2024 Hyundai Kona Hybrid review: Australian first drive

13 minutes, 53 seconds Read

Hyundai’s new small SUV impresses with the introduction of a frugal, well-mannered hybrid powertrain. However, there is one big problem you need to be aware of.


What we love
  • Impressively efficient powertrain
  • Interior has some nice practical touches
  • Bigger in the second row and boot than others

What we don’t
  • The traffic sign recognition system is intolerable.
  • Interior finishes in some areas are a little underwhelming
  • …and it always turns itself back on

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2024 Hyundai Kona Hybrid

According to ancient mythology, the greatest of all the Greek warriors was Achilles. Son of a goddess and a king, raised and educated by a centaur, Achilles was made invulnerable through being dipped in the River Styx. Not the one in NSW Northern Tablelands, by the way.

But there was a problem. Because he was held by his ankle as he was dipped in that underworld, he had a weakness that ultimately became his undoing.

The 2024 Hyundai Kona is not a hero of ancient times, but it does suffer from a similar ailment.

While the new Hyundai Kona Hybrid impresses in many important regards – efficiency, comfort, practicality and technology – there is one Achilles’ heel that could bring the whole thing down.

How much does the Hyundai Kona Hybrid cost in Australia?

Those looking at a Kona have no shortage of choices to pick through, when it comes to making a decision. Along with the most expensive pure EV offering, there’s two four-cylinder petrol engines to separate: a base 2.0-litre naturally aspirated unit and more powerful 1.6-litre turbocharged choice.

However, we’ve got likely the most enticing powertrain for most buyers. A so-called ‘closed-loop’ hybrid powertrain, which gets fuelled up like a regular old car but has electric assistance to dramatically reduce consumption.

It’s a new addition to the Kona range, providing an alternative to hybrid SUVs in the class, like the Toyota Corolla Cross and Kia Niro. The Kona hybrid pairs a non-turbo 1.6-litre engine, with an electric motor and dual-clutch automatic.

On top of that, you can upgrade your Kona to the Premium trim level (which we have here) and opt for the sporty looks of the N-Line treatment (which we don’t).

Pragmatic and frugal, but with some niceties thrown in. Sound good.

Opting for the Premium model seems to be decent value at $7500, throwing in a wide range of upgrades to the base offering. It gets low-speed reverse autonomous braking, a 360-degree camera system, extra parking sensors front and rear, an upgraded Bose-branded eight-speaker sound system with external amplifier, rain-sensing wipers, power-adjustable front seats with memory, front seat heating and ventilation, a heated steering wheel, heated rear outboard seats, and leather seat trimming.

There’s also adjustable ambient interior lighting, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster for the driver, projector-style LED headlights and full-width daytime running lights.

Key details 2024 Hyundai Kona Hybrid Premium
Price $43,500 plus on-road costs
Colour of test car Mirage Green
Options None
Price as tested $43,500 plus on-road costs
Drive-away price $47,554 (NSW)
Rivals Nissan Qashqai | Mitsubishi ASX | Toyota Corolla Cross

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How much space does the Hyundai Kona Hybrid have inside?

Inside the Kona, there are great levels of storage and amenities, especially in the Premium spec tester we have here.

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Transmission controls have moved onto the steering column as a big, meaty stalk – the column shift is kind of making a comeback in Korea – which frees up more space for storage. Cup holders in the main central storage bin flip out, but can also be tucked away for more raw storage space. 

There’s a wireless charging pad, with room for house keys for example, up front and some more storage under the central armrest further back.

Add in the useful shelf in front of the passenger, along a decent-sized glovebox and room for bottles in doors, and you’ve got an interior that is quite practical and adept at absorbing all of that stuff you tend to take with you day-to-day.

Premium spec adds in some nice touches in terms of materials and niceties, but ergonomics and comfort all rate well here. We drove the hybrid Kona for approximately 500 kilometres during our time with the vehicle, with a couple of big multi-hour stints, and never felt tired or sore.

The second row of the new Kona is where you get an idea of the size increase of this new generation model and the small SUV segment overall. It’s well sized, and probably close to what a medium-sized SUV was ten years ago.

Leg room is in particularly good supply, which means the Kona is a good candidate for a small and growing family. Head room is good enough, but not in bountiful supply. Visibility and comfort are all good, and air vents and twin USB-C power outlets on the rear centre console round out the offering nicely.

Along with two ISOFIX points, the second row of the Kona has three top tether points, and I was able to fit three child seats for a few days. Granted, there’s not a lot of space left over, but it’s possible.

Another note for family useage is the boot, which measures 407 litres and is big enough to fit two of the aforementioned baby seats easily, so length and width of boot space is good. There’s a space-saver spare wheel underneath the floor, and the floor is able to be adjusted higher to make for a flat load lip, but with less overall storage height.

2024 Hyundai Kona Hybrid Premium
Seats Five
Boot volume 407L seats up
1421L seats folded
Length 4350mm
Width 1825mm
Height 1585mm
Wheelbase 2660mm

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Does the Hyundai Kona Hybrid have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto?

With the premium option ticked, we get twin 12.3-inch displays in the Kona, which handle infotainment and driver’s instruments between them. These are slightly curved, and are a new set of interior technology for Hyundai that is rolling out a bunch of new and incoming vehicles.

The infotainment system has all of the features we would expect, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. This only comes in the form of a wired connection, which is no problem because it makes for a superior, more stable connection over wireless.

There’s also digital radio, native navigation and a well-sorted operating system that has been overhauled. While there is a lot of functionality to dig through, it’s not an overly complicated system to get your head around. And you might find yourself delving into the settings quite regularly, on something I’ll explain soon.

