Hyundai sitting pretty with new Kona

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The new Hyundai Kona. Photos supplied

Being last to the luau shouldn't be problematic for Kona - a Hyundai with a name shared with a famous southwesterly wind in Hawaii leaves the impression it has the elements to blow up a storm.

Though it hits a saturated sector, the market remains mad for SUVs and the Korean product surely abets its chances by being better outfitted than most other relevant sub-compact competitors even though it's cheaper - by up to $6000 - than almost all.

Plus, it looks great. Whatever else you can fault the Kona for, it's not going to be style: This is a car that is sitting pretty indeed.

Hyundai and its NZ boss, Andy Sinclair, are convinced the market's swing towards choosing SUV and crossover cars over traditional passenger fare is permanent.

The trend shift is so pronounced that some sedans are already now under review and more soft-roaders - a smaller Kona style car and a large luxury SUV, in upmarket Genesis guise - are coming.

That Kona will, with the larger Tucson and Santa Fe, cumulatively achieve ``at least'' 60% of Hyundai NZ's sales from now on is a safe call, Mr Sinclair says.

He also thinks the new city chic sub-compact crossover will take no time bumping out Tucson to become Hyundai's new local No 1.

And within the class? Sinclair won't share in-house volume predictions but suggests it should give the dominant four - the Mitsubishi ASX (which holds 23% market share) and the Nissan Qashqai, Mazda CX-3 and
Honda H-RV (all on 18%) - a real run.

''Right, now we say there is not one dominant brand ... the sector is price-sensitive so we have made sure that, because we are late to the party, we've come out with the best-specced vehicle that ... is the best on offer.''

They've kept Kona selection simple; front-drive naturally aspirated 2.0-litre with a full six-speed auto and four-wheel-drive turbocharged 1.6-litre in seven-speed dual-clutch format, each in standard and higher-end Elite trim. No diesel but an electric edition with much the same front-drive powertrain as the Ioniq EV hatch will be available from mid-2018.

The Elite's $5000 premium covers leather in place of cloth trim and the addition of a head-up display, wireless charging and climate control air conditioning, plus bigger wheels.

Every version comes with forward collision alert, blind spot assist and lane keep, rear cross traffic collision and driver attention warnings.

It lacks radar-guided cruise control (now on the XV and CX-3), and enforces using the full Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration by being the first Hyundai to completely eschew an in-built sat nav for smartphone-linked mapping.

A proprietary app, Hyundai Auto Link, is also out of the ordinary.

Initially delivering diagnostic and driving behaviour data, from fuel consumption to where the car is parked and for how long, when it needs to be serviced and where the nearest Hyundai dealer is, it'll next year update to crash alert notification, auto-texting location details to pre-selected numbers in event of an airbag deployment. But only to friends and a Hyundai help desk, not emergency services proper, because the 111 network requires human interaction.

Hyundai thinks most buyers will go for the 2.0-litre editions over the 1.6s, for price saving and because (unpalatable truth here) most crossover buyers don't require all-wheel-drive. The 1.6 should be more fun: It has 20kW more power, 85Nm more torque, a sportier transmission (though no paddle shifters) and exchanges a torsion beam rear suspension for a multi-link.

I'm surmising, however, because even though our two-day drive programme was supposed to give a full day with each engine, I was assigned 2.0-litre Elites throughout.

On a State Highway-fixated drive route, it seemed decent but unspectacular. The chassis is flexible enough to deal with bumps and poor surfaces, but there's lean and more obvious weight transfer than you'd find in an i30 hatch, and more tyre roar.

The engine is strong enough for laid-back cruising, and offers potential for extremely good economy but shows weakness when punted, demanding hand shifting on ascents to stay on song.

Like I say, Kona seems set to win attention on its looks alone. The look intended to create an impression of a dual personality: The top part is `sleek and sophisticated', the bottom section made to look rugged via its contrast-colour and blistered guards.

Comparison with Toyota's equally extrovert C-HR carries weight, until you open the doors. The Kona cabin is less flamboyant. It's not boring, and it is certainly well-constructed - everything feels well-hewn and the overall build quality fits neatly into Hyundai's unimpeachable portfolio - but overall it's just not as interesting, or as expensive-looking, as the exterior.

Even though it shares some general similarity to the i30 hatchback, including also taking a tablet-style infotainment screen mounted on top of the dashboard, it doesn't carry any of the brightwork so seems somewhat less snazzy.

When comparing within the segment, consumers will see Kona is smaller than most rivals. The boot is a respectable 360 litres, expanding to 1143 litres with the back seats folded, but the back seat is tight. You can fit a six-foot adult behind another, but it's not going to be without discomfort. As the maker suggests, this car is really for couples who might have to only occasionally cater for extra passengers and might also expect to travel relatively light when heading away.

Full-sized families need to consider the Tucson or Santa Fe.


Hyundai sitting pretty with new Kona
At a Glance


Prices: $31,990 to $41,990

Engines: 1999cc four-cylinder petrol, maximum power 110kW@6200rpm, maximum torque 180Nm@4500rpm; 1591cc four-cylinder turbo petrol, maximum power 130kW@5500rpm, maximum torque 265Nm@1500-4500rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic; seven-speed dual-clutch 

Brakes and stability systems: Front and rear disc brakes, ABS, BA, SmartSense

Safety rating: Not yet ANCAP tested

Wheels and tyres: Alloy wheels, 215/55 R17 (2.0-litre), 235/45 R18 

Fuel and economy: 7.2 (auto)/6.7 (DCT) litres per 100km, fuel tank capacity 50 litres

Emissions: 169/153 grams of CO2 per kilometre

Dimensions: Length 4165mm, width 1800mm, height 1565mm