KONA has quite a few meanings.

It’s origins are said to be ancient Scandiwegian, where it meant ‘wife’ but its also means ‘yellow’ in Japanese, and it’s the name of the Hawaiian village where the Ironman competition is held.

From there, it was adopted as the name for a superb – and very expensive brand of coffee – plus it’s the short form for the Irish name O’Connor in Fiji and now it’s one of Hyundai’s hottest new models.

The small SUV, with frontal looks possibly inspired by the phidippus audax four-eyed jumping spider, comes in two versions that look alike, but are quite different under the skin.

There are in fact 10 versions of Kona, five with a 110kW/180Nm 2.0litre engine, six-speed  transmission, a basic torsion beam rear suspension and priced from $24,500 and another five with a 130kW/265Nm 1.6litre turbo, 7-speed DC Trannie, better multi-link springing and all wheel drive.

Buyers also have the choice of Active, Elite or Highlander trim.

Our steed? The top-ranking $36,000 Kona Highlander.

It’s an eye-arresting vehicle with its underslung LED headlights, high-mounted daylight running lights and fog lights on the outer extremities.

It has two-tone paint, black wheel guards protecting those striking 18-inch alloys and a jaunty tail that adds to its chutzpah.

Inside, it’s colour coded to the exterior paint and even the stitching and seatbelts are colour matched.

There’s ample room for four in the leather-trimmed cabin, a tad tighter in the back, with easy entry and egress via the wide-opening doors and it comes with a lot of features to keep drivers and passengers more than happy. The boot is of 361-litre capacity and has a cargo net to keep the milk bottles upright.

There’s a regular speedo, but touch a dashboard button and wee screen pops up in front of the driver to reveal a clear head-up display.

The powered front seats can be heated or cooled, the steering wheel with its function buttons can also be heated, it has wireless phone charging and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, a 7.0-inch touchscreen and a smaller  digital instrument cluster, a big glass sunroof and a decent infotainment system.

Well, the whole car is pretty sporty, with a trio of drive modes that make quite a difference, and in Sport it was a hoot.

The pep is matched by good brakes with perfectly placed pedals and that accurate steering and a 10.6m turning circle all contribute to the car’s appeal.

It scoots to 100km/h in a claimed 7.9 seconds (we got 8.1 on our hand-held old skool wind-up stopwatch) and it cruises along the highways at 110km/h without any effort.

Handles well too.

It’s primarily an urban vehicle, but standard fare includes a centre differential lock, just in case it gets stuck in the muddy patch at the end of your driveway.

The ride is Euro-firm, it feels well planted through the corners and runs like an eager rabbit in Sport mode.

Official fuel usage figure is 6.7litres/100km, but we used a bit more to record 8.5 on our travels, most of it in Sport because we like to have smiles on our faces.

Warranty? Five years, unlimited distance. More smiles.

Verdict: Stylish, sporty and sophisticated, the Kona 1.6 is a joyous little full-featured SUV, well built and near faultless.


Don't Like

  • Great looks
  • Eager engine
  • Fast DC transmission
  • Big warranty
  • Fully featured
  • Safety systems
  • What?


  • Looks
  • Performance
  • Safety
  • Thirst
  • Practicality
  • Comfort
  • Tech
  • Value