Test drive: Hyundai Kona 1.6 Turbo

By thoriq, 04 December 2020

OVERVIEW - What is it?

The Kona sees Hyundai enter a segment where no less than three Japanese brands have somewhat thrived, though one in particular, incidentally H-named too, has ruled for some time now.

Despite being a fully imported (CBU) offering, the sub-RM150k price tag the Kona range commands does make it somewhat desirable. That, along with an arsenal of on board features mirroring pricier alternatives, as well as its distinct styling, is a breath of fresh air in this segment to say the least.

Though we barely covered 150km over a brief three-day test stint in one recently, there was plenty to garner and savour, along with just a little to gripe about. Featured here is the 1.6 Turbo flagship that, as expected, packs all the bell and whistles.

As far as exterior looks go, the amount of eyeballs (socially-distant ones, of course) it caught wherever we went with it, and the subsequent reactions of approval that came with most after, was enough indication. Though some may find it a little 'overstyled', the Kona's innards are thankfully not – more on this later.

There's enough 'go' to match the 'show' too. This range-topper packs a class-leading 175bhp and 265Nm from a 1.6-litre 4cyl turbocharged and direct-injected heart. Said figures power the front wheels via a 7-speed DCT automatic – 2.0-litre non-turbo variants slotted below also boast 'respectable' 140bhp and 180Nm figures, by the way.

Up to this point, it seems Hyundai haven't just got something of substance to fight the Honda HR-V, they've also blessed it with a matching flair in its delivery too.


DRIVING - What is it like on the road?

The Honda HR-V 1.8 RS, with its Civic Type-R-derived VGS (Variable Gear Ratio) steering suite, delivers all the dynamism one expects. However, the Kona comes a close second here, and we meant that as a complement really.

As far as ride and handling go, the Kona's on-road mannerisms are generally good to say the least, feeling taut yet balanced to match the pep available, arguably just a little more refined over the segment-ruling Honda. Otherwise, there really isn't much to loathe here.

As expected, the way the powertrain delivers all its pep on the black top felt slick and refined. This is largely the work of its near-German-esque 7-speed DCT box – VW DSG, eat your heart out! Also, it's safe to say this is a rather more pleasant affair compared to the CVTs that's all too common in this segment too – ahem, HR-V and C-HR.

What didn't bode well for us was the powertrain's slight roughness and tightness, but we'll note that the unit we drove was barely ran-in – just under 800km on the odometer when we picked it up. Still, given how most new generation Hyundai (and Kia) models tend to age, this is not a deal-breaker.

What could be, ironically, is the autonomous emergency braking (AEB) feature present in this range-topper. Specifically, it's the system's hyper-sensitivity that gets to us. This is arguably easy to resolve by simply switching it off, with our gripe motly fuelled by the lack of time for us to get used to it.


If anything, it should provide some peace of mind. After all, it is accompanied with a a blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning and mitigation (steering correction), as well as adaptive cruise control. Altogether, it all make this range-topping form of the Kona not only the segment's peppiest, they also arguably make it the safest too – a huge bonus indeed.

ON THE INSIDE - Layout, finish and space

We'll address the most striking bit here first, by which we mean the lime green dash accents and seat stitching. This motif is paired exclusively with the 'Chalk White' exterior colourway pictured. You'll get grey accents instead if you opt for either of the two blue exterior colour choices available, and red accents when opting for either the red or black exterior colour options.

As striking as it appears, especially over the dash's gloss black sub-accents and the primarily blacked-out cabin, it's surprising how quickly it all grew on us, more so with colleague and editor Daryl Loy. “It's less predictable and, you have to admit, has loads more character,” he argues. This writer somewhat agrees on the 'less predictable' bit.

That aside, there's again little to loathe in terms of on board space and comfort levels. There's enough of the former's to bolster the latter, along with the plush leather seat upholstery and the all-important high noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) suppression levels.

Hyundai didn't disappoint in this range-topper in terms of features count. Key novelties include a heads-up display (HUD), 7-inch touchscreen boasting Apple and Android connectivity, wireless smartphone charging pad, ample count of USB ports to charge plenty of devices, automatic climate control, power-adjustable seats, as well as keyless entry and ignition.

If we were to nitpick, perhaps the Kona's standard and extended (with rear seats folded) cargo space isn't as voluminous nor flexible as the segment-leading Honda, which has rear seats that fold up and down.


OWNING - Running costs and reliability

Hyundai Sime Darby Motors (HSDM) currently offers special 'introductory' prices of RM115,888 (2.0), RM130,888 (2.0 Active) and RM143,888 (1.6 Turbo, as tested). Sure, not substantial slashes from their respective full-blown (and taxed) RM123,888, RM138,888 and RM151,888 figures, but we reckon there are enough folks already tempted with both sets of prices.

With the amount of tech and features it packs, especially in range-topping form, the Kona is actually much more comparable to the Mazda CX-30 than Honda's HR-V 1.8 RS. This alone should be the key driving force in bolstering the Kona's prospects, more so given how much more said Mazda costs over this Korean fighter too.

As for daily driving economy, Hyundai's claims of a 6.3 litres/100km (NEDC) average is decent. Though we saw a higher 8.7 litres/100km average reading over our three-day stint, we'll remind you again the car we drove was barely ran-in. Even so, thee potential is nonetheless present, and that should make the Kona as good, if not better, than its rivals.


There's no hiding the fact that Hyundai's got its work cut out to fight in what we reckon is 2020's 'other' hotly-contested segment. There's both the long-ruling Honda and a hot new local offering with bargain-basement pricing to fight against. Take the latter out of the equation and, aptly, the Kona is a welcoming new fighter in the eyes of many who don't mind a slight premium.

Tired and bored of the predictable choice from Honda? Then the Kona is the best answer, really, especially in range-topping 1.6 Turbo form as tested. For the price it commands, it's desirably packed with slightly more tech and pep to bask in over its key Honda rival, and it delivers it all with bucket-loads of character through its striking style than a certain similarly-priced Toyota rival.

Tempted to 'layan' Kona now?

Kona anyone can 'layan'?
We surely think so...



Levels of tech, plush luxuries and pep. Arguably a very stylish alternative too.

A tad bit pricey, 'over-eager' AEB, and not as practical nor spacious as the HR-V.

SCORE 8/10