Our new Hyundai Kona makes its first impressions

Georgia gets to grips with the Hyundai Kona and it's...unique...engine/gearbox configuration.

Date: 29 January 2019 | Current mileage: 1420 | Claimed economy: 40.4mpg | Actual economy: 32.3mpg

So, we've got a new long termer on the HJ fleet, and it's quirky. I have to admit, it's not a car that I've immediately taken a liking to. But that's okay, I felt the same about the Suzuki Ignis I ran for six months - and I loved that by the time it left.

The Kona competes in one of the most competitive car segments in the UK, that of small crossovers. You know the ones. The likes of the Volkswagen T-Roc, Vauxhall Mokka X and Audi Q2 are all over British roads - offering good levels of standard equipment, practicality and affordable running costs.

Hyundai is a bit late to the party. In comparison to models that have been kicking about for a few years, like the Nissan Juke, Hyundai has turned up to the party at 1am and found out most people have already left. But go big or go home, right? And that appears to be the thinking behind the Kona's very over-the-top styling. It's definitely bolder than other models in the range, but we quite like it.

Like most Hyundai models, the Kona offers hassle-free motoring. And that's not to say it doesn't offer a decent driving experience - we'll talk more about that in a later update - it just means that it's not a luxury car. Nor does it aim to be.


The swathe of drivers who prefer German cars wouldn't be caught dead in a Hyundai, Peugeot or Vauxhall, but motorists who are looking for a daily driver with no fuss and no frills will be happy to get from A to B in a model like this. The most positive point to mention shouldn't be the warranty, but its extensive five-year, unlimited mileage warranty is definitely a selling point.

Prices start in the region of £16,000, and ours is about £10k more than that when you take the engine, gearbox, trim and extras into account. Equipment levels are decent too with basic models getting LED daytime running lights, DAB audio, touchscreen infotainment, a parking camera and cruise control.

Inside the cabin it's a bleak sea of hard, black plastic (unless you opt for fancy colour accents). Conventional dials and an easy-to-use touchscreen infotainment system are simple to get to grips with, but are pretty uninspiring. Again, if you want something to impress your friends - you'd be better to save up for something else.

We've got a 1.6-litre petrol Kona paired with an automatic gearbox. So far, I'm not loving the engine and gearbox combination. It needs to be pushed hard in low gears to get it moving, it makes a lot of noise and it doesn't overtake very well - but it's very early days. On first impressions, the Kona is a decent, different alternative to something like a SEAT Arona or Volkswagen T-Roc - but our engine/gearbox combo isn't ideal. Will time change our opinion?

Making our way in the Kona...slowly

The Kona isn't fast, but it does sound a bit furious...

Date: 12 February 2019 | Current mileage: 2071 | Claimed economy: 40.4mpg | Actual economy: 32.4

Slow and steady wins the race. That's what they say, right? It definitely seems to be a motto that our Kona seems to be sticking to. On paper, our Kona sounds powerful with a 1.6-litre petrol engine and 177PS - especially in a car as small as the Kona - but the reality of pairing that with an automatic gearbox and four-wheel drive makes for a bit of a thrashy driving experience.

The 1.6-litre four-pot is the only engine you can get with the top of the range Premium GT trim, which we have (and which we'll delve into more in a later update). With that trim, we get Hyundai's seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and 4WD. But it'll be a pretty niche choice unless you plan to drive through snow drifts or utilise the Kona's 1250kg towing capacity.

In terms of the drive, our Kona is very keen to hold onto gears rather than changing up, meaning it's often running at too many revs - which makes a lot of noise and hits fuel economy. It's also quite reluctant to change down when you do want performance, unless you select sport mode. 

We've driven the 1.6-litre diesel and the 1.0-litre petrol Kona, and they're both better options. But setting that aside, the Kona isn't a bad drive (overall). The ride isn't too firm, even on the potholed roads we commute along. It isn't too noisy at motorway speeds either.

Rear Photo (1)

The looks of the Kona aren't to everyone's taste...

But it's not exactly frugal. Fuel economy tends to get better as a car gets run in, so it's not set in stone - but the Kona is currently averaging around 32mpg. It isn't great, especially considering the official mpg figures are 40mpg - but we have hope that it'll improve.

