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Is entry-level second-generation crossover refreshingly simple or wanting in key areas?

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With the rise of crossovers and SUVs, car makers’ model ranges have ballooned very quickly.

For every hatchback and saloon, there needed to be a high-riding equivalent. Not only that, but because the tall cars tend to have a slightly bigger footprint as well, gaps started appearing for more crossovers to be stuffed into.

Filling them has led to a bit of overlap here and there. The Hyundai Kona was launched in 2017 as Hyundai’s B-segment crossover – effectively a tall Hyundai i20. Available with petrol, diesel, hybrid and electric powertrains, it’s been quite the success for Hyundai. 

And then in 2021 came the Hyundai Bayon, which is much the same thing on paper – it’s even the same length to the millimetre. There are differences – the Bayon is a little narrower, a bit cheaper and not quite as tall – but it’s no doubt a rather confusing pair to sit next to each other in the showroom.

Now it’s time for the Kona to escape the Bayon’s competition, because the second generation is getting bigger – a lot bigger. It’s 170mm longer, 15mm taller and 60mm wider, putting it neatly between the Bayon and the larger Tucson, and right in the firing line of competitors such as the Volkswagen T-Roc, Honda HR-V, the upcoming Mk2 Toyota CH-R and even slightly bigger cars like the Nissan Qashqai

It gets an eye-catching new design but continues to offer a choice of petrol, hybrid and electric power. In a refreshing break from loaded-to-the-gunwales press cars, Hyundai sent us an entry-level Advance model with the 1.0-litre petrol engine and a manual gearbox. Might less be more?

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The Range at a Glance

1.0 120PS Advance 118bhp £25,725
1.6 198PS Ultimate 195bhp £31,725
1.6 Hybrid Advance 139bhp £30,025
Hyundai Kona Electric 48.4kWh 154bhp £34,595
Electric 65.4kWh 215bhp £38,595

Transmissions: 6-spd manual*, 7-spd dual-clutch auto (optional on 120PS, 198PS), 6-spd dual-clutch auto (Hybrid), 1-spd reduction gear (Electric)

Hyundai offers the Kona with a choice of turbo petrol, hybrid and electric powertrains. The petrols get a manual gearbox as standard, or a dual-clutch automatic as an option.

Four trim levels are offered. Advance is the already well-equipped base model. N Line brings slightly more equipment, as well as a sportier bodykit. N Line S and Ultimate add even more options. The sizeable price gap between the two petrol engines is because the 1.6 requires an upgrade to N Line S or Ultimate.


hyundai kona review 2023 02 panning

The new Kona’s headline change is quite obviously the exterior, which seems to owe absolutely nothing to the old car. Under design director SangYup Lee, Hyundai hasn’t been taking any prisoners when it comes to styling. It started with the Tucson and really hit its stride with the Ioniq 5 and Ioniq 6 EVs. Despite the lack of an obvious Hyundai family face, the new Kona fits right into that list with its extravagant looks.

It has a similar prominent crease down the side and almost comically big wheel-arch extensions. Hyundai says the new Kona was designed as an EV first, and that shows in the relatively small front grille. Instead, the front is dominated by a full-width light bar, or Seamless Horizon Lamp as Hyundai calls it.

Long live the base spec! Other than the nicer seats, I didn’t find much missing from our Advance test car, and it’s such a joy to be in something with a manual gearbox, especially when it’s as good as it is in this.

Mechanically, the Kona is less surprising. The old Kona was one of the first cars to use Hyundai’s and Kia’s front-wheel-drive multi-energy platform and the new one is effectively a development of that. Now called K3 and shared with the Kia Niro, it accommodates both petrol engines and big battery packs for EVs, hybrids and plug-in hybrids. 

There’s no Kona PHEV, but there are two EV versions: a Standard Range model with a 154bhp electric motor and 48.4kWh battery, and a Long Range model with 215bhp and 65.4kWh. Those are slightly uprated from the old Kona and the current Niro. Rapid charging has had a boost too, to 102kW.

