Parkers overall rating: 3.9 out of 5 3.9
  • Cheaper 1.0-litre petrol works well
  • 1.6-litre petrol noisy with unresponsive auto
  • Diesel and all-electric models also available

Kona drivers have a choice between two turbocharged petrol engines and a hybrid. The 1.0-litre petrol seems like good value, while the 1.6-litre is more performance oriented. The hybrid seems expensive, but there are savings to be made because of the strong fuel economy, and the fact that it ducks out of low emission zones.

On the other hand, while the Kona Electric models are at the top of the pricing structure, they provide a range of up to 300 miles on a single charge. You can read more about that in the Hyundai Kona Electric review.

1.0 T-GDI petrol engine

The cheapest Kona comes with a turbocharged 1.0-litre engine. It may be small, but this motor does a good job of hauling the compact Kona around. Not only is the 1.0-litre the most affordable Kona engine choice, it also seems the best fit for the car. Ignore the engine’s minute size; a turbocharger makes sure that this motor provides a reasonable amount of shove from low engine speeds, with 120hp and 172Nm of torque on tap.

Taking 12.0 seconds to amble to 62mph, the Kona, however, does take an additional two seconds or so to hit the benchmark speed than rivals such as the equivalent 1.0-litre petrol SEAT Arona. Its top speed weighs in at 112mph, somewhat dented by the car’s bluff aerodynamics.

So if acceleration is important to you, or you often carry lots of passengers or heavy luggage, similarly priced rivals have more to offer. It picks up well and though it’s not as fast on paper as rivals, it still feels adequately nippy in most driving.

The gearchange is also very slick, meaning it’s no hardship to have to shift between the gears to maintain speed on steeper roads, or when going to overtake. Helping to make the 1.0-litre engine a good fit for the car is its smoothness and reasonably muted noise levels. This means that you can work it hard – as you need to do for brisk acceleration – without it feeling strained.

2019 Hyundai Kona engine

Claimed fuel economy, meanwhile, weighs in at 52.3mpg for all 1.0-litre models, bar the entry-level S version – which has smaller, lighter wheels – at 54.3mpg. While official figures are often not very realistic, the significantly faster 115hp 1.0-litre SEAT Arona returns figures around 3-5mpg higher in most cases. The 1.0-litre T-GDI Kona is the sweet spot in the range.

We’d avoid: 1.6-litre T-GDI turbo petrol engine

The 1.6-litre petrol engine feels much less suited to the Kona. Despite having around 50% more power – with 177hp and 265Nm available – it also has to haul around far more weight, thanks to the addition of an automatic gearbox and standard-fit all-wheel drive.

That means that despite a 0-62mph time that drops down to a nippy 7.9 seconds, it feels somewhat underwhelming in normal driving. Part of this is down to the automatic gearbox, which isn’t as slick or quick to respond as units in rivals such as the SEAT Arona. Of the three driving modes available with the automatic gearbox (Sports, Normal and Eco), the latter two don’t appear to make much difference, but put the former makes the transmission a lot more responsive.

This Kona can keep going until 127mph – way more than you’ll ever need on UK roads, though again, the boxy styling means this is less than you’d expect in a similarly sized hatchback with the same power. This means that you can expect acceleration to tail off at higher speeds compared with sleeker alternatives.

Meanwhile, the heavy all-wheel drive system feels unnecessary for a car like this, which is likely to be spend extremely little – if any – time off road, and it adds a number of its own disadvantages. Claimed fuel economy drops to a poor 42.2mpg thanks to the automatic-all-wheel-drive combination. This lags way behind a number of larger, more powerful and four-wheel drive automatic petrol models, including the Audi Q3 off-roader and BMW 3 Series Touring estate.

Worse than this, the 1.6-litre petrol is only available in range-topping form, making it extraordinarily expensive for a car in this class – at around £25,000. Yes, it’s stuffed with all the equipment you could ever want, but we’d expect a more refined engine and slicker automatic gearbox for the money. 

Hybrid a good diesel replacement

New for 2019 is the addition of a hybrid option. It essentially borrows the same 1.6-litre petrol engine and 32kW electric motor combination that the Hyundai Ioniq hybrid uses. Maximum output is 139hp and there's 265Nm of torque. Despite this wealth of torque, it never feels all that fast.

0-62mph is dispatched in 11.6 seconds, making it the second slowest Kona on offer. Mid-range grunt for overtaking is a bit more immediate than this time would indicate however. You certainly won't have to stress about safely overtaking a tractor on a country road.

