Get another cup of coffee, compact SUV brands - the new Hyundai Kona is brewing
Sit down and take a big swig of Hawaiian coffee, makers of compact SUVs - Hyundai is coming back after you.
Two years after having to exit the compact SUV segment because the dimensions of its ix35 replacement the Tucson had grown sufficiently to officially make it a medium SUV, the Korean brand is about to launch a new model called Kona.
Yes, Kona - after the famous coastal district on the Big Island of Hawaii. Which explains why at the world launch of the new vehicle in Seoul, the theme was all about Kona, right down to static displays of the vehicle sitting on imported sand surrounded by surfboards, a Hawaiian band playing during lunch, and gifts of small packs of Kona coffee.
Good name though, and it does follow Hyundai's preference to name its crossover and SUV models after travel destinations, such as Santa Fe and Tucson.
Compact SUV is the segment of New Zealand's new vehicle market where all the sales growth is currently being achieved. Last year there were 13,512 compact SUVs sold for a 9 per cent share of the total market, but this year this share has jumped to 11 per cent via 6866 sales to the end of May.
No car company worth its salt can afford not to have a compact SUV - and that probably explains why right now there is more new vehicle release action in this segment than in any other. Most recently we've had the Toyota C-HR arrive to compete against the likes of the freshly facelifted Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V and Mitsubishi ASX, and over the next few months Mitsubishi will get in there with a brand-new model called Eclipse, while Kia may enter the fray with a small SUV called Stonic.
Now there's going to be the Kona, which is due for its New Zealand launch during the fourth quarter of this year.
Kona's exterior design really is quite daring - although I'd stop short of describing it has polarising. While its overall proportions are quite conventional, it features a range of unique design elements including Hyundai's new signature cascading grille, protective skin that Hyundai calls "armour", and front and rear light clusters (called composite lamps in Hyundai-speak) that are stacked one on top of the other and are separate from very slim daytime running lights and tail lights.
At the world launch, Hyundai Design Centre head Luc Donkerwolke said the aim was to create a new model that would better reflect rapidly changing market preferences towards the SUV style.
"People want vehicles thare are enjoyable and easy to use, and better reflect their active lifestyles," he said. "That's why, for instance, we took our inspiration for the body armour from the protective gear skateboarders wear."
Although the Kona is shorter than both the CX-3 and the C-HR, Hyundai claims it offers best-in-class interior space - largely due to an all-new compact platform with reduced central tunnel intrusion. Rear suspension has also been arranged so rear seating can be lower, resulting in easier access and more headroom for passengers.
When it does arrive in New Zealand, there will be two petrol models - a 2WD version powered by a 111kW/179Nm Atkinson Cycle multi-point injected engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, and an AWD version powered by a 132kW/265Nm direct injected and turbocharged engine paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch auto. Both versions are likely to be available with two levels of specification - entry and Elite.
MacPherson strut front suspension is essentially the same on both models, but different rear suspension systems have been developed for the 2WD and AWD versions. The 2WD version has a high-stiffness torsion beam for greater stability and control, while the AWD configuration features a dual-arm multi-link system for better driving dynamics on all surfaces.
During the world launch there was the opportunity to take the Kona out for short drives at the brand's Namyang research and development centre. We grabbed a 1.6 turbo, and immediate impression was this is a good small SUV.
Interior space is good for what is a fairly diminutive vehicle, and ride and handling feel very good. We're looking forward to driving it on New Zealand roads.
Safety looks set to be a high priority with the Kona. Safety features will include forward collision avoidance which uses a forward facing camera and radar and autonomous braking to help prevent or minimise rear-end impacts.
Front-view cameras will also be used for three other safety systems - lane-keep assist, high-beam assist, and drive attention warning.
The car's radar systems will also assist with blind-spot collision warning, and rear-cross traffic alert. Much of this information will also be projected on to a head-up display which will be standard aboard the Kona.
And in a first for the segment, the Kona will feature smartphone wireless charging as an option.
Hyundai NZ has expressed confidence that this new Kona will have the goods to move the brand to the top of the small SUV category, a position the ix35 enjoyed before being replaced by the Tucson. The company may well be right.
Take a nervous swig of your Hawaiian coffee, opposition car companies. And while you're at it, consider this: at the world launch, Hyundai promised that an EV version with a range of more than 390 kilometres may be launched as early as next year.