2021 Hyundai Kona Review
Our independent 2021 Hyundai Kona review in Australia, including price, specs, interior, ride and handling, safety and score.
Hyundai is in the midst of a new product onslaught. It began in 2020 with the arrival of the new i30 Sedan, Santa Fe and Palisade and this year will bring more, including the new Tucson updated i30 N and Sonata.
But first comes the updated Kona, the brand’s inaugural compact SUV that arrived in 2017 but has since been joined by the (slightly) smaller Venue. It took a while for the unusually-styled Kona to find its feet but has become one of the best-selling Small SUVs (it finished second in the category in 2020, behind only the Mitsubishi ASX). But with the Toyota C-HR, Mazda CX-30 and Kia Seltos all arriving since the Kona first launched, it was time to update it.
So for 2021 there’s a new look, fresh engines and a reorganised line-up. Aside from the new styling the big change is under the bonnet where a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) replaces the previous model’s six-speed torque-converter auto. The 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT) is now exclusive to the N Line models too.
The Kona Electric will launch in March while the all-new Kona N will add a performance model to the range later in the year.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
Hyundai has given the line-up a refresh with price rises across the range to account for the updates. The range now begins with the standard ‘Kona’ priced from $26,600, which is a $2100 increase on the previous entry-level model.
The biggest change is the powertrain switch, with the Kona, Active, Elite and Highlander models all now only available with the 2.0-litre engine, whereas previously the 1.6-litre turbo was an option for those variants.
Instead, if you want the turbo you need to buy the N Line or N Line Premium, which top the range and push the maximum price for a Kona up by $6400; the previous Highlander 1.6 topped the range at $36,000.
Kona – $26,600
Active – $28,200
Elite – $31,600
Highlander – $38,00
N Line – $36,300
N Line Premium – $42,400
Premium paint adds $595 to the asking price, while the beige interior available on the Highlander costs $295. The two-tone black roof for the N Line is a no-cost option.
WHAT DOES IT COST TO OWN?
Servicing intervals are 15,000km/12-months for the 2.0-litre but only 10,000km/12 months for the 1.6-litre. Hyundai Australia hasn’t confirmed pricing for the new models yet, but we’ll update the story when they become available. It’s expected they will rise slightly from the previous model.
WHAT’S THE EXTERIOR LIKE?
The exterior of the Kona was given a major overhaul, which isn’t such a bad thing given the original was a polarising design. Hyundai has used words like “sleek” and “classy” to describe the fresh styling that incorporates many elements of its latest design language while also retaining the same body and glasshouse as the out-going model.
The mountain-bike inspired ‘body armour’ cladding remains but is now more integrated into the design of the Kona range. The new look includes a wider front grille, but retains the same split light design and wrap-around cladding to the front wheel arches (albeit both elements are updated). At the back there’s a new ‘skid plate’ that also wraps around from the side skirts and rear wheel arch ‘armour’.
Alloys wheels are now standard across the range, measuring 16-, 17- and 18-inches across the line-up.
The Kona N Line gets a unique styling treatment with its own front bumper and rear diffuser as well as Audi-style bonnet vents, also ditching the black armour for a sleeker, sportier look with body coloured wheel arches.
WHAT’S THE INTERIOR LIKE?
It’s also had an upgrade, albeit a more minor and subtle one than the exterior. The overall design is largely unchanged, but the N Line models get some unique red trim touches to make them stand out.
One of the most notable changes is the Highlander and N Line variants get a 10.2-inch digital instrument display that brings a level of sophistication and technology not previously seen on the Kona.
The cabin in these higher grade models is quieter than before too, with new acoustic glass used for the windscreen to create a more premium experience.
Every model gets a wireless smartphone charging pad as standard, an electronic park brake is also fitted across the range.
HOW SAFE IS THE KONA?
Hyundai has upgraded the standard active safety features on the Kona range. The entire range gets the brand’s SmartSense safety suite that includes forward collision assistance, active cruise control, lane keeping assist, lane following assist, driver attention warning and rear occupant alert. That’s an improvement because the previous generation Kona Active missed out on standard active safety features.
However, the Elite, Highlander and N Line variants do get extra safety features including blind-spot collision assistance, rear cross-traffic avoidance, safe exit warning and high beam assist.
WHAT’S THE INFOTAINMENT LIKE?
There’s a new infotainment system across the line-up, it’s the latest interface we’ve already seen roll out across several Hyundai and Kia models.
The Kona and Active come with an 8-inch infotainment screen as standard, which incorporates wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Whereas the rest of the range gets a larger 10.2-inch screen but needs a wired connection for your smartphone.
The Elite, Highlander, N Line and N Line Premium also get a premium Harmon/Kardon sound system that is notably better than the standard system in the cheaper models.
WHAT IS THE STORAGE LIKE?
One unlikely challenge for the Kona is having to compete against the Venue. The two are surprisingly similar in size and space, with little too choose between the pair. On paper the Kona obviously has the advantage, being longer (by only 165mm) and wider but in reality the gap between the two feels negligible.
