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Road Test: Hyundai Kona Premium SE 1.0 T-GDi

The Kona stands to be a game-changer, once the full range arrives, reckons Alex Grant.

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SECTOR Compact SUV PRICE £21,445-£22,430* FUEL 54.3mpg CO2 117g/km

With its sights set on becoming Europe’s largest Asian car brand, SUVs seem like an obvious box for Hyundai to tick. The region has a seemingly unending appetite for them, with a record 4.56m registered last year, according to Jato Dynamics data – that’s one in three passenger cars, and a 20% year-on-year rise. From Santa Fe down to Kona, a portfolio of SUVs is a prerequisite, filling the gaps between the traditional segments for drivers seeking rugged styling and extra practicality.

This can be a double-edged sword. The Kona is pitched at the supermini-derived SUV segment, positioned between the i20 and i30 in Hyundai’s line-up and arriving as part of an onslaught of newcomers – including sister car, the Kia Stonic. Which means it needs a few tricks up its sleeve to stand out. Thankfully, it has plenty.

Which all starts with distinctive styling. Seemingly inspired by Iron Man’s mask, the Kona is available in a choice of vivid, and two-tone, colour schemes to contrast its black body cladding, and Premium SE gets large, part-polished wheels pushed out to the corners. It’s right at the sporty end of a segment which also encompasses what are essentially body-kitted MPVs.

But not at the expense of practicality. The Kona has space for four adults, five at a push, and offers a competitively-sized boot for their luggage. You’ll get bigger suitcases into an i30, but there’s enough day-to-day flexibility for this to stack up as an alternative. As in the i30, there’s also an intuitive touchscreen infotainment system, which offers Android Auto and Apple CarPlay app streaming alongside navigation with TomTom live traffic data. Unusually, though, AEB is an option.

The downside is, it’s incredibly spec-sensitive. Shades of grey don’t suit that aggressive styling, and though the option to colour-code the seat belts, stitching and parts of the dashboard in lime green, orange or red sounds gaudy, it’s a necessity in what’s otherwise a dark and quite plasticky cabin, its seats trimmed in black leather.

As a fleet option, it could also be hampered by a limited engine line-up. The 113bhp and 134bhp 1.6-litre diesels don’t arrive until the summer, and the potentially game-changing electric version with its near-300-mile range is due at the same time. For now, the only options are a pair of turbocharged petrol engines; a 118bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder, and 175bhp 1.6-litre four-cylinder with four-wheel drive and a dual-clutch transmission – at 153g/km, and in only the top trim level, the latter is unlikely to be a mainstream fleet choice in the UK.

But the smaller petrol engine is a lively performer, keen to rev and with plenty of pulling power, if a bit gruff under load. It’s not overly efficient, at around 40mpg on a mixed route, and the ride quality is quite firm on UK roads, but neither are out of step with its closest rivals. A good basis for capitalising on that seemingly unending demand for SUVs – even in a very crowded part of the market.

What we think:

The Kona is an eye-catching addition to a segment where styling counts, but diesel and electric versions can’t come soon enough for fleets.

* includes two-tone roof

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Alex Grant

Trained on Cardiff University’s renowned Postgraduate Diploma in Motor Magazine Journalism, Alex is an award-winning motoring journalist with ten years’ experience across B2B and consumer titles. A life-long car enthusiast with a fascination for new technology and future drivetrains, he joined Fleet World in April 2011, contributing across the magazine and website portfolio and editing the EV Fleet World Website.