(Pocket-lint) - It's the era of the SUV crossover, with the Hyundai Kona looking to take a bite out of Nissan Juke territory, while taking on its Kia Stonic cousin (that car is built on the same platform, so is essentially much the same car, albeit not so good looking) to standout as the crossover king.
Given the breadth of bright colour options - you can go all-out on lime green and beyond, including colourful interior panel trim - Hyundai is clearly going for "fashion soft-SUV". With fashion being the theme: the on-the-street-and-heavily-camera-flashed female models on its official website (take a peek, it's worth it) seem to be heading for catwalk territory, oddly avoiding focus on the supposed star - the car itself. Maybe that's to avoid people noticing the Kona's rather pinched-up rear.
That said, the Kona's front and side proportions manage to combine would-be busy into a well-arranged and striking face, with soft curves to the sides juxtaposing some of the squinting harshness of those front headlights, to make for what we think is arguably the most striking crossover you'll see on the road. And we mean that in a good way: Hyundai has ticked the "something different" box to deliver more visual excitement than the Nissan Qashqai, Dacia Duster and pricier mid-tier SUVs of the world.
What can I customise?
While the overall design of the Kona is going to be something that grabs your attention for either the right or wrong reasons - that wide stance and cascading grille give it a dominant presence, as seen in our pictures - it's the colour options that, just like the Nissan Juke, are there to add a lick of fun and personalisation.
In the UK there are nine colours - Acid Yellow, Blue Lagoon, Chalk White, Dark Knight, Lake Silver, Phantom Black, Pulse Red, Tangerine Comet, Valvet Dune - so if those headlights aren't enough for you, then why not choose a bright orange coat of paint, eh?
That flash of colour can be reflected throughout the car, with vent, gear-lever and seat stitching available in grey, lime (we'll call that green), orange or red. Our top-spec Premium GT model kept a more somber grey interior, while going all-out on the tech options (more on that later), plus Phantom Black two-tone roof (Dark Knight is also available).
Overall, it's a bold yet sensible mix of colours, avoiding the potential mix-and-match mayhem of the Kia Stonic.
What's the interior like?
While the aforementioned Kia keeps things rather simple with a two-fold trim level - buy either the '2' or 'First Edition' in petrol or diesel options - Hyundai layers its options rather more. There are five core trim options: S, SE, Premium and Premium SE all feature the 1.0-litre (120ps) petrol engine; the Premium GT featuring the 1.6-litre (177ps) petrol engine with four-wheel-drive (4WD), making for a rare appearance in the B-segment SUV market and giving the Kona more off-road kudos than many of its rivals. Both are offered in 6-speed manual or 7-speed auto.
Which of those trim levels you select will considerably adjust what you'll find within the car, but even the entry-level model delivers a spacious, high-up place to sit and drive comfortably. That, in essence, is what an SUV crossover is all about, so if you're non-plussed about the tech then this is the more affordable route in compared to the Kia.
In terms of the Kona's rear space, all trim levels off a 60/40 split folding rear seats, while a 334-litre boot space is ample - but not the biggest going. If you want yet more space and more legroom for the kids, then something like the Nissan Qashqai will better suit your needs, without looking quite as much fun.
What tech is on offer?
The biggest difference the trim level will make is to the tech that you'll find inside. Hyundai isn't shy of offering some great kit, with our Premium GT featuring an abundance of extras: head-up display (HUD), 8-inch centre touchscreen with navigation (plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), driver's 4.2-inch digital instrument cluster, and plenty of safety assist features, including forward collision, rear cross traffic collision warning, emergency braking avoidance assist, lane-keep assist, and blind-spot collision warning. But that lot's around £26K all in, a full £10K more than the entry-level car.
Although we've not seen the S trim in the flesh, that comes with a tiny 5-inch monotone screen (yep, no colours here to reflect the bright exterior!), increasing to 7-inch colour touchscreen for the SE trim (but without navigation; although from this level and above there's Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), maxing out at the more desirable 8-inch touchscreen from Premium and above (which, mercifully, comes with navigation).
We can't help but think Hyundai might benefit from taking a leaf out of Kia's book when it comes to the tech department, by offering a slightly better baseline model. There's more to be had in the Kona than the Stonic, sure, but when considering what you get per pound spent it's the Kia that's the most logical.
Still, get the top-end Premium SE/GT and Hyundai has done a good job. The eight-speaker sound-system sounds great without the need to make too many equaliser adjustments, the screen is eminently usable thanks to a complement of buttons to aid its touchscreen use, the HUD adds a first for the Hyundai brand and is useful for keeping a second set of (virtual) eyes on roadsigns, while electric-controlled leather seats prove comfortable.
What's it like to drive?
Here's the bit where the Kona rather impressed us: in the drive. Sure, having all that top-end plush trim and tech, plus the 7-speed auto makes driving a breeze, but there's ample pep to haul this crossover up the road without bother (even in the lower-spec 1.0-litre arrangement).
It's a generally comfortable place to be - although 18-inch wheels are questionable, as they add firmness - with good visibility and a smooth enough ride, further aided by eco/comfort/sport driving modes (auto box only, of course).
We're not saying to expect sports-car performance by any means, though. Reality check: this is an SUV crossover. But it's not too stiff and wallowy, with light steering that'll make it a sensible family vehicle.
Later in 2018 there'll be a full electric (EV) version, too, which is something to look out for if you're extra emissions conscious.
If you're looking for an SUV crossover then there's a heap of choice out there. Whether Nissan Juke or Qashqai, Kia Stonic, Peugeot 2008 SUV, or pricier Audi Q3 and similar, there's something to suit everyone.
Of all those, however, we think Hyundai has done a sterling job in delivering a colourful and striking crossover, making it standout from the crowd (ok, so maybe for the wrong reasons from its rear quarters). Its options are a little more complex than its Kia Stonic cousin, however, which - although it adds greater versatility - pushes the price up by comparison, making it a tad expensive should you want something fairly basic like built-in navigation.
Overall, while it's no sports car to handle, the Kona acquits itself well for a crossover, while extending into the more capable SUV space thanks to all-wheel-drive (Premium GT only) to extend its appeal to a wider audience, not just those looking for a funky looking family motor.
Alternatives to consider
The Kia is built on the same platform, making it more-or-less the same car as the Hyundai. The Kia starts at £100 more, but there's a lot more standard tech at that base price, while the two-fold trim level keeps things simpler - and the First Edition offers aplenty for its sub-£20K price point. We don't think it's as good looking but, on balance, the Kia delivers better value overall.
Read the full article: Kia Stonic review
A bigger car, so arguably not a direct competitor, but you'll see lots of these on the road for good reason: they're ideal for karting families of four around in comfort, offer decent value for money and, in the latest guise, have a more contemporary look and feel, too.
Read the full article: Nissan Qashqai review