Hyundai NZ have released the next generation of their very important and very versatile compact SUV, the Kona. It’s bigger, inside and out, has an all-new EV look, clever tech and a wide range to suit, virtually everyone. The local launch included a giant round-trip drive to the Coromandel, plus a thrilling rally drive in the forest with Hyundai brand ambassador, Hayden Paddon (that bit not in the Kona though), phew.
The importance of the Kona is hard to overlook, initially launched in NZ in 2017 and since that launch Hyundai has sold just over 11,800, 11,861 to be precise and almost 2800 of those being electric and around 800 hybrid. Needless to say it’s been a really strong performer in their lineup, equating to about 25% of their total sales volume (increasing to almost 30% in 2022).
As far as the model’s timeline goes, in 2018 the Kona was given an electric boost and in 2021 it got a bit of a facelift up to the series two and offered up an inline variant. 2022 it welcomed the hybrid and N performance models, and that brings up to the present and what we were there to discuss and then drive.
As I said in the outset, Hyundai NZ are offering up a wide range of Kona’s at launch, with trims and powertrains to suit the masses, plus there are PHEVs and EVs on the horizon too.
I’ll start with the initial powertrain line-up as it’s a good a place as any to begin, and there are three options, the Smartsteam 2L (110kW/180Nm), the 1.6L turbo (146kW/265Nm) and a Hybrid which is a combination of a 1.6L engine (77kW/147Nm), an electric motor (32kW/170Nm) and a AAA battery (ok it’s a 1.32kWh). The 2L is married to ICVT box and is FWD, the 1.6T is mated to an 8-speed auto and is AWD, while the hybrid comes with a 6-speed DCT and is again FWD – so plenty of options to consider.
In terms of overall size, the new Kona has grown in all areas, +145mm in length, +25mm in width and +20mm in height, this in turn means that those inside get more space too, with +34mm shoulder room in the front and a whopping +77mm more legroom for those in the rear, while your luggage gets 407L to play with!
When it comes to design, the Hyundai team have made the new Kona look like an EV, regardless of what lies beneath. Depending on the spec, you can get a full width (horizon LED) light bar across the nose that accentuates its width, the headlights have been moved down low and to the sides while the appearance of a grille has been minimised (replaced by intelligent vents).
Its profile features a prominent Z design and chrome aluminium belts that basically run from the doors all the way through to the rear spoiler, plus there are sturdy armoured wheel arches that look ready for business. While the rear features roofline spoilers (sportier ones on the N-line), another full-width light bar, low and wide seated tail lights and a chrome-looking protective plate – oh and twin exhaust tips depending on what’s under its bonnet. What’s more, there are 10 colour options and a black roof should you desire.
Space was the talking point of the new Kona and specifically for the interior. Their engineering team has kind of spent a bit of time in this area, moving the drive selector to the column, minimising the centre console clutter and merging its two 12.3 inch digital displays as one. In fairness, it does feel roomy and visibility is great, all while giving off a driver-oriented cockpit experience.
Trim levels range from Active and N-Line, to Elite and Limited N-Line and that means that the finishing goes from modern and durable to sporty and spice, with the likes of Alcantara, leather, red stitching and red accents, intertwined with updateable Nav maps, heated/vented bucket seats and model specific menus (ie energy flow for the hybrid).
Our drive route took us south from the Hyundai HO in Mt Wellington, and along to the Rally Drive forest circuit in Maramarua, where we met Hyundai brand ambassador Haydon Paddon. We were invited to hop on board as he took us for a heart-racing spin in his rally-ready i20 N, a 5km stage that included a jump (that seemed to have time standing still) and where much of our time was spent sideways – thankfully my turn took place BEFORE lunch.
From there, we headed East towards Waihi and on a route that took us north to the Coromandel, switching cars and drivers as we went. I started off in the 2L Active spec, so in theory the base model. But base it is not. The trim is good, great in fact and aside from a little more rigid plastics dotted around the place, a fine cabin to drive in.
The powertrain is tried and tested, getting up to 100km/h in a more considered time, and the intelligent CVT does give you the impression that it’s changing gears, but it’s also only consuming fuel at 7.3L/100km and emitting gases at 166g/km. It’s a smooth and quiet ride, aided by the fact that the new Kona has a 0.30cd drag coefficient and plenty of rubber on its 18-inch feet.
Hyundai’s safety suite made itself known when I slipped above the speed limit, or didn’t pay enough attention to the road ahead, but it’s more subtle than many other car brands, more prompting than demanding.
The car change at Waihi had me move into the 1.6 turbo and sportier looking N-Line. In all fairness, this Kona really looks the part, with plenty of red trim to encourage a sportier drive (I stayed well clear of ECO drive mode), however, at 8.5L/100km it does like to drink fuel more than the 2L, and is a little more gassier, at 194g.
As we headed through some more twisty roads, the AWD came into play and I have to say that the Kona hugs the tarmac in a far greater fashion than I would have expected, very pleasing and almost as much fun as driving with Haydon (but far less sideways).
The night was spent at the new and improved Grand Mercure Puka Park Resort, a great place to rest our weary heads (it’s tough reviewing cars) and the next morning we were up early for the 4 or so hours drive back to Auckland – taking the long way round for more driving fun obviously.
For this stint I grabbed the last of the powertrains, the hybrid, and jumped between the base model and the top of the line, Limited N-line, and I have to say that this was my favourite powertrain of them all. The EV to ‘trol switch is pretty much seamless and the power seems to be delivered well across the board, it was also nice to know that my fuel consumption and gases were low.
Aside from the odd truck and Sunday driver, the twisty Coromandel roads offered up a spirited drive and again the FWD Kona hugged the road with more prowess than I would have thought possible – I did say it was my favourite.
In the past Hyundai have deemed the Kona to be an enabler, allowing its owners to go to places they want and in a style that they choose, and this new model takes that to the next level. The range is vast, the powertrains are great and did I mention the space. Looking forward to the follow up drive soon.