When you turn up late to a party, but do not like the idea of getting lost in the crowd, what do you do? You make sure you make a memorable entrance, by wearing something that helps you stand out, maybe? That’s exactly what Hyundai has done with the Kona. While the South Korean carmaker has had family oriented utility vehicles like the Santa Fe, Tucson and the Creta in its line-up, none of these were targeted at a young, fun-loving clientele. The lack of a perky B-segment SUV was apparent as rivals like Nissan, Mazda and Renault were luring young, savvy drivers with their sporty offerings. The Kona is more or less similar in size to the Creta, however it stands out from the rest of its siblings as well as other contenders in its class with its atypical styling.

Although the lines aren’t as outrageous as that of a Nissan Juke, the Kona is a striking looking CUV. It manages to look sleek, stylish and aggressive at the same time. Anchoring the fascia is the brand’s signature Cascading Grille, with a mesh pattern, flanked by narrow headlights and a composite light cluster below it as seen in the new Santa Fe. The rear also looks sharp with slim taillights, and light clusters below them on either side. Some might find the surplus of elements and lines on the exterior polarising, but I feel the designers have succeeded in bringing about an overall cohesiveness among these features.

Less subjective is the cabin design, which has been kept relatively more straightforward. Although simpler in layout, the cabin uses materials of perceptibly decent quality. Even hard plastics do not feel or look tacky like in Hyundai models of yore. For a vehicle of such modest proportions, the Kona is surprisingly roomy in the front, with the impressively supportive buckets making it a really comfy space for two adults. However, it’s a different story at the back, where despite reasonably comfortable seats, legroom is tight for adults of above-average height.

 

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Photos: Stefan Lindeque

The Kona will be offered in our market with a choice of two petrol engines: a 2.0-litre four-cylinder producing 149 horsepower and 179Nm of torque and a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-pot making 177 horsepower and 265Nm of torque. While the latter is obviously the range-topper and presumably the one to go for, the one we’re testing today is the former, naturally aspirated version, which isn’t a bad unit by any measure. In fact, if the turbo option wasn’t available, I would still have recommended this variant as it’s got enough thrust to lug the compact Kona around with ease in the city or highways. Here it’s mated to a six-speed auto, driving the front wheels, while the 1.6-litre is coupled with a seven-speed dual clutch ‘box. No all-wheel drive variant is sold here. It’s not the most comfortable ride in the segment, as Hyundai seems to subscribe to the idea that sportiness equates to stiffness. There are two drive modes, Sport and Normal, and the car feels a bit high strung in both. It handles well enough in Normal, with Sport only making the steering feedback feel artificially firm.

A heartening fact about the Kona is that it comes equipped with six airbags across trim levels. Unlike many other makes and models in this range, most of the safety features are provided as standard irrespective of the variant you buy. That’s a great decision as the Kona has ra five-star rating from Euro NCAP.

Prices start at Dh62,800 for the base 2.0-litre model, going up to Dh79,600 for the fully loaded version. Meanwhile, the 1.6-litre turbo powered model retails at a significantly higher price of Dh88,000. If you are in the market for a stylish, fun to drive, compact crossover and your budget stretches to 80,000, the top-spec 2.0-litre GLS is a great option.

 

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