“Who would buy one of those?”
I’d thought as much when the 2019 Hyundai Kona Iron Man Edition popped up in the CarAdvice news feed in February. But there I was, target of the same question from Gina, social acquaintance and mother of two young girls, all of whom were sitting opposite me across the table of a Chinese restaurant wanting an answer from The Car Bloke.
“More you lot than me,” I wanted to retort about the small, comic character-themed Korean SUV they’d spotted in the local dealership en route to dinner. Instead, I shrug “I dunno” with my shoulders.
If I’m suspicious of sticker packs, I’m highly skeptical about franchise-themed sticker packs that want for extra outlay, in this case a $990 premium atop the $39K ask for the 1.6 AWD petrol Highlander that the Iron Man is based upon.
But after fetching the super-heroic Kona from Hyundai HQ, Sydney, and having a prod around the physical specimen en route to the office, it’s clearly a deeper and more involved makeover than the Barina Sportsgirl or Pulsar Reebok – remember the Craig Lowndes 'sticker-and-floor-mat' Commodore? – that have blotted motoring’s history books over the past few decades.
In fact, there are no stickers. Real effort was invested in modelling the front and rear fascias on Iron Man’s ‘exosuit’ and the bespoke V-bevelled bonnet and rim design are specific to this version. Rather than decals, neatly executed badges and emblems feature on the guards and tailgate. They even went to the trouble of creating an Iron Man mask graphic in the puddle lights.
Inside, that mask motif and a Stark Industries logo are embossed into the seat trim, and those familiar with Marvel iconography may well marvel (cough) in the ‘Arc Reactor’ graphics on the gearbox selector and instrumentation or the ‘Jarvis’ start-up display in the head-up screen… Apparently, according to the brochure.
Elsewhere, there are Iron Man-themed software tweaks to the driver’s screen and infotainment, plus a signature on the dash of a bloke named Tony Stark who, presumably, drives one of these Konas at some point across the silver screen. Right?
Most of this is lost on me. I just reckon the satin grey and burgundy combo looks pretty damn good draped over the Kona facade and is probably worth the extra $990 sting alone… If I could only delete-option all the Marvel/Iron Man/Stark stuff, thus removing the whole point of the vehicle. Clearly this isn’t a car aimed to appeal to me.
“Who would buy one of these?” quickly and frequently bounces around the office walls. But that I’m not alone with this question really doesn’t fix the conundrum I’ve discovered myself firmly stuck in. Knowing the target market for your review subject is a crucial part of the assessment process and greatly informs a verdict, and I’ve yet to hurdle this fundamental stumbling block.
Sure, I could go the thoroughly objective route and critique the Iron Man Edition as a petrol all-paw Highlander in terms of equipment, practicality, value and whatnot.
But if you, dear reader and potential buyer, just wanted the normal Highlander, you’d just read our Highlander review – an 8.1/10 as a spoiler – and be done with it. No, what you want to know is what the Marvel/Iron Man/Stark stuff brings to the party, and yet here we are, you and I, 560 words into this ‘review’ and we’re still stuck in neutral…
Thing is, when I think ‘Iron Man', I think the Black Sabbath song. Or I think Grant Kenny eating Nutri-Grain. The notion of some entrepreneurial industrialist with a bad ticker flying about in an armored fly just hasn’t negotiated the long haul from the pages of a comic book to anywhere on my personal radar.
Officially, the Iron Man Kona isn’t a comic book tie-in at all, but some sort of promotional co-op with the Avengers: Endgame film. This goes no way in aiding my plight and not merely because, at the time of writing, it hasn’t yet hit the cinemas, but mainly because I simply can’t stomach superhero/superheroine movies.
Okay, I didn’t mind the 2008 flick that helped drag Robert Downey Jr’s career out of the doldrums. But the cinematic dross that the Marvel and DC Comics franchise sausage factories have churned out ad nauseam, scraping every semi-heroic skerrick from the barrel bottoms, has jumped the shark for so high and long now that I half expect Captain Fonz: The Legend Of The Shark Jumper to pop up on the silver screens any moment now.
Besides, didn’t Downey Jr’s Tony Stark drive an Audi?
“That’s awesome,” says CA videographer Glen, resident Marvel fanatic, who’s just copped an eyeful of the Korean superhero homage in the work garage. “My son would lose his sh!t over that Kona.”
And there it is. We have a winner. One potential customer for one of the 400 Hyundai is putting to market.
Except, perhaps he wouldn’t. The whole premise that young kids will hold parents to a $990 ransom on the showroom floor seems a feasible prospect only if you disregard that Avengers: Endgame – or any other of its live-action franchised forebears – is 15-plus M-rating. (Yes, yes, I know, Little Johnny watches the Armored Adventures cartoons, collected the McHappy Meal toys, and once watched Captain America: Civil War on pay TV that one time with the nanny but, y’know, stop it please, you’re ruining my narrative…)
“I’d totally have that colour scheme... On a 200 Series LandCruiser,” he adds in clarification. Glen, mate, it doesn’t work that way. No win for you. Or for Hyundai. Or for me. I’m now back to square one…
Given I’ve drawn blanks from my CarAdvice colleagues, plus dirty looks from the tech op crews, I dive down the internet rabbit hole and search the far corners of Geekdom for answers. And find myself crawling out, much later, failing to find any tangible link between a 1960s American action hero born of Cold War commentary by writer Stan Lee and a small Korean SUV, let alone whether the latter’s satin-grey paintwork matches the original Iron Man suit from the 1963 comic Tales Of Suspense or mimics the com-gen garb worn in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame.
The car itself offers no insights. Its 130kW/265Nm is still punchy and quite a bit thirstier (at 9.0L/100km) than its 6.7L/100km claim. The dual-clutch automatic is handy if slightly grumpy around town.
The chassis is a touch terse in ride, but quite entertaining if you’re up for a decent punt. It’s loaded with features and wants for little when it comes to niceties, conveniences and contemporary safety kit. It’s amply roomy for four adults or small families, and even the excessive amount of drab greyness in the cabin – kinda sorta – fits the whole Iron Man theme to a tee.
Ignore the Marvel/Iron Man/Stark-isms and the flagship all-paw Kona is exactly how we remember it: with a lot of positivity. And this is, for me, the great irony. The clear intention is that its superhero branding makes this Kona attractive. And yet it’s specifically this very addendum that’s easily the most unattractive aspect of the package.
Driving all manner of cars for this job, you’re not going to get on very well for very long if you get insecure about whatever car you happen to be driving on a given day. But tooling around the ’burbs in my four-wheeled superhero suit, I can't help wondering if onlookers are wondering what some 48-year-old bloke is doing by himself tooling around in, well, you get the picture.
So I start imagining what ‘theme’ I would be caught dead driving around in. Would I be happier if the Kona looked like a Star Wars stormtrooper? Or Lightning McQueen from Cars? Not on your life. But I’ve driven the Mustang Bullitt a few times now and, believe it, it returns a very different, much more ‘me’ sort of vibe.
The fair conclusion, then, is that the Kona Iron Man Edition is perhaps the right car and I’m simply the wrong person.
“Is anyone taking the Iron Man over the weekend?” asks CA tech guru Jordie.
“Why?” I ask.
“It’s Marvel!” he fires back, like he’s responded to the dumbest question in the world.