Hyundai's Kona Hybrid might just strike a sweet spot in the currently popular market for small SUVs, thinks Jonathan Crouch
A little surprisingly, there aren't many full-hybrid small SUV crossovers on the market - just conventional models, mild hybrids and full-electric contenders. But Hyundai has noted the success that Toyota's C-HR has had in providing a full-hybrid option in this segment and in response, has used the engineering first seen in the Kia Niro to bring us this Kona Hybrid model.
The Kona small SUV, named after the island of Hawaii's Kona district, has proved to be one of Hyundai's strongest-selling models. It was first launched in 2017 with a range of petrol and diesel engines, then a full-electric battery-powered EV version joined the range in 2018. A year later, the CRDi diesel powerplants in the line-up were replaced by the far more eco-conscious variant we're going to look at here, the Kona Hybrid, a petrol/electric derivative using much of the engineering already seen in the company's frugally-focused IONIQ model.
We ought to clarify the terminology here. 'Hybrid' is a word bandied about quite a bit these days, but very often at present, it designates 'mild hybrid' technology, the sort of thing you get in this class for instance in a Ford Puma, which sees a normal combustion engine only very marginally electrified by a tiny battery positioned under the rear seat. Full-Hybrid engines are very different and, unlike mild hybrids, can switch to full-electrification in city motoring. Toyota's C-HR and Kia's Niro are the only other brands currently offering such a thing in the small SUV segment.
The Kona Hybrid takes its drivetrain from the proven IONIQ Hybrid, using a Kappa 1.6 GDi Atkinson Cycle combustion engine working with a 1.56kWh battery and a 32kW motor to deliver a maximum hybrid system power of 141PS and 265Nm to the front wheels, via a 6 speed dual clutch transmission. That torque output isn't quite as much as was generated by the diesel version being replaced here, but it's not too far off. This model's little electric motor draws its energy from a lithium-ion polymer battery, but it's only 1.56kWh in size, so definitely not of the plug-in variety. As for performance, well 62mph from rest takes 11.6s en route to a 115mph maximum.
This mildly electrified Kona model takes its more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension from the top variant in the petrol Kona range, the 1.6-litre 'Premium GT' derivative. And it can offer a towing capacity of up to 1300kg. On the move, you notice a somewhat rough, coarse note to the GDI petrol engine under harsh acceleration - it's one of Hyundai's older units. But lift off and refinement reigns supreme, perfectly complementing the light but accurate 'Motor Driven Power Steering' system that makes the car so easy to precisely place on the road, whether you're in town or threading your way at speed through corners on the open road. To improve traction and damping through those bends, there's also an 'Advanced Traction Cornering Control' package. Plus there's a 'Sport' mode to sharpen throttle response and give the steering a little more weight.
It's difficult to distinguish a Kona Hybrid from a conventional petrol model, but brand loyalists will perhaps note 16-inch wheels of a design bespoke to the hybrid model and the special 'Blue Drive' badging used on the wings and tailgate. Otherwise, the exterior looks are as with any other ordinary Kona SUV, so you get unusually-styled twin headlamps and a distinctive 'Cascading' front grille. Short rear overhangs and a low roofline add to the purposeful silhouette, plus contrasting exterior accents and standard-fit roof bars inject a bit of all-important SUV flavour. Move to the back and the styling flourishes come equally thick and fast. Your eye is drawn by the wrap-around cladding that houses the indicators and the reversing lights. And then perhaps by these slim high-set LED tail lamps. The neat roof spoiler incorporates an LED brake light, while lower down, a silvered skid plate-style panel is intended to add to the Crossover demeanour.