So, we wouldn't call the Kona fast, frugal or refined - for now, anyway - but that can be said about a lot of small crossover offerings. The class isn't exactly known for being fun or having the sharpest handling, but the Kona makes a good case for itself. Steering is responsive with lots of front-end grip, although some may find the steering a bit heavy - especially at low speeds.

On the plus side, the wide windscreen and large door mirrors provide excellent all-round visibility. Most models get parking sensors and a rearview camera as standard, too, which means it isn't too difficult to guide the 1.8-metre wide Hyundai into a parallel space or reverse it into garage.

It's affordable and quirky, but we'll need to spend a bit more time with the Kona to work out if it's a proper rival to the SEAT Arona and Volkswagen T-Roc. We'll be updating over the next five and a bit months - so make sure to check how we're getting on.

Hyundai Kona: A model name failure across multiple languages

Georgia dissects the name Kona, as well as a few other model name mishaps...

Date: 26 February 2019 | Current mileage: 2551 | Claimed economy: 40.4mpg | Actual economy: 32.7

The Hyundai Kona appears to be the newest car in a long line of model names that don't exactly hit the nail on the head. According to Hyundai, "Images that come to mind when thinking of Kona are dynamic marine leisure sports and the mild aroma of Kona coffee, which also represents the customer base of small SUVs." So, women who like aromatic coffee and diving are the target buyers...

Kona is also a well-known vacation spot in Hawaii. The name came about as part of Hyundai's international vacation spot-themed names - with the Sante Fe and Tucson following this pattern too.

Sadly, the name might be a bit lost in translation with the Portugese market, where the word cona (pronounced the same way) is...ahem... taboo slang for the female genitalia. Yeah. In English that would be the Hyundai C-bomb. That's why in Portugal it will be called the Hyundai Kauai. 

In Faroese, which is a language spoken mainly in the Faroe Islands and is closely related to Icelandic, Kona means 'the wife'. Although less offensive, than in Portugal, the Kona represents how badly naming new models can go if the name isn't tried and tested across multiple international markets.

Kona (2)

But they aren't the first manufacturer to be caught out over a name. Not by a long shot. After all, the infamous Opel Ascona had to be renamed for the same reason.

The Mitsubishi Pajero was even worse. Known as the Shogun in the UK, the Pajero name was derived from Leopardus pajeros, the Pampas cat. But Mitsubishi rebranded it to Montero in most Spanish-speaking countries because Pajero is Spanish slang for w****r...

The Honda Jazz (as it's known in Britain) is called the Honda Fit in the US and Japan. It was originally going to be called the Honda Fitta in Europe, but that's the Norwegian equivalent of cona. Unfortunately, the entire advertising campaign was centred around the tagline "Small on the outside, big on the inside". It couldn't really have gone much worse.

And the Mazda Laputa was rebranded too. No one wants to be driving around in a La Puta.

Back to basics in our Hyundai Kona

Georgia takes you through the...uninspiring...interior of our Hyundai Kona.

Date: 12 March 2019 | Current mileage: 3240 | Claimed economy: 40.4mpg | Actual economy: 33

Basic. That's defintely how we'd describe the Kona's interior. And that's not a bad thing, necessarily. Hyundai has never claimed to rival German manufacturers whose cars boast plush cabins with soft touch plastics, thoughtfully weighted buttons and upmarket finishes.

That isn't to say the Kona lacks a lot of standard tech - not at all. Even basic models get LED daytime running lights, DAB radio, touchscreen infotainment, a parking camera and cruise control from the get-go. As a high-spec model are Kona is absolutely loaded with standard kit, but it does little to distract from the dreary interior.

It's a bit like all the design budget went into making the outside of the car the most outrageous in Hyundai's range, and sadly that means the inside does have a hire car feel about it. Just look at all that hard, black plastic...

On the plus side, the no-frills approach to the Kona means that everything you see in the cabin comes at a considerably cheaper price than, say, a Volkswagen T-Roc.