The full hybrid’s mechanical specification is even more familiar – it is exactly the same as in the Niro, using a 104bhp naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine, a 43bhp electric motor and a 1.56kWh battery mounted under the passenger compartment. Unlike most other hybrids, those drive through a relatively conventional six-speed dual-clutch automatic.

Diesels are out for this generation, because demand for those in this segment has all but evaporated. Instead, you have a choice of two turbocharged petrol engines: a 1.0-litre three-cylinder with 118bhp or a 1.6-litre four-cylinder with 195bhp. Both come with a choice of manual or dual-clutch gearboxes and lack any hybrid assistance, despite Hyundai offering a 48V mild-hybrid version of the 1.0-litre in other models.

Suspension is by MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam at the rear for the standard petrol models, while the heavier hybrid and EV versions get a multi-link rear axle. Despite the relatively small battery, the hybrid is 115kg heavier than an entry-level petrol manual like our test car. We weighed ours at 1352kg, with the weight distributed 61% front, 39% rear.


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The design of the Kona’s interior is almost as radical as that of the exterior, yet also reassuringly traditional at the same time. Some of it is bang on-trend, like the curved display incorporating the dual 12.3in screens for the digital gauge cluster and the infotainment. Those are both standard, too: there are no versions with analogue gauges or punitively small screens.

The centre console trades the usual black plastic for a ‘brushed aluminium’ finish. It’s still plastic, of course, but livens things up, even if early 2000s hi-fi equipment is an unusual and rather recent place to go looking for retro design cues. It’s also peppered with big, chunky buttons, benefiting usability no end. 

The rest of the interior will be a sea of black plastic if you opt for the entry-level Advance trim. Although higher trims give you the option of injecting a bit of colour, you will still need to look hard for any soft-touch luxury. You wouldn’t expect to be smothered in leather in this class, but rivals like the Honda HR-V do have a little more sense of occasion. The lack of any padding where you tend to rest your right elbow on the door reminds you that you are not sitting in a Tucson. With the exception of the slightly wobbly centre console, build quality is good but unremarkable.

Things get a lot better when you consider practicality. The centre console has acres of space, especially in one of the electric or dual-clutch automatic versions, which have a drive selector on the steering column, freeing up space between the seats. There are roomy door bins as well and a small shelf on the passenger side.

One strange quirk of the wide variety of powertrains available in the Kona is that the floor will be different depending on which version you choose. Because the battery is housed under the passenger compartment in both the EVs and the hybrid, they have a higher floor than the petrol models. As a result, the latter has both 50mm more head room and a more natural driving position that doesn’t perch you over the controls.

Rear passengers, on the other hand, reap the rewards in the EV, as that loses the hump in the middle. Mind you, they will have little cause for complaint in any Kona, thanks to generous head and leg room, and a backrest that can be reclined to quite a relaxing position. Even on the entry-level trim, they get a pair of air vents and USB ports.

A Honda HR-V has a similar amount of rear space but at the cost of boot space. Not so in the Kona, which has a generous 466 litres, with a variable-height floor as standard. A Renault Arkana is very slightly roomier still. Every trim gets 40/20/40-split folding rear seats, apart from the Advance (60/40 split).

Hyundai kona review 2023 18 screen maps 0

Multimedia system

Now that even BMW is starting to remove buttons and integrate its climate controls into the touchscreen, it is such a relief that Hyundai is sticking to what works. The climate gets its own console and there is a row of physical shortcut buttons for the multimedia.

The screen and its interface are among the best on the market, with stylish but logical menus, plenty of configurability and good responsiveness. The navigation and even the voice control work superbly, and phone mirroring is integrated well.

We have only a few minor criticisms. It’s baffling that Hyundai, Kia and Genesis still seem unable to offer wireless phone mirroring , when most other big manufacturers can do it. And while the configurable shortcut buttons sound useful, you can only map them to a very limited number of functions. N Line S and Ultimate trims add a Bose sound system, which would be a worthwhile upgrade. While the standard speakers are perfectly fine for the class, they sound a bit tinny.


