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Hyundai Kona review: Warrior class

Hyundai's eye-catching crossover has the heart of a warrior.

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HYUNDAI KONA 1.6 T-GDI.

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HYUNDAI KONA 1.6 T-GDI.

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Santa Fe.

Singapore

WHEN you go to the carpark and find someone looking over a car, curiously surveying its bodywork, you know its designers did their work well.

That was my experience with the Hyundai Kona, a crossover that drew lingering looks from other road users, and even a shout of praise from a building's security guard, which is saying something because security guards usually shout unpleasant things at me.

So, well done, Hyundai. But perhaps those reactions were only to be expected since the Kona looks like nothing else on Earth.

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It has a super slim grille above a larger one above a medium-sized one. It has super slim lights above a cluster of other lights. And after staring at it for a while, you realise that this is a car that doesn't actually have a front bumper. Collide with something and your Kona gets it right in the kisser.

Just as well it comes with autonomous emergency braking, which means it will do its best to stop itself from crashing into something if the driver is too busy dreaming behind the wheel.

At the back it's no less eye-catching, with so many little design flourishes for you to look at, you get the sense that Hyundai's bosses simply dropped a case of soju off at the styling department and ordered everyone to have fun.

Then again, the Kona's radical looks could be down to the fact that it's late to the sport utility vehicle party, and had to dress to kill in order to stand out.

Before this Hyundai had the Santa Fe (a large seven-seat model) and the smaller Tucson, and these days being a car maker with only two SUV models is a bit like opening a poké café with only two toppings on the menu.

In any case, the Kona's market segment is a crowded one. The Honda HR-V and Toyota C-HR are its fiercest rivals, and their ubiquity puts the scale of the Kona's mission into perspective.

Hyundai's strategy seems to involve flanking the enemy with two Konas - a 1.0-litre, six-speed manual model undercuts rivals with a price tag of S$88,999 (with COE); and the 1.6-litre version outguns them. Its turbo engine produces a mighty 177hp and drives all four wheels through a seven-speed, twin-clutch automatic.

As you'd expect, putting the heart of a warrior into a car this size leads to some amusement. The Kona feels a lot quicker than its 0 to 100km/h time of 7.9 seconds suggests, and it can sprint along in traffic with the kind of ease that tends to endow a car with a sunny personality.

The ride is definitely on the firm side, but the payoff is that the body feels decently controlled through corners, and the handling balance is neutral enough to let you zip along rapidly, full of confidence and brio.

It's not a hot hatch substitute, but overall if you're the type who believes the slow lane is for losers, the Kona 1.6 is a pretty jaunty companion. In comparison, its rivals are pretty unexciting to drive.

A car that looks like this tends to be aimed at people who have more mountain bikes in their house than children, but there's no reason the Kona wouldn't pass muster hauling a young family around.

Its boot isn't huge but it can be easily expanded to 1,143 litres by folding the rear seats, and passengers have a decent amount of space in the back. The roof doesn't sweep down in the Kona like it does in some competitors, so the cabin feels spacious, like when a room has a high ceiling.

The big windows give a great view out of the car, too, but that hasn't stopped Hyundai from putting worthwhile driver aids into the Kona. It has blind spot monitors, front and rear parking sensors, and even a cross traffic alert system at the rear. It even has lane keep assist, which uses a camera to scan for lane markings so it can gently help the driver to stay within his lane.

If disaster does happen, there are six airbags.

In other areas, the equipment list is more of a mixed bag. The good stuff includes a touchscreen infotainment system that offers Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (the latter lets you dictate WhatsApp messages on the go and navigate with Apple Maps), and there's a wireless charging pad for compatible phones.

The Kona also has a keyless entry and engine start system, and electric front seats. But the boot has no luggage cover, and there are no air-con vents in the rear. The climate control system itself is a simple single-zone affair.

Where the Kona really feels built down to a cost is with the cabin, which looks and feels fairly plasticky.

Still, the Kona is obviously supposed to be a car that is more about fun than luxury. Unfortunately, its price tag is bloated by a S$20,000 pollution tax, courtesy of the Vehicular Emissions Scheme, so it can really fulfil only half of its cheap-and-cheerful brief.

For the money, there are larger and plusher cars - Hyundai's own Tucson is an excellent alternative - so the Kona is best suited to those who want it for the radical looks, safety features and lively performance. Besides, not everyone is deterred by the idea that when it comes to pollution, the best form of defence is a tax.


HYUNDAI KONA 1.6 T-GDI

Engine 1,591cc, 16V, turbo in-line 4
Power 177hp at 5,500rpm
Torque 265Nm at 1,500 to 4,500rpm
Gearbox 7-speed twin-clutch automatic
Top Speed 205km/h
0-100km/h 7.9 seconds
Fuel efficiency 6.7L/100km
CO2 153g/km
Price S$130,999 with COE
Agent Komoco Motors
Available Now


Santa Fe gets a Kona connection

IF looking at the Kona made you wish for something just as eye-catching but bigger and more luxurious, there's good news.

Hyundai has released images of a new Santa Fe that takes many of the Kona's styling cues, such as its slim headlamps and a broad, upright version of what Hyundai calls a "cascading grille".

The Santa Fe, a seven-seat SUV, will be unveiled at the Geneva motor show at the end of this month, and is expected to arrive in Singapore in the third quarter of this year.

Its sharp new looks adorn a body that is slightly larger, for the sake of growing the interior. Hyundai says the new car is 8cm longer and 1cm wider, while its wheelbase is slightly longer.

Hyundai claims the new Santa Fe will come with best-in-class safety features. A novel new system will debut on the car - if it senses that traffic is bearing down on you from the rear, it locks the doors to keep occupants from exiting the car into the path of another motorist.

It may have bold new looks, but the next Santa Fe also plays it safe.

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