Curbside Rental Review: 2021 Hyundai Kona Hybrid Premium – For Many, Competence And Convenience Will Win Out

What do you need from a hire car over two days and 350 miles? Safety, security, dependability, decently comfortable and spacious enough for those using it (in this case just one person and a laptop) – all these are pretty much givens for a modern car that has covered less than 6000 miles in seven months, and been fully maintained over its short life. Being straight forward to adapt to and use is good thing too. If you value competence and convenience, with competitive pricing and after sale support, there is a case to be made.

I have had just two days and 350 miles in a Hyundai Kona Hybrid Premium SE, courtesy of Avis. Perhaps surprisingly, this was my first Hyundai experience and, also, my first hybrid drive. The task was simple enough: 160 miles of mostly motorway and dual carriageway, some urban and suburban twiddle at the end, and return the next day. Not a tough ask, even if it didn’t feel quite like the car’s comfort zone.

The Hyundai range looks complex (or comprehensive if you wish). Alongside the Kona, there’s also the i20 and i30 hatchbacks and estates, aiming at the Ford Fiesta and Focus respectively, as well as the i10 city car. There’s the Bayon crossover, which appears to be almost exactly the same size as the more expensive and older Kona. Then there’s the larger Tucson and Sante Fe SUVs, the Ioniq Hybrid and the new Ioniq 5 BEV. And that’s before you look at Hyundai’s sister brand KIA, with the Niro, Stonic and Soul all in the same space as the Kona.

But first, a quick walk around the Kona Premium. This is a Czech built compact SUV crossover, built on a 102 inch wheelbase, so not actually that compact really. Size wise, it almost exactly matches the Ford Puma, VW T-Roc and VW family alternatives, and the Opel/Vauxhall Mokka, as well as other Stellantis offerings, and comes with torsion beam rear suspension on the front wheel drive versions and multi-link system on the four wheel drive models.  Engines are 1.0 turbo 4 cylinder, 1.6 and 2.0 litre 4 cylinder petrol engines and there’s also an all electric version; the diesel version was discontinued a couple of years ago. The hybrid is a 1.6 litre 4 cylinder linked to a 6 speed DCT gearbox and a 32kW electric motor, and in Premium trim comes in at £27105, £3000 more than a 120bhp 1.0 turbo at the same trim level.

The equipment level, to me, seemed to be pretty well comprehensive. Alloys, fog lights, contrast colour cladding, privacy glass, digital instrumentation pack, big screen, sat-nav, Sport mode and paddle shift, a decent quality of interior trim, auto lights and wipers, key less entry and button start, auto handbrake with an effective auto hold feature, and electric seat and steering wheel heating (also a first for me, and I suggest probably unnecessary outside Canada). Personally, I have no issue with manually adjustable seats and decent fabric seat trim. There was Bluetooth and USB connectivity, which shouldn’t be underrated for the users moving between cars (I’m looking at you, VW), and parking aids, a reversing camera and an external reversing bleeper. Truly, it was not missing anything I would have paid anything for, except possibly metallic paint and blind spot monitoring. The Fisher Price blue (Hyundai call it Dive Blue) was a bit much though, and the interior was compulsorily in various shades of black, and therefore bets described as sombre, mature or just quite dark.

The drive train is largely borrowed for the older Ioniq saloon, and from a user point of view you’d never know it was a hybrid if it weren’t for the “EV” warning light and the option to display graphics on charging and battery usage. Or maybe the second coolant system would give it away? I was expecting to audibly notice the switch from EV to charging and back again; in reality you don’t. Having said that, unless you made a conscious effort to not use any throttle, the electric mode was restricted to very low speeds and for short periods, and when you lift off in traffic.

Performance, one up with just a laptop and clean shirt for company, was perfectly suitable for British motorways and suburban routes. The pick-up and automatic gearbox were spot on – there seemed to be no hunting for gears, up or down. Sharp acceleration produced an audible effect that seemed not dissimilar to that of a CVT but the cruising and in traffic sound levels were perfectly acceptable. The CVT effect was emphasised by the lack of a rev counter, with a charge/eco/power gauge instead, at least in normal mode.

Accelerate strongly and the needle moved to 2 o’clock and stayed there until you lifted off, and then you remembered it was not a rev counter. Put it into the sport mode – a BMW like lateral nudge on the gear selector though intuitively set for right hand drive – and as the digital instruments changed to a garish red through a slightly distracting segue, a rev counter appeared, and the paddle change started working, alongside a gear selector option.

To be frank, this feature – certainly the paddle shift – seemed like a novelty few would bother with outside the need to lock the car into a low gear for a hill descent.

