The Hyundai Kona – the second-best seller for the last two years in a row in an overcrowded class of more than 20 small SUVs – has had its first major update since arriving in local showrooms in 2017.
Crash-avoidance technology has been added across the 2021 Hyundai Kona range, although only the most expensive models come with the full suite of advanced safety systems – and speed-sign recognition is still not available.
And a word of caution for anyone interested in the most affordable Hyundai Kona models: the wireless Apple CarPlay system is plagued with electronic gremlins that disconnect the phone every few seconds (at least, that was our experience).
We’re mentioning this up high in the story as it could be a deal-breaker for some buyers given our increasing reliance on smartphone mirroring technology – and the impact driver distraction can have on road safety.
The good news is the wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto systems on the dearer models work fine. Unfortunately, however, there is no wired backup on cheaper models with wireless connection. (Android Auto has a wired back-up but we are yet to test the wireless Android Auto set-up).
We hope Hyundai (and its sister brand Kia, which has experienced similar issues with its wireless Apple CarPlay, presumably from the same supplier) gets it sorted soon.
Now, on with the show. There are six models in the revised line-up, starting with the base Kona from $26,600 plus on-road costs, the Active from $28,200, the Elite from $31,600 and the Highlander from $38,000. Add $595 for metallic paint.
Prices for these mainstream Kona models represent an increase of between $500 and $1400 compared to the pre-facelift versions.
New for 2021 is the Kona N-Line and N-Line Premium (pictured in red in this story), both of which are all-wheel drive and powered by a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder matched to a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic.
The first SUVs to wear Hyundai’s sports label start from $36,300 and $42,400 plus on-road costs respectively.
All 2021 Hyundai Kona SUVs except the N-Line versions are powered by a non-turbo 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, sending power to the front wheels via a CVT automatic that has been tuned to mimic an eight-speed conventional auto.
Turbo all-wheel-drive power is no longer an option on the cheapest Kona variants.
In addition to the six airbags and a five-star safety rating carried over from the original model introduced in 2017, the updated base Kona comes with forward crash avoidance, lane-keeping assistance, radar cruise control, wireless phone charging, 16-inch alloy wheels, wireless Apple CarPlay, an 8.0-inch infotainment screen, and a rear-view camera.
The Kona Active gains leather seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, rear privacy glass, and power-folding side mirrors.
However, it’s not until the Elite that the Kona starts to get the full suite of advanced safety tech, such as blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, as well as a sensor key with push-button start, premium audio, and a 10.25-inch infotainment screen with embedded navigation with wired Apple CarPlay, which is our preference and was more reliable than the wireless set-up on the base models when this article was published.
The Highlander is distinguished by 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, front parking sensors, a head-up display (reflected onto a clear plastic panel on top of the dash rather than in the windscreen), power-adjustable front seats, and heated rear seats.
The N-Line has the same equipment as an Elite, while the N-Line Premium comes with the same additional features as the Highlander.
Helpful touches on all models include extendable sun visors to better block glare from the front door windows. And a warning in the instrument cluster that advises when the car ahead drives off in stop-start traffic (just in case you’re not paying attention).
All models are covered by a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. Service intervals are 12 months or 15,000km for 2.0-litre models, and 12 months or 10,000km for turbo models.
Capped-price servicing costs were yet to be released as this article was published; however, as a guide, the pre-facelift version of the Hyundai Kona cost about $1430 for routine maintenance over five years.
The capped-pricing servicing program runs out after 10 years or 100,000km, whichever comes first.
|Hyundai Kona, Active, Elite and Highlander models||Hyundai Kona N-Line and Hyundai Kona N-Line Premium models|
|Engine||2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol||Turbo 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol|
|Power and torque||110kW and 180Nm||146kW and 265Nm|
|Transmission||8-step CVT auto||7-speed twin-clutch auto|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive||All-wheel drive|
|Kerb weight||1280kg to 1383kg||1395kg to 1504kg|
|Fuel consumption claim||6.2L/100km (91RON)||6.9L/100km (91RON)|
|Fuel used on test||6.7L/100km (open road)||6.0L/100km (open road)|
|Spare tyre||Space saver||Space saver|
|ANCAP safety rating||5 stars (2017)||5 stars (2017)|
|Warranty||5 years/unlimited kilometres||5 years/unlimited kilometres|
|Service intervals||12 months/15,000km||12 months/10,000km|
|Main competitors||Mitsubishi ASX, Mazda CX-3||Mitsubishi ASX, Mazda CX-3|
|Price (excluding on-road costs)||$26,600 to $38,000||$36,300 to $42,400|
On the road
During our media preview drive, we tested the two cheapest models in the range – the Kona and Kona Active – both with the new-generation non-turbo 2.0-litre engine matched to a CVT auto.