Interior (1)

Starting at £16k, the Hyundai Kona has set itself up as a very good option for those who don't care about things like sharp lines, upmarket materials and digital instrument displays. It's not very fun, but it is very functional.

The seats on our spec are heated and, unusually, also come with a cooling option. The dials are very basic but intuitive to use and the infotainment screen is easy enough to get to grips with.

But cost-cutting measures in certain areas have started to grate slightly. For example, using an up/down button on the steering wheel to control both volume and changing songs/radio stations is a bit of a pain and leads us to change the song instead of turning the volume up on a few occasions.

The bulky button layout around the screen also makes for an uninspiring look and that sweeping silver section of the steering wheel screams cheap. So, if none of that bothers you, great. The Kona is a decent alternative to rival crossovers that will make you pay more for the cosmetic touches our Hyundai is missing. But, in the very image conscious society we live in, we can't imagine many young buyers will opt for the Kona unless they really, really need the space on a small budget.

Our Hyundai Kona becomes a city dweller

Georgia moves house in the Hyundai Kona, but is it as practical as it seems?

Date: 26 March 2019 | Current mileage: 3923 | Claimed economy: 40.4mpg | Actual economy: 33.1mpg

For the first two months running the Hyundai Kona, I lived in the countryside. My house sat atop a large hill in a tiny village, which I chatted a little bit about in my Suzuki Ignis updates simply because the little city car struggled out of the urban setting it was designed for.

However, I recently moved to the city. No more long commute. No more traversing treacherous rural roads in the dark of winter. No more navigating around tractors on my way home. But, more importantly, the Kona was used a lot during the moving process - mostly ferrying paint to the new house and being loaded up with boxes.

While we had a Peugeot Expert van for the big stuff, the Kona was really put through its paces for most of the smaller boxes. It's important to note that the Kona is what's considered a small crossover - sitting alongside models like the Nissan Juke rather than the Nissan Qashqai. Therefore, while it is definitely bigger than a hatchback, it's more like a hatch on stilts than an exceptionally spacious vehicle.

When moving two years ago, I struggled with my then-long term car, the Skoda Fabia. I wrote about the pros and cons of that little hatchback here, but the Kona wasn't that much easier to deal with. Yes, it's larger and does have more space than a typical hatchback, but it still feels a little bit strange to have a car that looks larger than a hatch without that much more practicality about it.

Boxes In Kona

The boot of the Hyundai Kona is a decent size with 334 litres of boot space and 1143 litres with the rear bench flattened. The opening is one metre wide with a low loading lip, which makes lifting heavy things in and out easier. The rear seats are a 60/40 split and fold fairly flat, too, but the shape of the car just doesn't feel very versatile. 

After all, a new Ford Fiesta offers 303 litres of boot space with 984 litres of space with the back seats folded (although they don't fold flat). However, the Kona does a reasonable job - even just taking some empty boxes to the tip (as you can see above, we built a lot of flatpack furniture...).

But comparing the Kona to a Honda HR-V, for example, shows just how much more practical the Honda is with its space. The HR-V's 470-litre boot is much bigger and there's a deep underfloor storage area that’s big enough to hold a small suitcase. Flip the Honda's rear seats down (60:40 split) and you get a 1533-litre loadbay. The Honda's rear 'magic' seats also flip upwards for even more space.

The HR-V starts at a higher price, £20k compared to our Hyundai Kona's £17k - but for the £25k+ our trim costs, the Hyundai loses out in terms of space for the money. Saying that, if you're just looking for a small enough crossover to easily park and maneuvre with enough practicality for the weekly shop and a pushchair in the boot - the Kona meets those needs easily. I mean, how often do you need to move house?

In the case of the Kona, the electric model comes out on top

The Kona EV is better than Georgia's petrol model. But does that mean the EV is excellent or the 1.6-petrol should be avoided. A little bit of both...

Date: 7 May 2019 | Current mileage: 5468 | Claimed economy: 40.4mpg | Actual economy: 33mpg

The Hyundai Kona has been awarded the Honest John EV of the Year. And it's well deserved. It's really good to drive - better than its petrol or diesel equivalent, in fact. Is that an issue? No. But does it highlight quite how unpleasant the 1.6-petrol model we run can be at times? Yeah...