Inside, there's a cabin distinguished in this hybrid model by white accents around the air vents and gear lever surround, as well as accompanying white stitching to the seats. The base 'SE' model gets a 7-inch centre-dash touchscreen but further up the range, that's replaced by a larger, more sophisticated 10.25-inch monitor. What about rear seat space? Well as it turns out, by the modest standards of the small SUV segment, it's not too bad in the back for the carriage of two folk, providing they're not especially lanky of leg. If they are, then compromises will be need to made by the front seat occupants in order to be able to accommodate them. The body shell is slightly wider than it would be in a conventional supermini, though not by enough to make the prospect of sharing the back seat with two other adults a particularly comfortable one, despite the relatively low centre transmission tunnel. Out back, there's a 361-litre boot that you can extend in size to 1,143-litres when the 60:40 split-folding rear backrest is flattened.
There are three Kona Hybrid trim levels - 'SE', 'Premium' and 'Premium SE', with pricing that from launch was pitched from around £22,500 to just over £27,000. To give you some perspective, that's just over £3,500 more than you'd pay for an equivalently specified Kona with the brand's more conventional 1.0 T-GDi 120PS petrol engine. You can't have that conventional model in 1.0-litre form with an auto gearbox though. If you could, the price difference to this Hybrid variant would obviously be much narrower. Whichever Kona Hybrid derivative you go for, equipment levels are pretty generous. Even the base 'SE' variant comes with climate control, an electric parking brake and steering wheel mounted gearshift paddles, plus there's a 7-inch centre-dash infotainment screen with smartphone-mirroring.
Safety has been a particular feature of the development of this car. A 'Lane Keeping Assist System' is standard, as is a 'Driver Attention Alert' system, and all variants can be fitted with Autonomous Emergency Braking, a system that scans the road ahead as you drive, the set-up looking for potential collision hazards. If one is detected, you'll be warned. If you don't respond - or aren't able to - the brakes will automatically be applied to decrease the severity of any resulting accident. Other key Kona safety features include 'Smart Cruise Control', a 'Blind Spot Detector, 'Rear-Cross Traffic Alert', a 'Speed Limit Information Function' and 'High Beam Assist'.
Further up the range, 'Premium'-spec gets you bigger 18-ich wheels, keyless entry, auto wipers, front fog lamps and privacy glass. Inside, a 'Premium'-spec model gives you a wireless charging mat and the larger 10.25-inch centre-dash infotainment screen, which incorporates navigation and an upgraded KRELL audio system. The top-spec 'Premium SE' model adds full-LED headlamps with High Beam Assist, leather seat trim and heated, ventilated and electrically operated front seats, along with a head up display.
Let's get to the figures. In base 'SE' form, this Kona Hybrid manages 56.5mpg on the WLTP combined cycle - and 90g/km of NEDC-rated CO2. Go for one of the two 'Premium'-spec models with their larger 18-inch wheels and those figures fall to 52.3mpg and 99g/km. To give you some range perspective on those figures, a conventional 1.0-litre T-GDi petrol-powered 120PS Kona model manages 44.1mpg and 125g/km of CO2. Insurance is rated at group 13E - but falls to group 11E on the top 'Premium SE' model thanks to its extra camera safety kit.
As for servicing, well your Kona will need a garage visit once a year or every 10,000 miles, whichever comes sooner. If you want to budget ahead for routine maintenance, there are various 'Hyundai Sense' packages that offer fixed-price servicing over two, three or five-year periods. You can pay for your plan monthly and add MoTs into the three or five year plans for an extra fee. A strong buying incentive is the five year unlimited mileage warranty that comes as standard. It's backed up by breakdown cover that last the same length of time and free annual vehicle health checks over this duration.
If you're after a small Crossover that's particularly city-orientated and you're not quite ready to take the plunge into full-EV motoring, then this Kona Hybrid might prove to be a very good pick. This variant hasn't of course garnered as many headlines as the fully battery-powered Kona Electric but in reality, right here, right now, it's probably the better pick for the majority of likely buyers.
Obviously the key competitor on Hyundai's radar here is the Toyota C-HR. Well that car represents tough opposition but there's certainly plenty of room in the full-hybrid part of this class for both cars and this Kona represents a slightly better value proposition. We think it's a car the segment will like.
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