2018 Hyundai Kona Highlander 1.6T review (video)

Hyundai might be a little bit late to the small SUV party with the 2018 Kona, but in its first few months on sale, it has bolted right out of the blocks. According to December 2017 VFACTS, the Kona found 2695 homes in the three-month period since its launch in October.

The venerable Mitsubishi ASX has overtaken the once dominant Mazda CX-3 in the segment at 19,403 units for the year and 17,490 sales for the CX-3, but the Kona’s strong monthly showing so early in the game puts it in contention for number one spot down the track. In January alone the Kona reported 1093 sales, which is good enough for third spot in the segment.

2018 Hyundai Kona Highlander – THE SPECS

Engine: 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder
Output: 130kW@5500rpm / 265Nm@1500-4500rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto
Drive type: All-wheel drive
Wheels: F & R: 18×7.5, 235/45
ANCAP: Five stars (scored 35.07 out of 37)
Tare weight: 1477kg
Power-to-weight: 11.36:1 (kg:kW)
Official fuel economy: 6.7L/100km
Economy during test: 7.8L/100km
Fuel capacity/Type: 50L/91 RON

Power efficiency: 19.40kW:L/100km
0-60km/h: 3.60 seconds*
0-100km/h: 7.54 seconds*
60-110km/h: 5.33 seconds*
1/8 mile: 10.23 seconds at 118.6km/h*
1/4 mile: 15.68 seconds at 145.3km/h*
Max acceleration: 0.637g
100-0km/h braking: 3.17 seconds at 40.18 metres*
Max deceleration: -1.081g
Decibel at idle: 38*
Peak decibel at 60-100km/h: 78*
Priced from: $36,000

* Figures as tested by PerformanceDrive on the day. Factory claims may be different

2018 Hyundai Kona Highlander – THE PACKAGE

Using much of the technology and chassis components in the i30, the Kona seemingly aims to hit the sweet spot between the more conventional Mitsubishi ASX and Holden Trax, and more distinctively styled offerings such as the Nissan Juke or Toyota C-HR.

The upright body does away with the sloping roof that afflicts the latter two, but bold styling elements born in California give the Kona a contemporary and butch appearance. The two tier headlamp design is eminently more successful here than on the hideous Jeep Cherokee’s face. The wheel arch cladding and other styling elements definitely give it a LEGO-esque sense of fun, which is reinforced by the exciting colours including the Blue Lagoon hue on this car. Brighter choices like Tangerine Comet and Acid Yellow are fresh, vibrant and interesting.

This continues inside, where the availability of funky coloured highlights around the vents and starter button, plus leather seats are pleasant additions. As in the i30 and Sonata, the infotainment and climate controls are all very easy to locate, whether on the touch-screen, steering wheel or centre stack. Legible dials and a high resolution reversing camera make this a safe choice for the oldies too.

Considering the $36,000 starting price of the Highlander AWD 1.6T, though, we found a few disappointments. Hyundai’s recent success can be attributed to working very hard at major improvements in quality, driving experience and offering more standard equipment than rivals. It seems, though, that now the brand no longer has a stigma and runs with the big boys, they don’t need to try as hard. In our opinion anyway.

Case in point; unlike the i30, the Kona doesn’t have auto up/down on all windows, it uses harder dash plastics, and some areas feel cheap and basic. Unlike the C-HR, it misses out on adaptive cruise control, a panoramic roof, and there is a space saver spare tyre in place of Hyundai’s usual full-size jobbie. You get the idea.

Furthermore, if you want to use navigation, you will have to use Android Auto or Apple CarPlay as there is no integrated system as standard. There is head-up display, but it uses a retractable screen and is difficult to see. These two stand out as examples of corner cutting to us.

Notwithstanding, there is plenty of storage, wireless phone charging, heated and cooled electric front seats, blind-spot monitoring and a centre differential lock for mild off roading. So, it’s not as though the Kona Highlander is bad value.

All variants are rated five stars by ANCAP for crash safety, with the expected package of airbags, child restraints and electronic chassis aids all helping.

At 4165mm long, 1800mm wide and 1565mm tall on a 2600mm wheelbase, occupant space is decent in the front and back, providing more room than the CX-3 in the back, and a less cluttered atmosphere in the front compared with the C-HR. Boot space is quoted at 361L with the rear bench in play, but moving some large Christmas gifts necessitated the removal of the large parcel shelf and folding down the (not quite flat) seats, opening up 1143 litres.

2018 Hyundai Kona Highlander – THE DRIVE

The Kona is available with two different powertrain combinations. Two-wheel drive models score a 2.0-litre, 110kW four-cylinder with a conventional six-speed auto, or the 1.6-litre turbo in our all-wheel drive test vehicle. The latter develops a class-leading 130kW and 265Nm and is matched to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Manual is not available with either car, and the dual-clutch misses out on paddle shifters.

As usual, the Kona benefits from an extensive Australian localisation program, courtesy of Hyundai’s local chassis engineers. The Kona hasn’t been imbued with an overtly sporty flavour, but there is a suppleness to the suspension that is appreciated on windy roads and it doesn’t cause upsets over sharp bumps and corrugations.

Compared with the i30, the steering is a bit more inert and doesn’t convey quite as much feedback and weight change, but it is direct and feels in sync with the rest of the chassis. It doesn’t feel like a top-heavy car at all and combines with the car’s narrow dimensions and ride height to be quite an effective gap finder in traffic. This is hindered by the powertrain’s tendency to stop and think about things before setting off, in traditional dual-clutch auto fashion.

It lacks the sporty feel or engagement of CX-3 but is more pleasant to drive than the somewhat bland Mitsubishi ASX. The 1.6 turbo is quite powerful for a car of this segment, so straight line acceleration is impressive when you wring its neck. We have previously clocked 0-100km/h in a very impressive 7.54 seconds. Best of all, it doesn’t force you to feed it premium fuel. The 6.7L/100km combined fuel consumption figure means you won’t refill it too often, though we averaged 7.8L/100km during our test.

2018 Hyundai Kona Highlander – THE VIDEO

2018 Hyundai Kona Highlander – THE VERDICT

Finally filling one of the few gaps in its always expanding lineup, Hyundai has delivered a genuinely interesting and refreshing small SUV in the Kona. It has fresh and purposeful looks, a bold colour range and seems very well built. As with all Hyundais, the five year/unlimited kilometre warranty and free roadside assistance is an alluring drawcard.

The aforementioned niggles of hard dash plastics, non auto up/down on all windows, space saver spare, no adaptive cruise control or panoramic roof only really grate on the Highlander version, which is a tad expensive for this class. The Kona Active is available for much less with the same powertrain choices and makes a whole lot more sense from a value perspective in our opinion.  Still, if you wanna be a Kona owner, there’s only a few groaners and at least you’ll stand out from the other clones.

PROS:
– Bold and purposeful styling
– Powerful 1.6 turbo and quick-shifting DCT
– Trendy colours
– Decent packaging and pricing
– Most powerful in the class with 1.6T

CONS:
– Highlander is pricey, missing some features
– Rough plastics in some areas

As always, if you’re thinking about buying a new car don’t forget to click here to speak with our car buying specialists.

Mitchell is a contributing journalist and features writer at PerformanceDrive. He has been a passionate petrol-head from a very young age. He is excited by the future of the industry, and considers himself as a bit of a fanatic when it comes to the technical aspects of cars. He is also fascinated by new cars that are popping up in developing markets.