First drive: The Hyundai Kona Hybrid expands electrified crossover market
Hyundai has fitted its familiar hybrid powertrain to the smart Kona crossover. Darren Cassey heads to Amsterdam to give it a whirl
What is it?
This is the Kona Hybrid, the new petrol-electric version of Hyundai’s popular crossover. The South Korean firm says this update responds to its customers’ demand for more eco-friendly SUV models, with the original Kona, introduced two years ago, already exceeding expected demand.
It’s all part of Hyundai’s push to electrify its range. Like many car makers, the firm is putting its weight behind eco-friendly technologies, investing heavily in all-electric and hydrogen powertrains, but this Hybrid helps bridge the gap for buyers not ready to take the plunge into full EV ownership.
We’ve had petrol, diesel and all-electric, but this is the first time Hyundai has offered a full hybrid in the Kona range. However, while this is a new offering for its crossover, the gubbins under the bonnet is familiar from the Ioniq Hybrid.
It’s the same story elsewhere – there’s not a whole lot that’s particularly new, but that’s no bad thing. You see, the Kona isn’t exactly a game changer, but it is a practical, well-appointed, well-priced crossover. There are some hybrid-specific vent trims, though.
What’s under the bonnet?
The Kona Hybrid gets the company’s familiar 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and 32kW electric motor combination – it’s a self-charging system, which uses regenerative brakes to harvest energy that’s then used to recharge the battery. The engine and motor work together with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that drives the front wheels, making 139bhp and 170Nm. Economy figures are measured at 65-72mpg, with CO2 emissions of 90-99g/km.
The first thing you’ll notice is the typical electrified thing, whereby low speeds are quiet and serene – but once the engine kicks in it’s coarse and sounds like it’s working hard. And because this is a self-charging hybrid rather than a plug-in that allows you to top the batteries up when not in use, there isn’t always enough charge to run in pure EV mode for long.
What’s it like to drive?
The result is that the Kona Hybrid loses some of that electrified appeal, which is quiet and serene motoring. However, around town, the torquey electric motor provides just enough grunt to make the small SUV responsive and easy to punch between lights and out of junctions. Around town, where the Kona will likely see most use, its light controls make it easy to pilot, and its compact size means negotiating traffic is easy.
Out on the open road the Kona Hybrid is much quieter, with road and wind noise kept to a minimum despite the large 18-inch alloy wheels fitted to our tester. It’s a comfortable cruiser considering this is a smallish crossover, and when the road gets tighter and more twisty it handles well enough, though there’s an odd elastic resistance to the steering.
How does it look?
The Kona has always been one of the better-looking mainstream crossovers, with its slim headlights, chunky wheel arches and SUV-lite appearance. Again, not much has changed for the hybrid, so those headlights are available with full LED technology and there are 26 colour combinations.
What actually is new, though, is a choice of alloy wheels. Two new designs have been added to the line-up for the hybrid, with 16- and 18-inch designs available – the larger wheels fitted to our car looked great in particular.
What’s it like inside?
The interior is familiar Kona fare, so you get a spacious cabin for both front- and rear-seat passengers, comfortable seats and a well-sized central touchscreen. There are some lower-quality plastics used in hard-to-reach places, but they are noticeable, and coupled with some chunky buttons on the centre console, the Kona’s cabin is starting to feel a bit dated.
Opt for a higher specification and you get leather upholstery, which is particularly pleasant on the steering wheel and adds a veneer of premium quality, while some buyers might appreciate the splash of colour that can be added to the surrounds for the gear shifter and vent surrounds.
What’s the spec like?
There are three trim levels on offer, with all providing decent levels of equipment. Opt for the base level SE trim, starting at £22,495, and cruise control, air conditioning, rear parking sensors and a 7.0-inch touchscreen all come as standard.
Tech lovers should opt for the mid-level Premium trim, because this adds the larger 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system, which brings an extra level of modernity to the cabin. It also brings climate control and an upgraded stereo, while the Premium SE trim adds leather and cloth upholstery, a crystal-clear head-up display and automatic emergency braking.
The Hyundai Kona Hybrid is a welcome addition in the range of this handsome crossover and, while it doesn’t quite deliver the peaceful and relaxing electrified drive you might hope for in a hybrid, its comfortable interior and low running costs largely make up for that fact.
It’s also less expensive and more spacious than the Toyota C-HR, which is its key rival, and a lot less cash than the all-electric Kona with none of the range anxiety. However, if you’re not dead-set on electrification, the cheaper still VW T-Cross feels like better value – even if it does lack some of the Kona’s character.
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