The new 2021 Hyundai Kona is the latest kid on the block to undergo a few upgrades with plenty to offer first-time new car buyers on a budget. Mind you, don’t let my use of the word budget and a starting price of R449 900 imply a lack of style, creature comforts, safety, or even that it’s cheaply built. Those opting to fully spec out the Kona – as was the case for our test car – will be nothing short of delighted, just as long as their expectations are in check.
It’s not an easy segment to compete in, especially when you’re targeting value. Certainly, Hyundai has made some compromises, though they’re few and far between.
For the most part, I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed driving the updated Kona, as well as ride in the front passenger seat. While the rear has slightly less room than inside its bigger siblings, I didn’t feel cramped. Hyundai’s interior designers have done a great job carving out very usable space up front, in the back, and in the rear cargo area.
One of the best things about the Kona’s design is that it doesn’t appear to have been dictated by a wind tunnel, but instead its in-your-face styling helps it stand out from the pack. That’s a good thing.
For the petrol powered 2021 Kona, the changes for the new model year kick off with a makeover of the external design. There’s a new fascia, with bolder cladding and stronger lines, while the bonnet has been stretched to overlap more with the front grille.
LED daytime running lamps have been added, while underneath the grille the bumper now links with the front cladding. Hyundai have made the crossover 1.6-inches longer, too, to give it more visual heft, while the skid plate elements now match the lower door trim. At the rear, there are new taillamps and a new fascia in a contrast finish. Hyundai has also refreshed its alloy wheel options.
On the inside, like the exterior, there’s more of a focus on rugged styling. The new console features a floating display on top, and there’s new ambient lighting and aluminium-effect trim. An electronic parking brake is an option, while the longer length adds rear legroom and cargo space. Those in the back also get USB ports now, too.
A 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen is available, supporting multiple Bluetooth connections along with voice control over AC, multimedia, rear window and side mirror heating, steering wheel heating, and more. Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are supported. There was no word on Hyundai’s Digital Key system.
Moving around the cabin, there’s more than enough space to spread out. My biggest gripe is the fixed-armrest, and even at 6’2” with my seat pushed back far enough for me to reach the pedals, my elbow tended to slide off the end of the armrest. It’s not as comfortable as I’d like. The door panels are hard, and that’s not good for anyone who drives with their elbow resting on it. Oddly enough, the visibly similar material on the dash is soft and supple, which seems like an odd decision to me since it’s not something you’d commonly touch.
Adaptive cruise control is offered, plus Highway Drive Assist which combines that with lane-keeping. Forward collision avoidance assistance with pedestrian and cyclist detection is also available, along with rear cross traffic collision avoidance assistance. Lane following assistance and blind spot collision avoidance assistance are also available.
If you’re in the market for a 2018 Kona, I strongly encourage you to opt for the 1.6-litre turbo 4-cylinder. Because that powertrain is only available on the Executive and N Line trims, the entry model, which get a 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder. That may be bigger capacity, but since it’s naturally-aspirated the turbo has a higher power output.
As I said, the 2.0-liter is feels sluggish in comparison to the turbo 1.6-liter. As for the transmission, the DCT felt much a lot smoother than the six-speed automatic.
I’m thoroughly impressed with the ride quality, whether behind the steering wheel while riding in the front, or as a rear seat passenger. There’s admirably little body roll and, more importantly, very little road and wind noise inside the cabin.
At the end of the day, the 2021 Kona has its work cut out, entering a very competitive market. Strong, well-respected rivals include the likes of Mazda’s CX-3, Honda’s HR-V, and Mitsubishi’s Eclipse Cross. That being said, Hyundai’s aggressive pricing, as well as above-average design and a good powertrain for better-than-expected driving performance, give the crossover a good shot at selling a boatload of Kona worldwide.
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