Do small SUVs have the personality of a toast rack?
ONE of the problems I have with the endless range of small SUVs on the market is that they usually have all the personality of a toast rack.
There seems to be a new one launched every month and the truth is, in the main, they’re all pretty good. But they also seem to be unapologetically dull a lot of the time.
There’s a few exceptions to this, however, and the latest one I’ve found is the surprisingly interesting Hyundai Kona.
In the right colour – white’s good, and there’s a funky lurid yellow – I think it’s one of the best-looking cars in its sector. By a long way.
The other big surprise with Hyundai’s newcomer is its handling. Small SUVs get away with safe and unremarkable road manners because drivers of these particular cars tend to be safe and unremarkable people.
Now, I agree, that’s a generalisation and it appears Hyundai also thinks that, because they’ve created a small SUV that feels as nimble and fun as a well-sorted hatchback.
OK, so I realise the exterior styling won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I admire Hyundai for taking a bold step. I like the chunky black plastic, the distinctive squinty headlights and that big, bold main grille.
The interior, to be honest, is less of a visual assault. There’s a lot of black plastic, and little of the carefree design flair you’ll find on the exterior. That said, it’s a nice place to sit and everything works in a functional way. So it’s a bit of an extrovert. Practical, but with a fun side. A librarian in brightly-coloured tie-dye, you might say.
The engine range is fairly conventional too. There’s an electric version on the way, but the current choice is a 1.6-litre diesel and two excellent petrol engines. The one-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged unit in my test car was superb. Plenty of power and a rather pleasing but not intrusive “thrum”.
You can choose from automatic and manual gearboxes, and front-wheel-drive or all-wheel drive, but while it sounds like there’s an extensive choice of drivetrain, there’s a good chance you’ll find you can’t mix and match as freely as you’d like. Choose your setup wisely.
The simple fact is that the Kona is at its best with the one-litre engine, front-wheel-drive and with a modest spec. Anything too fancy and it can start to get expensive. Don’t be greedy and you’ll have a really nice car on your hands for a reasonable amount of cash.
Space in the front is good, but space in the back is beaten by quite a few rivals. Boot space is only average, but it’s acceptable given the size of the car.
The interior is comfortable, generally, but there’s an array of different plastics and none of them have a premium feel to them.
That said, the steering and gearbox are perfectly set up and weighted and visibility is better than you might think, given the shape of the body.
As I said though, the highlight is the handling. The suspension is firm, but not uncomfortable and this unlocks a setup that rewards spirited driving. Remarkably, I’ve had more fun in the Kona than I’ve had in many of Hyundai’s hatchbacks – even from some competitors’ so-called hot-hatches, for that matter. It’s a surprise hoot.
So it might not be the most practical small SUV on the market, but I applaud Hyundai for not peddling another humdrum clone and for delivering something different.
Its looks might not be to everyone’s taste, but thanks to its sweet driving experience, they’re not the only reason you might want to buy one.