So, let's start off with the things that make the Kona EV so popular with our readers. The electric crossover combines an official range of 279 miles with a relatively affordable £36,000 price tag (cheaper models are available with a shorter range) and a desirable SUV body style. The keen pricing, plus the fact that it'll cover most journeys before needing a charge, makes it very in-demand. It's exceedingly popular with our readers, beating competition from the Jaguar I-Pace and Nissan Leaf for the EV of the Year title.

Case in point, the Hyundai Kona EV sold out in the UK for the entirety of 2019 by mid-March. Around 1000 orders have been taken since it went on sale in August 2018, with just under 200 cars delivered. In 2018, 15,474 new electric vehicles were registered in the UK, meaning the Kona Electric is a strong player in a niche (but growing) sector.

Batteries located under the floor of the compact SUV means there’s a reasonable amount of room inside. Although, the rear seats are a bit short of legroom, as per our ordinary Kona, and adults will sit slightly awkwardly.There’s plenty of headroom, but the boot’s 322 litres is smaller than rivals such as the Nissan Juke and SEAT Arona - as we mentioned in this update.

Electric Kona

On the inside of the electric model, you’ll find some hard plastics inside, but it feels like a modern cabin - despite lots of buttons. Like our petrol Kona, there’s a 'floating' centre console and an eight-inch multimedia display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as built-in navigation in the Kona Electric.

In 64kWh guise, the Kona Electric’s performance might take you by surprise. It can hit 62mph in 7.6 seconds and there’s certainly enough power to make the wheels spin when pulling out of junctions hastily. It’s fun, though, in the same way most electric cars are - instant torque and the weird sensation of accelerating without the sound of a conventional engine. The same can't be said about our 1.6 petrol variant, which accelerates slowly - revving loudly as it goes.

The range of the battery-powered model also beats our Kona hands-down. Simply plug it into a wallbox installed at home and it will hit 100 per cent in around six and a half hours. On those occasions when you are caught out away from home, fast chargers at motorway service stations will top it up to 80 per cent in around 45 minutes.

It's a change of lifestyle, sure, but we have to stop at the local fuel station to fill up our Kona twice a week considering it's still only returning 33mpg. Not quite the 40mpg+ official economy...

Should I buy a petrol or diesel crossover?

When it comes to crossovers and SUVs, Georgia covers whether it's best to go for petrol or diesel.

Date: 21 May 2019 | Current mileage: 5597 | Claimed economy: 40.4mpg | Actual economy: 33mpg

British buyers love 4x4s, SUVs and crossovers. Models like our Hyundai Kona have been convincing buyers - who in previous years would have been tempted towards hatchbacks, estates and MPVs - to part with their money for a larger vehicle.

And it's no wonder these larger cars are so popular. They offer more space, practicality and safety tech than many of their smaller rivals. But one question we're regularly asked from those looking to upgrade to a bigger car is... should you get a petrol or diesel?

Generally, we advise those who live in urban areas or cover low miles to buy a petrol. Those with higher annual mileages including plenty of motorway driving should opt for a diesel.

So, who exactly is our Hyundai Kona 1.6-litre petrol 4x4 aimed at? The 4x4 capability of the Kona is ideal for those who live in the countryside or want to cover challenging terrain, while the petrol engine is better for those who don't do many miles. If you buy a diesel for predominantly short journeys, you risk the diesel particulate filter (DPF) blocking up - resulting in an expensive bill.

Kona Long Shot

Having moved to a city recently, most of my journeys are around 15 miles or less - with very few of these being done on a motorway for more than a few miles.

Sounds ideal, although fuel economy has taken a hit compared with a diesel. Our Kona's only managing about 33mpg - despite an official economy figure of more than 40mpg. That's quite thirsty for a small crossover.

Our fuel bills aren't as costly as a DPF replacement, but if you cover more than around 12,000 miles a year and need 4x4, we'd recommend a diesel.

So, is a petrol 4x4 really only an option if you mainly travel short distances? In our opinion, yes. But we'd probably avoid the all-wheel-drive system unless you really needed it...