Given the nature of the journey, the timing and the weather I had little chance to really explore the handling but it seemed perfectly adequate albeit not exciting. More VW T-Roc or Vauxhall Mokka than the Ford Fiesta based Puma, then. Sport mode firmed up the steering but gave no more feel or real clue as to what was happening. Keen drivers will still opt for the Puma. The ride was also acceptable and didn’t seem to lose too much for the relatively large wheels. Motorway refinement was also completely acceptable, if unremarkable.

So, to drive and ride in the Kona is competitive, if not outstanding in any particular area. No huge successes but no huge failures either. Competent, overall competitive, but not pacesetting.

But one area where the car did score well was in convenience and ease of use. Bearing in mind I had no warm up or manual time (or indeed manual, Avis keep those tucked away), I quickly got everything I wanted to work, to work.  The seat was easy to adjust (are electric seats of any use for those who don’t share their cars frequently?), the radio was easy to get to BBC Radio 4 or to play a podcast, the adaptive cruise control was easy to set, and soon gave me confidence that it was looking out better than a VW system,  the sat-nav was straightforward and accurate – at 7.20am it said I would arrive at 10.55 and I arrived at 10.54, having followed its guidance on an unusual diversion – and the heating and air conditioning easy to set with the luxury of real buttons and the wipers worked well.

The digital instruments graphics, aside from unnecessary distracting colours for normal and sport, were practical and easily fathomed, with an option of digital speedo, navigation instructions or real time charging data in the central slot. The second central screen, for the audio and navigation was clear and high enough to use reasonably easily. There were some good points – although it was easy to link a phone, you can’t do it when moving for instance – and some weaker ones – Bluetooth sound quality was not great apparently, though that may have been the phone. The seat was easy to adjust, the wheel moved through a good sized arc and the mirrors were large and clear, even if the side windows did seem to get dirty quickly. The lane departure warning was effective, but not intrusive. The only missing item I’d have liked added was a blind spot monitor.

Space inside was absolutely fine, for the outside size. Passengers would not bump shoulders, and there was leg and head space for me to sit behind myself. In line with the standard set by Jim Klein, I will report that I am 5 foot 11.5 inches, or six British feet with my Skype headset on, with what Marks and Spencer call medium length legs, and was wearing blue trousers. There are seat belts for three in the back, which might be a squeeze, retracting rear head restraints and a full suite of airbags and ISOFIX points. I could travel back there but wouldn’t opt for a 3 hour slog behind myself, so to speak. Boot space was adequate but not exceptional, and the space under the floor designed to take a spare wheel that was not supplied was largely occupied by a plastic moulding holding the wheel brace and jack. A bit of imagination could have placed a more useful tray there.

And that point towards to an overall conclusion about the Kona. 160 miles, three and half hours at 75-80mph when I could and stop-start when I couldn’t on a wet motorway seemed to be taking the car out of its comfort zone. Later that day, in suburban and urban environments and at lower speeds, it seemed happier, the hybrid part of it seemed to have a purpose, the convenience of the reversing camera, parking sensors, compact size and prompt getaway were all in play. Overall, over the two days and 350 miles, I recorded 55 miles per UK gallon (46 US mpg).

If that’s what you need and the use you’d give it, I suspect you’d be well satisfied. You might not get knowing glances from enthusiasts, or indeed any glances, you might not get that hot date and you might wish for a bit involvement on the weekend leisure trip, but I’m pretty confident you’d be satisfied. It’s competent, it’s convenient to use and well executed in many respects, and for many people (perhaps not following CC as closely as you and I) that’s what is wanted.

So, the decision point. Should you buy one? I must say I found the pricing a bit of shock – this car is listed at £27,105, with all the features I have mentioned. For reference this is about 90% of the UK median salary, and the US price for a 2 litre car with auto transmission seems to be about $26,500, or closer to 50% of median salary – just sayin’. There are in fact no available options, except metallic paint. A Ford Puma Titanium with the 1.0 Ecoboost Hybrid and a 7 speed automatic optioned to a similar level would be £26,645; a VW T-Cross 1.0TSi auto around £27,000, plus any paint (I kid you not – all paint colours are extra cost) and a “tool kit including jack”, the deliberately style conscious Vauxhall Mokka £28,550 with no sat-nav. Perhaps I need to reset my ideas of car pricing? Maybe, but the evidence suggests that if you want this sort of the car, then Hyundai offer some competitive value for money too. Convenient, competent, value for money, good warranty and probably reliable. That will suit an awful lot of people, even if it didn’t quite match with me.

For a car I’m not likely to buy and if you’re not a Curbivore, recommendations don’t come much better than that. But don’t get excited.