We also did plenty of time in the top-of-the-range Kona N-Line Premium powered by a turbo 1.6-litre paired to a seven-speed twin-clutch auto and all-wheel drive, clocking up a combined 600km across all three cars, in mostly open road and inter-urban conditions.
Although the Kona is still an easy and comfortable drive, Hyundai promises the dearer models will be quieter with the addition of acoustic (or sound-insulated) glass.
While the base model at first glance is a basic proposition with its rubber rather than leather steering wheel, lack of front and rear parking sensors – and misses out on advanced safety aids that are increasingly standard on rivals – it will suit the needs of most buyers and still has a quality feel.
However, it’s worth repeating our earlier warning: the wireless Apple CarPlay on the Hyundai Kona – as well as other recent Hyundai and Kia models – is hit-and-miss, rarely connected properly during our test, and constantly disconnected the paired phone.
During our preview drive, the wireless Apple CarPlay disconnected from the phone every few seconds. It was so frustrating we stopped to buy a set of ear buds to make and take phone calls.
Unlike other car brands, if a Hyundai has wireless Apple CarPlay, it does not have the wired USB version as a backup. Please, Hyundai, provide both options if you must go wireless – as do other car companies.
This complaint could be a deal-breaker for many buyers, so hopefully Hyundai will get it sorted soon.
This concern does not apply to the dearer Kona models equipped with the larger 10.25-inch infotainment screen and wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Other omissions: the Kona still does not have speed sign recognition. Instead it relies on navigation data. And boot space is average; there is only a space-saver spare tyre under the cargo floor.
Other than these issues, the Kona still has plenty of appeal. As before, the Kona has a comfortable cabin, there is ample oddment storage, and all buttons are well placed and intuitive to use.
The suspension is a little more comfortable on the cheaper models that run 16- and 17-inch wheels and higher-profile tyres.
The 18-inch wheels and low-profile tyres on the N-Line have plenty of grip, though they can be a bit noisy on coarse road surfaces.
We really enjoyed the “8-step” CVT auto in the basic 2.0-litre examples of the Kona. The turbo 1.6-litre fitted to the dearer, N-Line models in the range felt perky once on the move.
The N-Line’s twin-clutch auto is sleepy from rest – as is the case with most examples of this type of transmission – and doesn’t move off the line with the same briskness as the regular model.
And once under way, the twin-clutch auto can jolt from first to second gears; however, it’s a smooth operator the rest of the time.
Given the N-Line’s sporty looks, we were curious to find out how the turbo 1.6-litre compared to the non-turbo 2.0-litre in the 0–100km/h dash.
Of course, these aren’t supposed to be race cars, but our initial impressions are that the fast-looking Kona is not that fast – and the ‘slow’ one is not that slow.
The VBox confirmed it: the turbo N-Line (pictured here in red) did the 0–100km/h dash in 8.8 seconds versus 9.5 seconds for the 2.0-litre. Both of these times are average for small runabout cars, but they wouldn’t be described as quick in any context.
Tyre performance varies markedly on the updated Kona range. The Hankook tyres on the base model were okay; the Nexens on the Active noticeably lacked grip and were noisier than their counterparts, especially on expansion joins.
On our test drive, the Continental performance tyres on the Kona N-Line had superior grip and – combined with larger brakes – helped deliver a shorter braking distance.
The base-model Kona pulled up in an emergency stop from 100km/h in 40.5m (slightly below average), whereas the Kona N-Line stopped in 36.8m – similar to hot-hatch performance.
Overall, the updated 2021 Hyundai Kona brings some worthwhile changes and fresh styling flair.
However, be sure to properly test the wireless Apple CarPlay connection on the cheaper Kona models before you sign on the dotted line, as it could be a deal-breaker.
Some people have experienced disconnection once every half hour or so; we experienced disconnection every three seconds – despite our phone having the latest software and using the settings recommended by Hyundai.
Tester's notes: jobs for the next update
It could be a while before the next update to the Hyundai Kona; however, car companies are known to do running changes even after a midlife facelift.
Based on the examples of the revised range sampled so far, the base-model Hyundai Kona could be the pick of the line-up based on features and price.
However, to complete the base model it needs front and rear parking sensors, rear cross-traffic alert, and blind-zone warning.
Perhaps Hyundai could offer it as an optional safety pack? Oh, and of course, please fix the wireless Apple CarPlay. We're genuinely surprised it made it to showrooms in its current guise.
We're confident Hyundai will get this sorted eventually, but anyone who buys an early car should be aware of the possibility that wireless Apple CarPlay may not work as intended.