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First Drive: Hyundai Kona

A decent opening foray into the compact SUV market – but there’s more to come, says Craig Thomas.

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SECTOR Compact   PRICE £16,195-£24,995   FUEL 42.2-54.3mpg   CO2 117-153g/km

Modern society arguably offers consumers too much choice, to the extent that they often struggle to make a purchasing decision, thanks to a dizzying array of options. Even if you decide on the car you want to buy, for example, the plethora of trim levels, engines and optional extras can make the process of arriving at the exact car you want an exhausting one.

If fleet buyers looking to navigate the burgeoning segment of compact SUVs decide that the Hyundai Kona is the model for them, one decision will be easy. Because the Kona is available with just two engine choices: both petrol, both turbocharged.

The base 1.0-litre, three-cylinder unit produces 118bhp, while a 175bhp 1.6-litre engine comes with four-wheel drive and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. Hyundai expects the 1.0 to comprise all but 1-2% of sales, which is understandable when you consider that the official fuel economy is in the mid-50s (although if it’s like most three-cylinder engines currently on the market, the real-world figure is likely to start with a three) and CO2 emissions are below 120g/km: the 1.6, meanwhile, is more than 10mpg less efficient and emits around 30g/km extra, so those all-important running costs will soon mount up.

That straightforward choice made, Hyundai is promoting the Kona with the tag line “Define your experience”, which is reflected in the 28 exterior colour combinations on offer – because, it seems, you simply can’t launch a new compact SUV these days without a contrast-colour roof. But, it has to be said, the Kona wears those colours well, as it’s a shapely and attractive small car, with a hint of muscularity about it that evokes the sense of ruggedness that manufacturers need to appeal to buyers.

The interior is equally well resolved. The materials are not of the highest quality, but you’d need to have unrealistically high standards to expect anything more from what is, essentially, a high-riding supermini. To be fair, the textured surfaces are perfectly acceptable and it couldn’t be described as looking cheap. Indeed, colour accents on air vents and in the seat stitching – which coordinate with seatbelts in the same hue – add a welcome element of stylish modernity.

There’s also plenty of standard-fit equipment across the range, including cruise control, LED daytime running lights, DAB and Bluetooth, while 7.0-inch or 8.0-inch touchscreens to control the infotainment system (containing satellite navigation, and connectivity functions) are available on all but the base S trim-level cars.

Hyundai has come a long way in developing the ride and handling characteristics of its cars in recent years and the Kona does perfectly well in this department, without standing out in the class, particularly. The steering is accurate enough and while the rear multi-link suspension on the 1.6 4WD car means a compliant ride, most cars with have a torsion beam that could prove a little firm – especially on the 18-inch wheels of the top two trims (Premium and Premium SE).

What we think

The Kona isn’t the class-leading small SUV Hyundai was aiming for, but a full EV version due in 2018 (with a 300-mile range) is certainly an intriguing proposition.

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Craig Thomas

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