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 Future Models - Hyundai 2017 Kona Passenger

First drive: Hyundai plugs SUV gap with Kona

Hyundai 2017 Kona Pineapple pizza: Named after a region in Hawaii, Hyundai is hoping its Kona will make a big impact in Australia’s hotly contested small SUV segment.
Pineapple pizza: Named after a region in Hawaii, Hyundai is hoping its Kona will make a big impact in Australia’s hotly contested small SUV segment.

Hyundai’s new wave of SUVs starts with the long-awaited small Kona crossover

19 June 2017

By TIM ROBSON in SEOUL

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HYUNDAI has finally plugged a glaring hole in its vehicle line-up with the all-new Kona small crossover that – upon its arrival in September – will launch into a fiercely competitive segment dominated by the Mazda CX-3 and Mitsubishi ASX.

The appetite for high-riding wagons of all spec levels and price points seems to be insatiable and, as the South Korean auto giant makes strides towards its goal of being the world’s number-one car-maker, its presence in more markets and more segments has exposed its Achilles heel – it simply does not currently have a depth of product in the SUV sector.

While it has a small SUV in other markets, namely the Creta in India and China, it has not been built to meet the stringent safety standards of North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific.

For a few years now, Hyundai Motor Company (HMC) has been working double-time on a replacement, and the company’s vice chairman Euisun Chung last week acknowledged that the Kona was certainly the last to the luau. (Kona is, after all, named after a region in Hawaii.)

“We are late to the segment so we needed excellence in our product,” Mr Chung told a packed house of the world’s automotive media in Seoul. “We focused on safety, performance and connectivity, and our aim is to be the best in all categories in all regions, especially in safety.”

The result is the Kona, a small SUV that will, at 4165mm in overall length, measure up as being one of the shortest in a class populated by the likes of the Mazda CX-3, Mitsubishi ASX, Subaru XV and Nissan’s double act of the Qashqai and Juke.

The platform that underpins the Kona is the subject of some conjecture, with Hyundai claiming it to be both “all-new” and “optimised” at the same time. Its crucial numbers – like its suspension hard mounting points, for instance – are shared with the new PD i30 platform as well, leading us to believe that the two platforms were, at the very least, worked on side-by-side.

It’s not exactly the same, though, with an extra 50mm in the wheelbase over the i30 to maximise the interior space, and extensive reworking of the underside packaging to make room for the all-wheel-drive system from the Tucson. In fact, a stretched version is very likely to underpin the next generation of Hyundai’s mid-size SUV.

Under the Kona, though, the platform results in a tall, quite boxy creature with astonishing amounts of headroom both front and back. The dash is reminiscent of the i30, but it sits taller, narrowing the view through the windscreen across the bluff nose.

There is plenty of space up front for driver and passenger, but it is surprisingly tight in the rear seat if the front chairs are mounted even a little further back than centre.

A high waist and darkened interior treatment also adds to a sense that the rear is not as large as expected from a car claiming to have “class-leading” interior space.

It will comfortably outdo a CX-3, but the ASX and Honda’s HR-V are likely to be larger in the rear.

Our Korean-based test cars were pre-production left-hand-drive examples in a variety of specification options, while our very brief test drive utilised an all-wheel-drive, seven-speed dual-clutch-equipped 1.6-litre turbocharged model of the variety we’ll see in Australia at launch.

No power figures have been offered yet, but given the Kona uses the same engine tune for the turbo engine as the Tucson, it’s likely to offer the same 130kW/265Nm output. It will also use the same seven-speed dual-clutch transmission as tested here.

The same engine is also used in cars like the i30 and Elantra SR, but the Tucson tune focuses on a broader, flatter torque output at the expense of peak power.

Around an all-too-brief circuit of a handling loop at Hyundai’s enormous Namyang proving ground, our first impressions of the Kona – offered here only in a US-market suspension tune – are of a high-riding crossover with an overly responsive engine and gearbox tune off the line that is most likely the result of its pre-production status.

Our test vehicle was fully specced, including a version of Hyundai’s latest full-colour and fully featured heads-up display, all of Hyundai’s Smart Sense driver aids and new inductive charging pad for most smartphones.

Switching between drive modes is as easy as punching a button next to the shifter, with Sport and Normal modes on offer. Normal mode quelled the over-eager gearbox and throttle maps to make the Kona smoother and more progressive to drive but, as mentioned, the jerkiness and alacrity of the initial take-off feels more like a final calibration issue than anything more permanent.

The concrete and broken tarmac surface of the undulating test loop suits the softer primary ride characteristics of the softer US suspension pack; it’s not Cadillac squidgy, by any means, but it’s easy to imagine that the team at Hyundai Motor Company Australia (HMCA) will offer the taller, higher-riding Kona with a tune more in keeping with the controlled, slightly firm set-up we have seen employed on other models.

The Kona’s steering feel is lighter than that of an i30, too, which is a deliberate ploy on Hyundai’s part.

One downside from the roughhouse road surface is that it sets up an echoey thrum inside the Kona that is surprisingly intrusive, while wind noise around the door mirrors is also quite prevalent, even at speeds as low as 70km/h.

While the cars are presented without cladding or disguise, the company insists that all examples on test are pre-production versions. As well, we barely had time to change drive modes and adjust mirrors before our test was over.

The Kona will shake its grass skirt on Aussie soil for the first time in September, and then we’ll be able to get a better handle on how good a fit it will be in a small SUV market that’s primed to explode over the next 12 months.
 

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