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EVs and hybrids may be hot and topical, but the majority of buyers still opt for a cheaper petrol option in segments like this. We have tried both the hybrid and the 1.0-litre turbo petrol with the manual gearbox, and found the latter to be easily the more pleasant of the two.

Hyundai’s 0-62mph claim of 11.8sec sounds rather languid, but things are better in practice. In our testing, it actually shaved 0.8sec off that figure. It’s helped in this achievement by a fantastic manual gearbox. The development of a pleasing manual gearchange is in danger of becoming a lost art, but Hyundai has certainly mastered it. 

It’s remarkable how different the hybrid and normal petrol models are. The standard car has a better driving position, rides better and sounds less tortured when you ask for some performance. Economy is still very decent, too.

On the one hand, the shift is light and unobtrusive, so anyone will find it easy to get to grips with. It’s happy to be rushed when a driver needs to maximise performance. Yet on the other hand, it provides enough mechanical feedback that it’s a joy to flick between the gears. The clutch is a touch indistinct, but the Kona is almost impossible to stall because it helps you by automatically raising the revs enough for a smooth getaway when you let off the clutch without touching the throttle. Like a Porsche Carrera GT.

Apart from some slight three-cylinder-typical chuntering at low revs, the engine also sounds smooth and free-revving, and therefore unstressed when you need the power. Sound insulation is so good that it’s easy enough to bump into the rev limiter during overtaking manoeuvres. At the same time, it pulls healthily from low revs. 

Make no mistake – a 1.0-litre Kona is not a fast car and rivals are swifter. However, it’s adequate, there’s a good reserve of mid-range torque and it’s never a chore to make full use of the relatively modest performance. Hyundai offers the 195bhp 1.6-litre turbo four if you want something a little quicker. We’ve not tried this engine in the Kona, but as it’s a slightly lower-power version of the i20 N’s unit, it should prove pretty punchy, while returning respectable economy. 

We would, however, avoid the hybrid, which represents a nice middle ground on paper but doesn’t feel much quicker than the 1.0-litre, while its atmospheric 1.6 is quite vocal and its dual-clutch gearbox rather dim-witted.

Braking performance was only adequate, for which we are minded to blame the Nexen tyres. It needed 50m to stop from 70mph in the dry – 4.5m more than a Vauxhall Mokka.


hyundai kona review 2023 03 cornering rear

Although our test car is an entry-level Advance, the Kona is also available in sporty-looking (but mechanically unchanged) N Line trim, and the first-generation Kona even spawned a full-blown Kona N. It is unknown whether the hot Kona will get a sequel, but the standard car certainly isn’t it. 

Instead, Hyundai has chosen to give the regular Kona soft, compliant suspension and tall tyre sidewalls. And that has worked really rather well. The suspension smothers most bumps with very little fuss, and the chunky tyres take care of broken road surfaces. For a car without any fancy suspension technology, a 1.0-litre Kona has a remarkably comfortable ride. It’s not perfect, and certain frequencies of bumps can cause some strange oscillations. However, this only happens occasionally, and most rivals ride more lumpily.

You might expect the hybrid, with its multi-link rear suspension, to improve matters further, but unfortunately the opposite is true, and it rattles through potholes much more noticeably. Clearly the extra weight has necessitated some less than optimal spring rates.

When you do push through the generous body roll, the Kona handles tidily enough. The steering weights up, if only slightly, when you load up the front axle, and coming off the power quickly will elicit some gentle rotation. The Nexen tyres ultimately hold it back. They have sufficient grip but start squealing at fairly low speeds and generally soften the Kona’s responses.

A few laps of the Millbrook Hill Route revealed that the stability control has a rather heavy-handed way to quell understeer. When the front washes wide, the systems will limit power in an on-off way, which results in you nodding your way through a corner.

