Kona or Kadjar? Established player or French upstart?
The money now lies in compact and mid-sized SUVs, which is where the Kadjar waltzes in. Built on the bones of the Nissan Qashqai, it straddles two of the bestselling segments in Australia.
Despite its larger-than-average body, though, it’s sharply priced. A top-spec Kadjar Intens wears a sticker that puts it in direct competition with the high-end Hyundai Kona, one of the bestselling cars in its class.
Pricing and specs
Although these cars aren't quite a perfect match for size, the top-spec Kona is a near perfect match for the top-spec Kadjar on price.
Hyundai offers the Kona Highlander with a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine, but the car we have on test here comes with a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre petrol motor, which means a starting price of $36,000 before on-road costs.
Short of the more powerful engine, that gets you essentially everything Hyundai has to offer. It rides on a set of 18-inch alloy wheels, and has LED headlights and daytime running lights, contrasting body accents, and – of course – Highlander badges.
Gear like autonomous emergency braking, parking sensors and a reversing camera, lane-keeping assist, keyless entry and start, navigation, and automatic headlights are also standard.
Climate control is single-zone, the infotainment display is a 8.0-inch unit with CarPlay and Android Auto, and the (heated/cooled front) seats are trimmed in leather.
The larger Kadjar can't match the Kona for value, with a starting price of $36,990 before on-road costs. It has a similar list of inclusions, but gains dual-zone climate control, a fully digital instrument binnacle, and a speed limiter over the Kona.
Infotainment comes courtesy of a 7.0-inch infotainment display with smartphone mirroring.
However, the Kadjar misses out on some key equipment: it doesn't have adaptive cruise control or lane-keeping assist like the Kona. It also misses out on seat ventilation and steering wheel heating – although rear passengers do get air vents in the Kadjar, which they don't in the Kona.
The longer list of standard inclusions makes the Kona an easy winner here.
|Model||Renault Kadjar||Hyundai Kona|
|Made in||France||South Korea|
|ANCAP rating||Five stars (2015, Euro NCAP)||Five stars (2017)|
|Seat trim||Leather||Partial leather|
|Heated steering wheel||No||Yes|
|Smartphone mirroring||CarPlay, Android Auto||CarPlay, Android Auto|
|Air-conditioning||Dual-zone climate||Single-zone climate|
|Daytime running lights||Yes||Yes|
Their spec sheets might be similar, but the Kadjar and Kona go about things very differently behind the wheel.
There's no hiding the Kona's size – or lack thereof – inside. At 4165mm long, 1800mm wide, and 1565mm tall, with a 2600mm wheelbase, the Korean is a significant 284mm shorter, 258mm narrower, and 48mm stockier than its French rival, with a 46mm shorter wheelbase.
In other words, the Kona is a compact SUV through-and-through, while the Kadjar is knocking on the door of cars like the Hyundai Tucson when it comes to size.
That means the Renault has significantly more rear leg and head room, more elbow room between the front seats, a more comfortable driving position, and a lighter, airier feel behind the wheel.
Neither interior is what you'd call a design delight, but both are logically laid out and generally feel well put together.
We're familiar with Hyundai's climate controls, infotainment, and interior layout by now, but that doesn't change the fact it's a well thought out, uncomplicated place to spend time.
French cars aren't exactly known for their ergonomics, but the Kadjar possesses little to upset buyers who aren't outright Francophiles. The integrated climate controls and displays are simple, and the media control pod behind the steering wheel becomes natural with time.
Having the cruise control and speed limiter mode switch on the transmission tunnel is a bit strange when the controls to set those functions live on the steering wheel, but it's not exactly a showstopper. Compared to the Kona, the materials in the Kadjar feel more grown-up. The leather on the seats and steering wheel is nicer, and the general cabin layout is that of a larger car.
The only real letdown is a squeaky piece of plasti-chrome trim on the transmission tunnel, which makes its presence known every time your knee touches it.
Hyundai does claw back some points on the spec sheet, where it gets a heated steering wheel, ventilated seats, and wireless phone charging – none of which are available in the Kadjar.
The Kadjar also gets a leg up on the Kona in the key area of boot space. With 408L of space with the second row in place and 1478L with it folded, the French SUV blows away its Korean rival (361L/1143L) when it comes to load-lugging ability.
It's also significantly bigger in the back seats, where six-footers can sit behind six-footers. Head room is good, even with a panoramic glass roof, and the Kadjar boasts air vents and dual USB ports – neither of which the Hyundai can match.
