► Updated Hyundai Kona Hybrid driven
► Mild facelift, tech upgrades and more
► How does it drive on UK roads?
Jack of all trades? That's how Hyundai positions the Kona, offering regular combustion-engine variants, a hybrid and full-electric versions. The zany-looking crossover was recently facelifted, and we've been behind the wheel of the revised hybrid variant here.
The look has been somewhat cleaned up, for a start. From day one, the Kona was beset with wild lines, bulges and creases in order to attract attention.
Even so, this facelift quietens the Alien-like face of its predecessor, smoothing some of the lines and making the front end look more chilled-out frog and less mutated toad. The facelift also brought in a new N Line variant, bringing the Kona into the same trim structure as the i20 and i30 hatches. There's also a hot Kona N incoming.
For the regular combustion-engine variants, the turbocharged petrol engines now have mild-hybrid assistance, and tech upgrades include optional digital instruments with a neat cube graphic and cloud-based connected nav. All very 21st century, even if the interior itself is a tad bland.
The hybrid's powertrain has stayed the same, meaning a 1.6-litre petrol engine is paired with a 1.56kWh battery and 43bhp e-motor, with power being sent to the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch auto.
As for space, the Kona Hybrid's rear is acceptable for adults – if not stellar – but the boot volume of 374 litres is bested by plenty of small crossovers including the Nissan Juke and Renault Captur, for example.
How does the hybrid powertrain feel?
It's a regular parallel hybrid compared to a plug-in hybrid, so it's more akin to the Toyota C-HR and Lexus UX than a Volvo XC40 Recharge PHEV or Evoque PHEV.
And let's just get this out of the way now: it's... slow. The engine, like many hybrids, is naturally aspirated and the e-motor isn't exactly punchy, so overtakes and getting up to speed on the motorway takes a while. And when you do that, the engine thrashes and howls like a spoilt toddler told to go to bed early. Still, that's not really the point: the Kona is a potter-about kinda car, not a hair-raiser.
Thankfully, in that situation, the powertrain is a little more in its element, keeping quiet and unobtrusive as you nip around town. But, interestingly, more modern hybrids from Hyundai – see the new Tucson – show up the Kona's reluctance to use electric-only power regularly. For the Tucson, the e-motor is happy to whizz you around silently even at motorway speeds under low throttle loads and recoperate energy quickly – here, the Kona's powerplant seems to not really feel like it if left in hybrid mode. You're forced to use the EV button to engage the electric part of the powertrain in a wider capacity; at anything more than 30(ish)mph the engine is woken up with a disgruntled stir. Even so, our tests on mixed roads including urban and motorway gleaned around 45-48mpg.
We do welcome the use of a dual-clutch automatic over an arguably more conventional (for a parallel hybrid) CVT, and the Kona Hybrid's shifts smoothly on the move. We did find it a tad lurchy from a standstill, though.
How does it handle?
Let's start with the plus points. The Kona's driving position is highly adjustable, allowing you to slam yourself to the ground, BTCC-style, and it provides good steering wheel reach and rake adjustment. The steering itself is sharp and not too light, and body control is impressive – turning sharp corners in a Kona isn't a yacht-in-a-typhoon affair. Personally, I'm curious to drive the Kona N if the standard car's steering and suspension are this sophisticated already.
But it's all let down by the ride and refinement. Our Premium-spec test car (pictured) has 18-inch wheels, the larger of those offered, making the ride tremendously busy. Unlike some cars, it's not helped much by upping the pace – low-speed driving is jittery, and the more the speed climbs, the louder the tyre roar gets. The Kona Hybrid isn't a great motorway car, then – best for short bursts on national roads, rather than long trips.
Hyundai Kona Hybrid: verdict
We just couldn't fully get on with the updated Kona Hybrid. A coarse and cantankerous powertrain reluctant to use its electric power to the best effect, a busy ride and drab interior take away from the distinctive looks, capable chassis, economy potential and technology on offer. The Kona Electric is the better offering, if you're able to do the maths on running a full EV over a hybrid, but a Toyota C-HR will be smoother, cooler and a better steer if we're directly comparing hybrids.
While the facelift has added some bonus tech improvements and smoothed out the wild design of its predecessor, we know Hyundai can do better – just look at the wild new Ioniq 5, or the smooth hybrid powertrain of the larger Tucson. The Kona Hybrid simply feels a little dated, and yet it's only just been refreshed.
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Specs below for Hyundai Kona Hybrid Premium