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One car, two critics: Hyundai Kona Highlander

It’s taken Hyundai longer than expected to join the compact SUV class but it’s up and running with the Kona, named after a stretch of Hawaiian coastline. The Kona shares its platform with the i30 hatch and there are eight versions priced from $27,000 to compete with a wide range of rivals including the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Subaru XV and Toyota CH-R.


ALI: Why do we have the Kona again? I like it but …

PAUL: It’s an important car and we started with the basic Active with a 2.0-litre engine and now we’ve got the flagship Highlander with 1.6-litre petrol turbo engine and twin-clutch gearbox. We’ve also jumped from $27,000 drive-away to nearly $38,000 on the road.

ALI: This one looks a lot brighter, with the green paint job and the black roof. It seems to have everything. But what’s important?

PAUL: Apart from the engine, which is perkier, it also adds important safety gear including auto safety braking, blind spot warning and lane keeping assist. You can get that in a safety pack that’s $2000 extra on the Active.

ALI: What about …

PAUL: Yes, yes, it has Apple CarPlay.

ALI: No, I’m wondering how the price compares to the Subaru XV. It’s pretty much my favourite in this class.

PAUL: The Subaru starts at $31,490 drive-away, so it’s a fair bit more costly at the bottom.


PAUL: I found the basic Kona a bit bland inside — but definitely roomy for the class, which is probably because it’s based on the i30.

ALI: It has more space inside than the Mazda CX-3 I’ve been driving but the body doesn’t seem any bigger.

PAUL: I think Hyundai has done a great job on the cabin space.

ALI: The seats are comfortable. I like the colour-matched seat belts in the Highlander but wonder whether green belts will get dirty quicker than black. It could be just a gimmick.


ALI: Vision is great and it feels quiet enough. It had a little chug occasionally when I was braking, as if it was angry about slowing down.

PAUL: That’s probably the programming in the double-clutch gearbox. Did you notice it in the previous car, which was a regular automatic?

ALI: No. Not that it’s a big problem.

PAUL: It just shows that the turbo package is more for sporty driving, and it has 18 per cent more power and 47 per cent more torque than the 2.0-litre auto.

ALI: It feels solid, reminds me of a Subaru.

PAUL: So Subaru news is good?

ALI: Yes, they are quite a sturdy car and I’ve never heard anyone complaining about them. They have long legs.

PAUL: What does that mean?

ALI: You can keep it for a long time and drive it into the ground without worrying about things going wrong or breaking.


ALI: Plenty of space in the back. It’s got more rear legroom than I thought.

PAUL: It is good on space but I’m a bit disappointed about the space-saver spare.

ALI: In the boot it’s got the luggage net, which is handy. That should be standard in all of these little SUVs.

PAUL: I think it should be standard in all SUVs, as we always seem to have something sliding around in the back.

ALI: The CarPlay worked fine for me. The infotainment is good.


PAUL: The ride and handling are great. Best in class, for me. More proof that doing local tuning pays off. But I don’t see any benefit in the all-wheel drive with the turbo engine.

ALI: For a car of its type and class, I think it hugs the road really well. I don’t love the steering wheel, though. I find it a bit like a weak handshake, without enough to grip.

ELI: When dad and I went for a long trip it was really good. I like it.


PAUL: It’s not huge but it works.

ALI: They have done very well to create a car that’s comparable to rivals, then differentiated it with unique colours and theming.

PAUL: It’s not overdone. And it drives really well.

ELI: I love it. The colours are great.


ALI: Tick. I’d have it over the CX-3 and XV as well. At the end of the day, price is king.

PAUL: Tick for me too. For someone who likes to drive, it’s best in class.


PRICE From about $37,775 drive-away (solid value)

SERVICE 5 years/unlimited km, $1405 for 5 years (typically strong)

ENGINE 1.6-litre 4-cyl turbo, 130kW/265Nm (enjoyable perky)

SAFETY 6 airbags, auto safety braking available (safety pack should be standard)

FUEL 6.7L/100km (good for the performance)

SPARE Space-saver (disappointing)

BOOT 361L-1143L/ (good for the class)

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