The Kadjar's more spacious and mature cabin hands it an easy win here.
|Renault Kadjar||Hyundai Kona|
There's a clear winner on paper here, and it's the Renault.
Although it shares its bones with the Nissan Qashqai, the Kadjar isn't burdened with that car's anaemic 2.0-litre petrol engine and CVT. Instead, Renault offers the car exclusively with the 1.3-litre turbocharged petrol engine outputting 117kW and 260Nm, hooked up to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
That's up significantly on the 110kW and 180Nm on offer in the 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine in the Kona Highlander. It's hooked up to a six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission.
In the real world, the Kadjar is the all-round punchier car. Peak torque comes on tap at just 1750rpm, which means there's plenty of performance available in day-to-day driving, and it'll happily run out to redline when pushed.
The dual-clutch transmission is a good one, too. It isn't as natural as a torque converter around town, but it's decisive off the line and generally doesn't get confused between first and second gear.
There's also less rollback on hill starts than we've experienced in some other low-displacement, low-power engines mated with dual-clutch transmissions.
In contrast, the naturally aspirated engine in the Kona is serviceable at best and breathless at worst. Not only is it significantly down on torque compared to the Renault, but it's not available until significantly later in the rev range.
The result is lots of noise and vibration when you bury the throttle, but limited forward progress. The car is more than capable of keeping up with traffic, of course, but it needs to be worked much harder than the Kadjar in most situations – and is significantly less comfortable doing it.
With that said, there will be buyers who prefer the smoother-moving torque converter automatic in the Kona over the dual-clutch set-up in the Renault. For anyone chasing extra punch, Hyundai also offers a 130kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbo option packaged with a seven-speed dual-clutch auto and all-wheel drive, but it's a $3500 step up.
Whereas Hyundai claims 7.2L/100km on the combined cycle, Renault claims 6.3L/100km, but the latter does demand more expensive 95RON fuel.
Had the Kona on test been a turbocharged 1.6-litre model, this might have been different. But there's simply no contest between the drivetrains in these two cars – the Kadjar is the easy winner here.
Ride and handling
Neither of these cars will offend with the way they drive. That's a hallmark of the middle-of-the-road, mid-sized and compact SUVs becoming increasingly common on our roads.
Hyundai has invested in Australian tuning for the ride and handling of its cars, and it shows in the Kona. Although it's the smaller car, it feels more planted than the Kadjar, with heavier steering and a slightly firmer ride.
It's never uncomfortable – this is still a city-oriented shopping cart, after all – but the drive gives a sense the Hyundai is a regular compact hatchback masquerading as a crossover, not a practicality-focused family wagon on stilts. That's because the Kona is closely related to Hyundai's conventional i30 hatch.
Renault has paid less attention to making the Kadjar feel solid and sporty, and more to making it effortless to drive. The steering is video-game light at low speeds, and remains pinky-twirlingly effortless at highway speeds relative to the Kona.
Neither of these cars is a featherbed, but Renault has done a remarkably good job making the Kadjar ride well on 19-inch alloy wheels. Sharp bumps or potholes can make things a bit crashy, but for the most part it's comfortable and refined.
Unlike the Kona, the Kadjar feels like a large, airy car on the road – not a hatchback dressed up in its big brother's off-road cladding.
Neither of these cars is a bad drive, but the Kona's more planted drive gives it a narrow win here.
Warranty and servicing
The Kadjar is backed by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. It comes with five capped-price services across 12-month or 30,000km intervals, costing $2385 all up including filters, coolant, spark plugs and other incidentals.
The Kona also has a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty – but its service intervals are shorter, at 12 months or 15,000km. Hyundai charges $1420 for five years of pre-paid servicing.
Realistically, both cars will require maintenance at the same intervals given the average Australian does less than 15,000km per year.
The Kona is cheaper to service, which gives it the win here.
This might have been different if our Kona were fitted with Hyundai's more muscular 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine. But the weedy 2.0-litre petrol engine in the car on test, coupled with the fact it has a significantly smaller cabin than the Kadjar, means the Kona Highlander is well out of its depth here.
Yes, the Kona is cheaper, but the Renault is an altogether more mature, practical offering. It more than justifies its slightly higher sticker price, and impresses with its nice cabin and comfortable drive.
That's why it wins this comparison.