Hyundai kona review 2023 02 panning 0

Comfort & Isolation

The flip side of the soft suspension is that, in standard form at least, the Kona is one of the more supple-riding cars in its class. The rest of the comfort picture is mostly well resolved too. Our noise meter showed it’s extremely quiet at a cruise. The 66dBA at 70mph recording matches the very quiet Stellantis cars like the Citroën C4 and Vauxhall Mokka, and is 2dBA quieter than a Nissan Qashqai.

Higher trims get electrically adjustable, heated seats, and even ventilated leather seats in N Line S and Ultimate, but the Advance still has manual height adjustment and electric lumbar support (the latter is an optional extra on many BMWs). While the fancier seats are more comfortable, mainly thanks to tilt adjustment for the seat base, we have no major complaints about the standard items, which are softly padded but supportive enough.  The driving position is mostly sound, but the steering could do with a bit more reach.

Assisted driving notes

Screenshot 2023 09 07 at 09

Hyundai’s assisted driving systems range from unhelpful to very intrusive. Car manufacturers need to start fitting driver monitoring to satisfy NCAP and speed limit warning systems for the EU, so the Kona has both as standard, and they reactivate on start-up.

However, rival systems are better implemented. The former cries wolf when you look in the mirrors an instant too long and the latter when you go an indicated 71mph on the motorway. Deactivating them requires a trawl through the settings every time you start the car.

The lane keeping assistance is also too sensitive, but thankfully can be turned off using a button on the steering wheel. Although it was not fitted on this particular test car, we have tried the adaptive cruise control, which is only average. On a positive note, we experienced no false activations from the collision avoidance system.


hyundai kona review 2023 01 cornering front

Hyundai stopped being a budget brand a long time ago but still offers very strong value. The Kona Advance starts at £25,725, which is less than you will pay for a similarly equipped Volkswagen T-Roc or Mazda CX-30. Even a Citroën C4 costs more. Other rivals, like the Honda HR-V, Renault Arkana, Kia Niro and Toyota C-HR, are much more expensive on account of their standard hybrid powertrains.

The Kona remains good value on a PCP, thanks to fairly strong residuals. However, despite its much higher list price, the HR-V is actually the cheapest of the lot on finance.Offering five years of warranty, Hyundai doesn’t sound quite as generous as sibling brand Kia. However, Hyundai doesn’t set a mileage limit and, when it comes to batteries, offers eight years and 100,000 miles. Hyundai is a solid bet for reliability too, coming fifth in the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey.

Which version of the Kona you choose will depend on whether it will be a company car. If so, the EVs will come with the lowest tax bill. Meanwhile, the hybrid’s higher list price cancels out its lower tax band compared with the 1.0-litre petrol.

Over a week with the 1.0-litre that included performance testing, we averaged 43.8mpg. Unusually, the readout on the dash was slightly pessimistic, stating 43.3mpg. With more careful driving, high 40s are easily achievable, and it even scored 50.4mpg in our touring test.

Spec advice…

We’d stick with the entry- level Advance, since it’s well equipped anyway. Go for Ultimate for luxuries like heated and ventilated leather, upgraded audio and a cheerier interior colour. The 1.6 engine comes only with N Line S and Ultimate and may be overkill in a car that majors on comfort rather than sportiness.


hyundai kona review 2023 26 static

While a lot of the Kona’s rivals have gone hybrid-only, Hyundai has chosen to still give buyers the choice to opt for a relatively simple mechanical specification. And at a time of spiralling car prices, that is very welcome.

And they should because, in its simplest form, the Kona is comfortable, willing and even mildly engaging, if only because of its sweet-shifting manual gearchange rather than its chassis. Every Kona is roomy and practical with an excellent multimedia system. 

Hyundai’s design team has also done sterling work to set the new Kona apart from its peers, both outside and in. Slightly more tactile materials for the places one might wish to rest an elbow would have completed the picture.

One other thing that significantly mars the experience is the implementation of various mandatory and optional driver assistance features. You quickly learn to go through a start-up sequence to turn them off, because they will drive you mad otherwise.

So configured, the new Kona excels at what really matters in this class: style, comfort, ease of use and value.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.

Hyundai Kona First drives