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2018 Hyundai Kona review: Quick drive

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James Wong takes the all-new 2018 Hyundai Kona for a quick spin at the company's R&D facility in Namyang, South Korea, ahead of its Australian launch.
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The 2018 Hyundai Kona is the Korean brand's first global compact SUV, developed to challenge models like the Mazda CX-3 and Toyota C-HR when it arrives in Australia around October this year.

CarAdvice attended the international reveal of the Kona in Seoul, South Korea, where we were given the opportunity to get a quick go behind the wheel of a pre-production car at Hyundai's research and development centre in Namyang.

Although our drive was limited to just 10 minutes behind the wheel, we were able to sample the Kona on a handling test track, allowing us to try out the Korean crossover in corners, at higher speeds and also over a mix of road surfaces.

On test we piloted a left-hand-drive Kona fitted with a 1.6-litre T-GDI turbocharged petrol engine. The unit, shared with the larger Tucson, develops a meaty 130kW of power and 265Nm of torque - making it one of the most powerful vehicles in its class. Drive for turbocharged petrol versions is sent to all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT).

With the turbocharged powerplant, the Kona is peppy, delivering brisk and linear acceleration.

On the move, the seven-speed DCT provides snappy, near-imperceptible gear shifts, while the 1.6-litre motor emits a thrummy engine note under acceleration.

The first section of the test track involves a U-shaped pair of long straights, mimicking a highway. Getting up to around 75 miles per hour ( 120km/h), the Kona felt solid and planted, while the 1.6-litre engine is barely heard at speed.

Following the highway section, the remainder of the course included a mix of town-like roads through the Namyang facility, along with some corners, undulating sections and broken surfaces.

Here, we were able to get a glimpse of how the Kona can tackle the bends, deal with rolling undulations, along with ironing out imperfections and train tracks.

Throughout all of these sections, the Hyundai showed promising characteristics. Corners were taken in a sporty manner, with our Kona's firmer suspension tune and direct steering making it quite fun to throw around - even despite its raised SUV-style body.

Going over the undulating section, the Kona again impressed with its composure and ride comfort. The final section with its rougher, broken surfaces transmitted a decent amount of tyre roar into the cabin - higher than perceived levels than the nicely-suppressed i30 hatch, for example - though cracks in the road and the fake train tracks were ironed out nicely and didn't send loud thunks into the cabin.

What's worth remembering, though, is that Australia-bound Kona models will undergo the company's local tuning program. It's likely we'll get a set-up similar to Europe's 'fun to drive' tune as opposed to the US market's 'comfort' specification or Korea's town-focused ride and steering.

We also spent some time checking out the car's interior at the Goyang Motorstudio following the Kona's reveal. In terms of design, it's pretty familiar Hyundai fare, with the i30-esque steering wheel and floating tablet-style touchscreen infotainment system.

There's a simplistic approach to switchgear too, with a limited number of physical buttons confined to the centre stack and surrounding the touchscreen.

Cabin space up front is good, with plenty of head room along with adequate adjustment for the seats and steering wheel.

Fit and finish is pretty good too, keeping in mind the segment the Kona will be competing in. However, there are plenty of harder plastics throughout the cabin, which puts it a step behind more premium-feeling rivals like the Mazda CX-3 and Toyota C-HR.

Despite this, all of the main touch points - like the door inserts and centre armrests - are finished with more yielding materials meaning you won't be resting your elbows on hard surfaces.

What was more surprising was the amount of space in the second row, though Hyundai is claiming "class-leading" interior practicality.

Despite being the same length and height as a CX-3, the Kona provides adequate leg and headroom in the rear, even for taller occupants like six-foot-two-ish me.

This is largely helped by the fact the Hyundai has a 30mm longer wheelbase than the Mazda, though it cannot match the spaciousness of the Honda HR-V. Specific numbers are still to come, however.

Behind the rear bench is a decent boot, though the company is yet to quote an official volume for the load area. On first glance, it's definitely competitive compared to the Honda.

So, what's our verdict? It's a little too early to tell. We'd need more time with the Kona on local roads to give a more definitive conclusion.

However, the little Hyundai is promising, and if the local arm gets the price and spec right, you could be looking at a potential class leader - if you can get past the polarising looks, of course.

Stay tuned to CarAdvice for more Kona coverage in the lead-up to its October launch.

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