A little surprisingly, there still aren't many full-Hybrid small SUV crossovers on the market - just conventional models, mild hybrids and full-electric contenders. But Hyundai, borrowing the engineering first seen in the Kia Niro, has carved out a useful niche for itself with this Kona Hybrid model. Here's the second generation version, which offers more space, greater sophistication and smarter looks. Sounds promising.
The Kona small SUV, named after the island of Hawaii's Kona district, has proved to be one of Hyundai's strongest-selling models. It was first launched in 2017 with a range of petrol and diesel engines, then a full-electric battery-powered EV version joined the range in 2018. A year later, the CRDi diesel powerplants in the line-up were replaced by the far more eco-conscious Kona Hybrid. That car was facelifted in 2021. And the second generation version we're going to look at here (also offered in mild hybrid and full-EV forms) arrived in mid-2023. Now you're up to date. We ought to clarify the terminology here. 'Hybrid' is a word bandied about quite a bit these days, but very often at present, it designates 'mild hybrid' technology, the sort of thing you get in this class for instance in a Ford Puma, which sees a normal combustion engine only very marginally electrified by a tiny battery positioned under the rear seat. Full-Hybrid engines are very different and, unlike mild hybrids, can switch to full-electrification in city motoring. Toyota's C-HR, Renault's Captur, Honda's HR-V, Toyota's C-HR and Yaris Cross models and this Kona close cousin, the Kia Niro are the only other models currently offering such a thing in the small SUV segment.
The Kona Hybrid takes its drivetrain from the proven Kia Niro Hybrid, using a Kappa 1.6 GDi Atkinson Cycle combustion engine working with a 1.32kWh battery and a 60PS motor to deliver a maximum hybrid system power of 141PS and 265Nm to the front wheels, which (apart from the slightly smaller battery size) is the same as before, as is the 6 speed dual clutch transmission. That torque output isn't quite as much as would be generated by a comparable diesel SUV of this size, but it's not too far off. This model's little electric motor can only power the car for very short periods - you'll need the kind of Plug-in Hybrid powerplant Hyundai doesn't offer in the Kona if you want an engine package with longer EV range. Instead, this Hybrid unit's main role is to cut in and out and improve frugality during urban driving. As for performance, well 62mph from rest takes 11.2s en route to a 103mph maximum in the 'Sport' setting (or 96mph in 'Eco' mode). If you're familiar with the previous generation version of this model, you can expect a big refinement improvement thanks to the sleek aerodynamics and lessons Hyundai says it's learned from the slippery IONIQ 6. This Hybrid Kona model takes its more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension from the top variant in the petrol Kona range, the 1.6T 198PS derivative. And it can offer a towing capacity of up to 1300kg. On the move, you notice a somewhat rough, coarse note to the GDI petrol engine under harsh acceleration - it's one of Hyundai's older units. But lift off and refinement reigns supreme, perfectly complementing the light but accurate 'Motor Driven Power Steering' system that makes the car so easy to precisely place on the road, whether you're in town or threading your way at speed through corners on the open road. To improve traction and damping through those bends, there's also an 'Advanced Traction Cornering Control' package. Plus there's the aforementioned 'Sport' mode to sharpen throttle response and give the steering a little more weight.
At first glance, you might think that the styling of this MK2 model has only subtly evolved - but take another look. This is now significantly larger car. True, it's still slightly smaller than its Kia Niro close cousin but compared to the original Kona, this 4.35-metre-long version is 175mm longer and 25mm wider, sitting 20mm higher. It's also far more aerodynamic and, in its own way, quite eye-catching thanks to expensive touches like the full-width front light bar. Big 18 or 19-inch wheels add the finishing touch. Inside, the cabin is vastly different from the rather cramped, plasticky affair served up before. Material quality has taken a big step forward and it all feels a lot more spacious, helped by the relocation of the main driving controls from the centre console to a steering column stalk. Combustion versions have a 12.3-inch instrument display linked to a 10.25-inch centre screen that's expanded to 12.3-inches in size with the Electric model. Across the range, the things you regularly interact with like the door handles, the switchgear and the steering wheel now feel considerably more solid. Where you really notice the extra space of this MK2 model (and its 60mm wheelbase length increase) though, is in the rear. Head room and knee room, both restricted with the previous Kona even by modest class standards, are now far more acceptable. And as you'd hope, there's more boot space too, luggage capacity rated at 466-litres, extendable to 1,300-litres with the seats folded down.
Kona Hybrid pricing starts at about £5,000 above that of the equivalent 1.0-litre mild hybrid model, so that means a starting point of around £30,000. That figure gets you base 'Advance'-spec; most customers will want to stretch to either 'N Line' or 'N Line S' trim - or possibly on to top 'Ultimate'-spec (for which you'll need around £34,000). Whatever version you choose, you should find it to be very well equipped. All variants get large alloy wheels with rims at least 18-inches in size, as well as roof rails and front and rear LED lights. Interior features include air conditioning, tinted glass, cruise control with a speed limiter and 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto 'smartphone-mirroring. But you'll need to buy in at the top of the range to get the sophisticated joined twin 12.3-inch dashboard screens that the brand makes so much of. Safety features are well up to class standards, all models getting 'Forward Collision Avoidance with pedestrian detection', 'Lane Keep Assist', 'Driver Attention Alert' and the brand's clever 'Lane Follow Assist' and 'Leading Vehicle Departure Warning' alert systems. Plus there's Tyre Pressure Monitoring and an 'eCall' emergency button that'll activate automatically to inform the rescue services should any of the front, front side and curtain airbags inflate.
We've been saying for some time that mild hybrid tech doesn't really have much to offer the modern motorist. To start seeing more of an efficiency benefit, you'll need a full-Hybrid engine of the sort provided here - one that is able to run independently on battery power. The HEV self-charging unit fitted to this full-Hybrid petrol Kona can certainly do that. Though not for very long, thanks to the combination of a relatively feeble 60PS electric motor and the now-smaller size of the 1.32kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack that powers it. Still, this front-driven HEV model's efficiency showing - 60.1mpg combined and up to 106g/km of CO2 - is appealing. In comparison, a manual gearbox Kona 1.0-litre mild hybrid MHEV model returns 48.7mpg on the combined cycle and 131g/km of CO2. As for servicing, well your Kona Hybrid will need a garage visit once a year or every 10,000 miles, whichever comes sooner. If you want to budget ahead for routine maintenance, there are various 'Hyundai Sense' packages that offer fixed-price servicing over two, three or five-year periods. You can pay for your plan monthly and add MoTs into the three or five year plans for an extra fee. A strong buying incentive is the five year unlimited mileage warranty that comes as standard. It's backed up by breakdown cover that last the same length of time and free annual vehicle health checks over this duration.
If you're after a small Crossover that's particularly city-orientated and you're not quite ready to take the plunge into full-EV motoring, then this Kona Hybrid might prove to be a very good pick. This variant hasn't of course garnered as many headlines as the fully battery-powered Kona Electric but in reality, right here, right now, it's probably the better pick for the majority of likely buyers especially in this much improved second generation form. There's more competition in this market for small SUVs with full-Hybrid non-plug-in power than there was for the first generation version of this model, but there's plenty of room for that in this class and, as before, this Kona represents a strong value proposition. We think it's a car the segment will like.