 319 miles, a figure that falls to 212 miles with the rarer 48.4kWh variant. Recharging the 65.4kWh Kona Electric model from 10 to 80% at a public rapid charger takes as little as 43 minutes. And topping up the battery from a 7.4kW garage wallbox takes 9 hours 15 minutes - or six hours 20 minutes if you've an 11kW supply.
As for ownership peace of mind, well across the range you get Hyundai's usual comprehensive five year unlimited mileage warranty backed up by 12 months of breakdown cover and five years of free annual vehicle health checks. Insurance is group 16-18 for either the 1.0-litre model or this Hybrid; it's group 25-28 for the 1.6-litre, group 25 for the Kona Electric 48kWh and group 31-33 for the Kona Electric 65kWh. Servicing is required every year or 10,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Cars of this kind tend to be more about style than substance. And, sure enough, this Kona is certainly designed to make the appropriate statement in the gym car park, especially in this smarter, more confident-looking second generation form. But this car is more than just a fashion statement. There's a spacious cabin, decent efficiency, plenty of equipment and a comprehensive warranty - which the first generation Kona also had, hence its strong sales figures. To these attributes, apart from more striking looks, this second generation model adds better driving dynamics and extra technology. It may not have been primarily developed with an engine beneath the bonnet but even in this combustion form, it's a very complete package.
So does this car now have what it takes to make an impact? Well most agree that it's been styled to do so - which in this segment is half the battle. The Kona Electric might be the headline-maker in this model line but this commoner combustion version now has both the style and the substance to stand out a little more in its segment. Which for its target market, is all it really needs to do