For example, the boot in the Kona measures 374-litres compared 355-litres for the Venue, but the latter has a deeper boot that arguably makes it more practical to live with. In the modern SUV race it seems the lines between models are beginning to blur more than I’m sure Hyundai would have liked.
In the cabin the basics are covered, with the wireless charging pad for your phone, a pair of cupholders between the front seats and a lidded centre console box.
WHAT ENGINES ARE AVAILABLE?
As mentioned earlier the Kona continues to be powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that makes 110kW of power and 180Nm of torque. While that’s the same performance as the old model Hyundai says it’s an all-new engine, labelled ‘SmartStream’ by the brand.
The biggest difference is the engine is now paired with a CVT which doesn’t help the driving experience but does aid fuel economy. Like all CVT units it doesn’t have traditional gear ratios and instead works to find the engine’s peak spot and hold the revs there for the next performance and economy. But, like most CVT, it makes the powertrain feel doughy at times and drone at steady engine revs when accelerating, despite Hyundai’s attempts to calibrate “virtual gears” for a more traditional driving experience.
It doesn’t help that the 2.0-litre engine feels most, particularly on the open road, so the majority of Kona range isn’t for those looking for punchy performance. Around town it does a good job of keeping up with traffic and never feels slug-like, but it doesn’t feel as responsive or zippy as some of its key rivals.
If you want more performance you’ll have to look at the N Line models, with the 1.6-litre turbocharged four pot. It makes 146kW and 265Nm, which is a 16kW bump on the old model with torque remaining unchanged.
Like all N Line models the Kona is about looking sporty rather than being genuinely dynamic. The engine and its seven-speed dual-clutch transmission are good without being great. It offers reasonable response off the mark but runs out of puff if you keep your foot buried. As a range-topping small SUV it serves its purpose well, adding some extra sizzle above the 2.0-litre models.
Luckily for Hyundai that leaves plenty of room for the Kona N to appeal to those looking for genuine hot hatch performance.
WHAT ABOUT FUEL ECONOMY?
While performance hasn’t improved the introduction of the CVT has served its purpose of reducing fuel consumption. The new 2.0-litre powertrain uses 6.2-litres per 100km, a significant drop from the old model of a full 1.0L/100km.
Unlike the naturally-aspirated engine the turbo motor’s fuel economy figure has actually increased from 6.7L/100km to 6.9L/100km.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
Hyundai has stuck with the same suspension philosophy as the previous model, offering the 2.0-litre with a more basic torsion beam rear set-up while the 1.6-litre models get a multi-link rear end.
That means the 2.0-litre Konas don’t feel as stable as the N Lines on the open road, often getting unsettled on uneven surfaces and hit bumps with more drama. In the urban environment it’s far less of an issue, with the low speed ride quite good.
The N Line, with its more sophisticated suspension, does feel more sporty and responsive and with a more composed ride across all conditions.
One notable issue with both versions is the lane keeping assist system. It’s too intrusive most of the time, regularly kicking in and fidgeting the wheel or not recognising your hands are on the wheel when you’re driving steady and straight. It makes the drive irritating and while it can be turned off, that does seem to defeat the purpose of having the system in the first place.
The problem is a programming issue, because many modern cars have active lane keeping, but most are more subtly tuned so they don’t interfere as often or as aggressively.
It’s not a deal-breaker but it could certainly give some owners moments of irritation.
WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?
There are plenty of options if you want a small, city-friendly SUV these days. For starters there’s the best-selling Mitsubishi ASX as well as the other mainstream options such as the Mazda CX-30, Nissan Qashqai, Toyota C-HR, Honda HR-V and Kia Seltos.
If you’re willing to think outside the box or spend a little more, there’s the Volkswagen T-Roc, Skoda Kamiq, Peugeot 2008 and Subaru XV, which are all worthy of strong consideration.
Or, there’s the new player in the segment, the MG ZS, which out-sold the Kona in January as the Chinese brand continues to make its mark in Australia.
And if none of those appeal and you prefer a Hyundai, then the Venue is also worth cross-shopping.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Kona isn’t Hyundai’s finest work but it’s a solid small SUV offering. The new look should help widen its appeal while the addition of the N Line might help attract those who enjoy a more premium small SUV experience.
The 2.0-litre engine does an adequate job but feels a touch underdone, while the 1.6-litre offers more pep and a better driving experience. The biggest improvement is arguably the looks, with a more cohesive exterior and a more premium interior, at least in the high-grade models with the digital dashboard.
Hyundai has given the Kona a nice mid-life upgrade, but it needed to stay competitive in the increasingly competitive small SUV market.
2021 Hyundai Kona spec and price
Price From $26,600 plus ORCs Warranty 5 years/unlimited km Engine 2.0L petrol; 1.6L turbo petrol Power 110kW at 6200rpm; 146kW at 6000rpm Torque 180Nm at 4500rpm; 265Nm at 1500-4500rpm Transmission CVT auto; 7-speed dual-clutch auto Drive front-wheel-drive; all-wheel drive Body 4205mm (l); 1800mm (w); 1550mm (h) Kerb weight 1383kg Seats 5 Fuel use 6.2L/100km; 6.9L/100km Spare Space saver