Better late than never. That must have been the sentiment echoing around the boardrooms of some of the world’s biggest car-makers as, one by one, they decided it really was time to join the rapidly expanding compact crossover class.
Hyundai has now done exactly that with its new Kona, which in time will replace the more MPV-like iX20. It’s got a USP too, in that it will be available in petrol, diesel and fully electric guises, which is a first for this class of car. Plus there’s another, more obvious, a trait that makes it stand out: the styling.
No doubt about it, this is one of Hyundai’s braver designs, up there with the quirky Veloster (remember those?) for love it or loathe it appeal. So there’s the split headlights, chunky wraparound bumpers and some lurid paint options (Acid Yellow anybody?), while the poshest of Konas also ride on bling 18-inch wheels.
Things continue to look promising when you realise that, unlike sister brand Kia’s Stonic, this compact SUV is not a high-riding version of the i20 supermini but has its own bespoke platform. That’s so it can facilitate that forthcoming electric model, which is due to arrive in the middle of 2018 and will have a range from a single charge of around 240 miles.
Even then, however, it’ll be the 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbo engine making up the bulk of orders. With 120hp and 172NM of torque, it’s one of the more powerful entry-level crossovers, which makes the £16,195 starting price of the range appear fairly aggressive. Hyundai really does throw a lot of equipment at its cars too.
All Konas come with alloy wheels, cruise control and DAB radio, and by the time you’ve moved up to a Premium SE, as tested here, there are luxuries such as a heated steering wheel, air-conditioned seats and a head-up display, not to mention colour-coded seat belts and dash inserts to liven up the interior.
As we’ve seen in other Hyundai and Kia products, this little three-cylinder engine needs 2,000rpm on the clock before it really starts to move and then doesn’t like to be revved much beyond 5,000rpm. However, keep it within that window and you’ll discover a game little unit, and although the ride on 18-inch wheels is too abrupt for UK roads, the Kona does at least steer accurately, with plenty of grip from its front-wheel-drive chassis.
What could be more troubling for potential owners is the tighter than usual interior dimensions, with the boot, in particular, looking somewhat stingy. Yes, the flat loading lip and square shape are useful, but where’s the adjustable height boot floor? It is in such details that a small SUV can become a genuine replacement for a family car - or not in the Kona’s case.
It will be interesting to see if Hyundai can iron out such foibles for the forthcoming Kona EV. Because there’s no doubt that with electric power on its side this striking car could quite easily ascend from the middle of the class into something really quite interesting. We’ll be watching it closely.