Let's start this story with the Nissan Juke.
That, undoubtedly, will seem very odd. And the reason is because the Juke really kickstarted a design revolution for the unconventional. The Juke's look inside and out may be a love it or hate it kind of affair, but it's easily recognizable, most notably with the way it stood out thanks to the liberties Nissan's design team took with the arrangement of the double decker lights. The daylight running lamps are the LEDs up top, while the headlights are those big lamps on the bumper.
The success of the Juke has led to many other car companies experimenting with their own unique flavors, some of which do take a similar approach to light arrangement. When Jeep relaunched the Cherokee line in 2013, they had a similar lighting system. When Citroen launched the C3 in 2017, they had it too.
When Hyundai came out with this, the Kona, in 2017 the story was they same, but they executed it in their own different way.
There's actually so much to talk about with the Kona's looks. Perhaps the reason is that it's so strikingly different than anything else from Hyundai.
The shape and appeal is distinctly that of a crossover's; five doors, somewhat upright, a little extra ride height and some cladding here and there. What does make the Kona look out of the ordinary are the stacked/double decker/split headlights, or whatever you wish to call them. And no, the main lights aren't on top, it's mounted on the bumper (a la Mitsubishi Xpander). As for the grill, its geometry reminds us a bit of the shape bordering Superman's S, and comes with a slim mini nostril grill above it.
But perhaps what we like most was the appliqué of the black plastic cladding on the lime green body panels; a neat and funky attempt to make the Kona more SUV-ish. We also like the way the front fender cladding extends forward and forms the housing for the headlamps on the bumper. The same goes for the extension of the rear wheel well cladding to house the light cluster on the rear bumper; thats where the rear fogs, the reverse lamp, and the turn indicators are. The way the side skirt cladding extends upward into the bumper is also nice, along with the black trim that creates a nice separation on the C-pillar. Hyundai says it's supposed to mimic a sharks fin. Well, if they say so.
For all the quirks of the exterior, the cabin is, unusually enough, rather conventional. Inside, it's pretty much all black, dark gray, and with silver accents. I actually wondered if I got inside the correct vehicle because the exterior seemed a bit too plain considering the exterior. Images of foreign examples of the Kona actually showed that Hyundai did put some color-keyed (same color as the body) trim accents inside. Rather unfortunately, it's not so for the local-spec models. It could really do with a bit more color inside.
Nevertheless, I do like what Hyundai did with the Kona's cabin. After all, being conventional doesn't necessarily mean boring. It can be a good thing too since everything feels and looks natural (and familiar) to the driver. The ergonomics of the controls feel nice, the surfaces have a nice texture about them, and the buttons are indeed of good quality. I like the layout of the center stack with the multimedia system jutting out from the dashboard, the airconditioning vents just below along with the A/C controls, and then the USB, auxiliary sockets, and 12-volt ports at the bottom.
The more I look around at the features, the more I like how they specced the Kona. They're only offering one variant of the gas-powered Kona which is this GLS, and it comes with all the essentials like anti-lock brakes, two airbags in front, an audio unit with Bluetooth connectivity and handsfree telephony. But, for the price, Hyundai did surprise us with a bit more on the spec sheet - things like side and curtain airbags (a total of 6 airbags), cruise control for those long drives on our ever expanding expressway network, a smart key that you can keep in your pocket, and a tire pressure monitoring system. The A/C system is not an automated climate control unit, but that's okay; I prefer the more classic A/C system anyway. If there's one thing that's out of place, it was the audio head unit. I find it odd that it's still not a touchscreen, especially now that that's practically the norm.
As a city commuter, the Kona is rather pleasant to drive. It's comfortable, clearly made to meet very high standards given the absence of rattles and creaks, and is highly maneuverable in tight spaces. The little crossover even has some pep to it, and that's thanks to the 2.0-liter gasoline engine under the hood that makes 149 horsepower. The engine is a big leap forward from the Juke given that it only has a naturally aspirated 1.6L. The Kona responds rather quickly to my input, and doesn't have the laggy turbo of the 1.4L in the similarly-sized Chevrolet Trax. If anything, the size of the engine and the quick response of the 6-speed auto gives it a somewhat similar feel to the CX-3 with its 2.0-liter motor; the only exception being the Kona GLS is a front drive affair unlike the AWD versions of the Mazda that we drove earlier.
Perhaps the thing that surprised us the most about the Kona was its fuel economy. We normally wouldn't expect a 2.0-liter to return high efficiency numbers. But at an average of 18 km/h, the Kona was doing around 8.9 km/l; pretty good figures for city driving, even more impressive given its engine size. On the highway, that improves to 16.6 km/l, which was achieved with two passengers on board, averaging 90 km/h. Perhaps the reason behind that is the configuration of the engine; it's an Atkinson cycle engine. Those who have driven a Prius would know that Toyota's hybrid system uses an Atkinson cycle engine (the intake valves are still open in the compression stroke) as opposed to a pure Otto 4-stroke engine, and the reason is because the former has improved fuel economy than the latter. The Kona may not be a hybrid, but that doesn't mean it can't benefit from the improved efficiency of an Atkinson engine, though that comes at the expense of overall power.
So far, so good then; but what about delivering driving pleasure? When driven at higher speeds on a winding road, the Kona doesn't disappoint. No, you won't get much in terms of that old-school hydraulic power steering feedback from the electrically-assisted power steering system, but the Kona does have quite a bit of agility dialed into it. Brake hard and you'll notice that it slows down well; all four corners have disc brakes in the Kona. Toss it into a corner and it will turn fairly cleanly, never feeling out of its element unless you really overcook the speed. The suspension works well to prevent unwanted stress from entering the cabin, but it also manages well when it comes to keeping the Kona neatly controllable if you want to have a bit of fun in the corners.
Life is too short to drive boring cars, or so the saying goes. Normally they would interpret it to mean you-should-go-out-and-buy-a-sports car. I disagree. I think it just means we should drive cars that have an innate character about them; it just so happens that you can now find it several vehicles from several diverse classes. The Kona is a good example of it.
For PhP 1,118,000, the Kona GLS has a lot of check marks on our evaluation sheet particularly in terms of visual appeal, practicality, and the clean way it delivers its drive. It's one of those few vehicles wherein it's really difficult to find fault, and when you do, it's really just a matter of preference, not an actual fault.
Some would say it's no good because there's no all-wheel drive, but who needs it in an urban setting? Some would find fault in it not having a climate control system or a touchscreen audio unit, but they're not exactly essentials; more of luxuries. Some folks say the cargo space is too small, but it's fine for everyday in town for getting groceries and shopping. And you can still fold down the rear seats.
All in all, it's well priced and specced, comfortable and refined, practical, and easy on gas. It's everything you need in a car and the best part is, it's wrapped in a stylish package.