The Hyundai Kona enters the small-sport utility vehicle segment with a big bang
Feisty debut The Hyundai Kona 1.6 Turbo offers a zippy ride and a long list of features. ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Hyundai's Kona has a hip and modern design, offers a surprisingly feisty drive and is adequately roomy and generously equipped for a subcompact.

As the South Korean brand's first small crossover, it is a creditable debut, leaving a positive and lasting impression on almost every front.

In form, function and price point, it competes in a growing arena populated by cars such as the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR, Nissan Qashqai, Jeep Renegade and Opel Mokka X.

Barring the C-HR, which has not yet been reviewed here, the Kona is, on the whole, the most appealing car of the lot.

The HR-V, although remarkably well-packaged, has become too common (no thanks to its Vezel private-hire twin). The Renegade has old-school charm, but that is not something for everyone. And the Mokka X is only available only as a diesel model.

The Kona's closest rivals would be the Qashqai and the CX-3. But neither comes close to matching the Hyundai's performance. The Hyundai also offers more amenities than the Nissan and more room than the Mazda.

Size-wise, the Kona sits between the Volkswagen Golf and Polo. But its wheelbase is closer to the Golf's. At 2,600mm, it is exceptionally long for a vehicle its size. Raised front seats and a flattish floor give rear occupants more legroom. Headroom is also fairly decent, even for someone taller than 1.7m.

Space for passengers has not compromised its cargo-carrying capacity. The boot can accommodate two full-size suitcases. If more stowage is required, the rear seats can be folded flat. You can collapse the seatbacks from the boot area, but you will need to reinstate them by reaching through the rear doors.

Even with five on board, the Kona is zippy, with an extra bounce in its step if its all-wheel-drive lock is disengaged. The car responds to a light throttle and hums along effortlessly at around 1,500rpm, where its peak torque of 265Nm is accessible.

At the wheel, it feels more like a hatchback than a crossover, especially in the way it negotiates bends. Its ride is sportily firm, but not punishing. Around corners, it resists roll admirably.

Its only weakness here is a coarseness which arises from around 4,000rpm - something which Hyundai could have addressed with better insulation.

Elsewhere, the way the doors open is also a slight bother. The mid-angle catch is stiff and prone to rebound - not a good thing.

The car has many other good things, though, such as cruise control, dual-zone climate control, electrically adjustable driver's seat, six airbags, drive mode select, infotainment with phone pairing, tyre pressure monitor, hill descent control and LED lighting. It even has contactless phone-charging.

Lastly, the Kona is a stylish-looking car. In fact, it is probably the best looker among the players in this segment. Combined with its punchy performance and long list of features, it is set to be a winner.