Around town it's whisper quiet, with the transition from pure electric driving to petrol-powered smooth. This makes it very, very relaxing to drive. Under harsh acceleration though, the engine feels very coarse, and the gearbox unnecessarily harsh.

Transmission and all-wheel drive choices

The entry-level 1.0-litre petrol features a standard-fit six-speed manual gearbox, while the 1.6-litre petrol and hybrid get a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. The 1.6-litre petrol also gets all-wheel drive.

2019 Hyundai Kona gearknob

The hybrid, on the other hand, is only available with the power going to the front wheels. As for the electric Kona, it gets an automatic gearbox, too.

Which is better: petrol or hybrid?

As always with this question, it depends on your needs. The Kona comes with a range of turbocharged engines – consisting of 1.0-litre and 1.6-litre petrols plus, a hybrid. Cheapest is the 1.0-litre 120hp petrol, while the most economical is the 139hp hybrid.

All engines have been tuned for low engine speed punch to make them easy to drive with palatable fuel economy. Expect just above 50mpg for the 1.0-litre petrol and just under 40mpg from the 1.6-litre. The hybrid's official WLTP 'real world' figure is between 52.3 and 56.5mpg, and on our test drive, it easily achieved this.

Meanwhile, the most powerful – the 177hp 1.6-litre petrol – comes with all-wheel drive and a dual-clutch automatic gearbox as standard and is capable of accelerating to 62mph in a brisk 7.9 seconds. That makes this a bit of a wolf in sheep's clothing, and an unlikely way of surprising hot hatch drivers on the road.

If you're after the most economical Kona that'll be the now-discontinued diesel. The lower powered diesel should return 67.3 mpg, making it the most fuel efficient of the lot. Better start searching those used cars for sale.

How does it handle?

  • Satisfying drive with good comfort 
  • Nicely weighted steering
  • Not too much body roll

The taller a car is, the worse it generally takes corners, with more body roll, or stiffer suspension needed to keep it under control – so most small SUVs are handicapped in the handling department compared with ordinary superminis. The Kona, however, acquits itself well on twisty roads, with the precise steering generally providing a good sense of how much grip is level – but it can feel quite firm on the bumpiest of roads.

The Kona's characteristics much depend on what powertrain it has. In petrol guises, the Kona, acquits itself well on twisty roads, with the precise steering generally providing a good sense of how much grip is available – but it can feel quite firm on the bumpiest of roads.

On smooth roads the car soaks up bumps imperceptibly, though. Yes, the suspension is a little stiff, but it's been well set up. As a result, the 1.0-litre Kona drives like a much larger car, while the steering is light in normal driving, but weights up nicely around bends. Drive it fast, however, and you get less and less feedback through the steering about what the front tyres are up to – it's definitely happier with ordinary driving compared with higher speed driving.

On a twisty road, the Kona's stiffer suspension set-up (compared with other small crossovers) means body control is very good, with little roll felt through the bends. Couple that with well-weighted steering that feels responsive, and it's an enjoyable car to chuck around. The slick manual gearbox helps with this impression, too. However, that stiffer set-up equates to a firm ride, even on smoother road surfaces. The Kona picks up a lot of bumps in the road, but it's never too jarring or uncomfortable – just more noticeable than in something like a SEAT Arona. Stick with an SE for smaller 17-inch wheels compared with higher-spec 18s, as this offers a slightly more balanced and compliant sensation.

Hyundai Kona (2020) cornering, front view

The hybrid model has considerable weight added to it thanks to the batteries. The suspension has been softened considerably. The ride on smooth tarmac is exemplary, at town and motorway speeds.

It does however, lean in corners considerably. This is most present in a town situation, where for instance, you transition from a tight right corner to a left one. Admittedly, if flat steering is paramount to you, you're probably not in the market for a Kona.

Is the fastest Kona a hot hatch in disguise?

The 1.6-litre petrol provides a similar feel to the steering, though if anything the suspension isn’t quite as settled over rougher tarmac – potentially down to this being by far the heavier model. It’s not bad, but it lacks a little of the comfort found in the 1.0-litre. Another downside comes in the form of handling that is no sharper, despite the substantial amount of additional power.

As a result, you’re likely to find yourself at the edge of the 1.6’s grip much quicker than in smaller-engined models. Consequently, anyone expecting the 1.6-litre petrol to feel sporty will be disappointed. Detracting from the driving experience a little in both cases are large rear pillars which mean you need to take more care than expected to safely change lanes.

Hyundai Kona (2020) cornering, rear view