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Why you’re going to hear a lot about this new Kona SUV

I get the distinct impression people are confused by the sizes and prices of many new SUVs/crossovers. I say that with a little authority because I have people regularly asking if they should opt for a Skoda Kodiaq or a Volkswagen T-Roc, for example. Now with all due respect to the T-Roc, the Kodiaq is a much bigger car and its base price reflects this. More importantly it can be decked with three rows of seats for family motoring; the T-Roc is a two-row 5-seater at best. Yet, in some people’s parlance, both can be called a Compact SUV – I’ve heard them widely/loosely described as such. No wonder there is confusion. Part of the problem is that automakers are creating cars that span a couple of segments in terms of size and price. They are neither small-SUV nor Compact SUV. So they’re both. People are scratching their heads.
So I’m going to call this week’s review car, the Hyundai Kona, a small SUV. That’s what it is, basically. And it costs from €20,995 (though I expect the €22,995 version to be quite a seller). It is a rival for the likes of the Renault Captur, Nissan Juke and the KIA Stonic (a half-brother to the Kona but doesn’t have the same underpinning architecture).
I don’t know if it helps your focus but this is 4.165m long, 1.8m wide, 1.550m tall, with a 2.6m wheelbase. There’s a 361-litre boot (possible 1,143 if you fold the rear seats).
It’s not mad roomy inside but it’s decent for two smaller adults at the back. And there is an excellent driving position.
Hyundai’s larger SUV, the Tucson, is the best-selling car in the country so you have to respect its claim that this new arrival will top its class next year.
My one, in rather dull grey, was no show stealer but in brighter finery it is a smart looking motor. Looks play a huge part with these cars so take your time picking what you want, not what’s available.
More impressive, I felt, was the high level of equipment: air con, cruise control, lane keep assist as well as a healthy emphasis on connectivity.
I’d expect most people to go for the second-tier Executive-trim of 17ins alloys, Android Auto/Apple Car Play, auto air con, 7ins touchscreen/radio, rear-view camera. Impressive.
Initially I was disappointed to find myself driving a version few people will be bothered with: a 1.6-litre petrol with 7spd automatic transmission. It had on-demand 4-wheel drive and cost the guts of €30,000. There’s a perfect example of why people are getting confused -some price bands stretch inexorably. And, yes, you could buy a Skoda Kodiaq for that money.
But I was delighted to have the extra traction/grip to negotiate patchy icy/snowy roads in Kildare, Westmeath and Offaly over the few days of driving in Arctic conditions.
The engine to go for, I think, is the 3cyl 120PS 1-litre petrol. Don’t worry, there will be a diesel (and an electric at some stage) but it will not be here until the end of next year.
I feel a little petrol engine in a car like this is now an ideal mix for the urban comings and goings for which these cars are designed.
The vast majority of families who cover fewer than 15,000kms a year don’t need a diesel. Diesels cost more and if you don’t have high-rev work for them on a regular basis you’ll run into problems with a build-up of soot in the ‘afterburn’ area.
I’m sure the availability of four-wheel drive gave this a sharper, more sure-footed handing edge but who is going to notice that much in a car like this? No one is going to hammer them around the place. That said, this felt solid and sound in the course of ordinary driving.
There was more road noise than I would have liked but the engine kept itself to itself with admirable manners, enabling one swift return from the midlands.
But you know what? When you bring all these cars down to their basics you’re really looking for just a short list of requirements. It has to look well. The Kona scored moderately in my grey test car but high on other colours I’ve seen. It has to have good space and decent flexibility. My test car fared reasonably well on both. A well thought-out, crisp, clean dash/instrument panel is a prerequisite – reasonable in the test car: no one is reinventing the wheel.
So many cars tick so many of these boxes, I was looking for what sets the Kona apart. It is among the best to drive, of that I have no doubt, and it is particularly well decked-out with spec and trim.
But ultimately, the Kona is going to win buyers because it is highly proficient rather than massively appealing.
And it has, in this case, something we seldom mention in reviews: Hyundai’s ability to sell its cars to the max. You’ll know exactly what a Kona is and costs before too long. There’ll be no room for confusion.
Hyundai Kona small SUV; 1.6-litre 7spd auto petrol (153 g/km, road tax €390). From €28,995.
Also in lineup is a 1-litre at €20,995 (Comfort, €200 tax); Executive €22,995; Premium €25,995 (all 6spd).
Standard spec across the range includes lane keep assist, 5ins chrome screen, air con, cruise control, 16ins alloys, roof rails, LED running lights, driver fatigue warning. Executive has Android Auto/Apple Car Play, auto air con, 7ins touchscreen/radio, rear-view camera, 17ins alloys, front fogs. Premium 1-litre and 1.6-litre petrol add leather seats, 18ins alloys, front park assist, skid plates, blind spot detection.

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Is Stonic just the tonic?

Kia is getting massive international plaudits for its cars and moving very high on the reliability indexes. However, the awfully named Stonic – a blend of speedy and tonic, if you want to know – aims to capture owners’ hearts and minds as much as international juries.
Based on the very successful Rio platform, the Stonic wants to capitalise on the massive growth in the small crossover market which just in the last few weeks has seen the Volkswagen T-Roc, Seat Arona and Hyundai Kona join the fray where already cars like the Citroen C3, Nissan Juke, Renault Captur and Peugeot 2008 have a lot of fans.
Some commentators have wondered if they needed to do so as the Rio is already a great car and the Stonic hasn’t the eye-catching looks or size to really differentiate it, unlike its Korean cousin, the Hyundai Kona, which is also a size bigger.
However, I think there is massive potential in the Stonic, giving just that bit more while not being in-your-face aggressive.
It wasn’t a good week to be testing the Stonic. Our dog was on his last legs and while Sam usually gave a good review of Kia, because of the ease of using his ramp into the back seats, I doubted if his last whispers would be about the car he was wrapped up in. But in the dash across the city to the UCD night Vet Clinic and then picking him up at 6.30am the next morning, the car was just what we needed: Comfortable, accessible and with a first-class navigation system on board. Its bright red colour and pleasant looks even raised good comments from my partner amid her worry over Sam.
Yet it doesn’t have the premium feel of the Hyundai Kona which is reflected in the price disparity, yet when you get past the basic cost of €18,599 for the K1 1.2 petrol version, the amounts don’t look so bargain-basement. The higher spec K2 1.4 model is another €2.5k while many will gravitate to the K3 model at €22,599, which was what we were driving. The more zesty K4 model with a very nice 1.0 petrol turbo engine is yet another €2k and has the full array of safety equipment.
Diesel models have a €2,000 premium and with a car like this, you don’t want to be going there. There is an automatic on the way and I hope it won’t break the bank.
The luggage space is pretty average, but good enough and there is extra under a false floor and at least there was a proper spare.
I did like the simple and effective cockpit with its easy to use 7″ touchscreen.
Basically I found the Stonic a slick, confident and very precise drive. It would be very easily to live with. However, at the end of the day, it really isn’t that much bigger than the Rio and is very much a matter of being style over substance and perhaps a way of manufacturers taking – as is their right – advantage of a trend among consumers rather than giving anything new. Therefore I am still looking for the perfect small SUV and look forward to testing the VW T-Roc and Seat Arona in the New Year.
Yet despite my reservations, the Stonic still deserves to sell well among all the many competitors – although I’m a bit worried about the pricing policy and the name is awful.

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