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Is the Hyundai Kona Hybrid a safe car?

The new Hyundai Kona is yet to be tested by ANCAP or its European counterpart, Euro NCAP, at the time of publication.

2024 Hyundai Kona Hybrid Premium
ANCAP rating Untested

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What safety technology does the Hyundai Kona Hybrid have?

Standard advanced safety technology in the Kona Premium includes autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian/cyclist/motorcycle detection and intersection support, lane-keep assist, lane-centring assist, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, blind-spot warning (with ability to brake for obstacles), blind-spot cameras, rear cross-traffic alert with braking, traffic sign recognition, and a driver monitoring system with a camera facing the driver.

There is also a rear-view camera, 360-degree camera with 3D view, front, side and rear parking sensors, safe exit warning, tyre pressure monitoring, Remote Smart Park Assist, automatic high beams, and seven airbags (including one between the front seats).

New for the latest Kona is a more advanced driver monitoring system designed to meet the latest ANCAP safety test requirements, which places a small driver-facing camera on top of the steering column.

In ideal conditions – in perfect lighting conditions, with the driver’s gaze fixed on the road – it works fine, but within 15 seconds of putting on a pair of sunglasses an error message will appear.

The system felt too keen at times to remind the driver to focus on the road, such as when looking at the navigation map or entering a new destination – with the driver’s eyes and head at a specific angle that trips up the system.

But the biggest issue of all was the beeping of the traffic sign recognition function – which was more distracting than helpful, especially given it would also beep for speed signs on off-ramps and out-of-hours school zones – even over the double demerits weekend in NSW when we had this car in the Drive garage.

In addition to reading speed signs and displaying a visual warning when you eclipse the speed limit, the Kona’s traffic-sign tech – shared with other new Hyundai and Kia models, including the Kia Seltos small SUV – will beep when you exceed the speed sign the car has detected.

It is a useful feature when the car reads the sign correctly. However, it often does not do this, detecting the lower speed on a motorway off-ramp, misreading variable (electronic) speed signs, or holding onto a 10km/h limit from a car park when you have driven back onto a public road.

The system in the Kona is better tuned than other recent Hyundais we’ve tested. It seemed to detect school zone hours – reading the times on the sign and only flashing the lower 40km/h school-zone speed limit when it was applicable – however it worked intermittently.

Most other new cars with speed sign recognition helpfully only have a visual warning, and do not beep at you when if you exceed the speed limit. Hyundai says this is its interpretation of the latest ANCAP safety requirements; we urge it to go back and read the rulebook again.

The system can be turned off, but it requires multiple taps through menus in the touchscreen to do so (though you can set a physical button shortcut that cuts the number of taps needed from four to two). Switching the audio warning off also deactivates the visual alert, and the feature automatically enables again the next time you start the car.

How much does the Hyundai Kona Hybrid cost to maintain?

The most cost effective way of servicing a Kona Hybrid comes in the form of pre-paid, which is $1197 for three years to $1995 for five years. This works out to be $399 per year for the first five years or 75,000 kilometres, which is quite reasonable but not the cheapest in the segment.

Insurance for a Kona Hybrid premium is set at $1499. As always, this is based on a comparative quote for a 35-year-old male driver, living in Chatswood, NSW. Insurance estimates may vary based on your location, driving history, and personal circumstances.

At a glance 2024 Hyundai Kona Hybrid Premium
Warranty Five years, unlimited km
Battery warranty 8 years, 160,000km
Service intervals 12 months or 15,000km
Servicing costs (pre-paid) $1197 (3 years)
$1995 (5 years)

Is the Hyundai Kona Hybrid fuel efficient?

This is a major part of the Kona’s appeal, and a reason why it will likely strike a chord with urban users. Against an impressive claim of 3.9 litres per hundred kilometres, which only shifts up to 4.0L/100km on the highway cycle, we saw an average overall of 4.3L/100km.

For more clarity here, heavier useage on the highway saw the figure creep up to 4.6L/100km, while efficiency-focussed driving around Sydney’s western suburbs and using as much regenerative braking as possible, saw as little as 4.0L/100km.

Another detail that helps low running costs is the fact that the 1.6-litre engine – which runs on the efficiency-focussed Atkinson cycle – happily accepts the cheaper 91-RON unleaded fuel.

Fuel Useage Fuel Stats
Fuel cons. (claimed) 3.9L/100km
Fuel cons. (on test) 4.3L/100km
Fuel type 91-octane unleaded
Fuel tank size 38L

What is the Hyundai Kona Hybrid like to drive?

104kW of peak power tells us this Kona hybrid isn’t going to give a hair-bristling burst of acceleration, but it also feels punchy enough for the job. We noticed that the Eco driving mode does give an overly soft accelerator pedal for as much efficiency as possible, but it can get in the way of taking off at times.

The more crucial 265Nm torque is more healthy however, and allows the Kona to use both the petrol and electric power sources for easy acceleration.

The Kona hybrid uses a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission in unison with the petrol engine and electric motor, which is quite different (mechanically speaking) to the continuously variable transmission that is used in most Toyota hybrids. 

It makes for a slightly different feel, as the revs rise and fall similarly to a conventional petrol car with a conventional automatic gearbox. A hybrid Toyota can sometimes feel like a generator in comparison. But most importantly, this powertrain does a good job of blending in the two power sources seamlessly and without fluster. 

When combined, there is enough power on offer for daily useage without feeling sluggish or slow. And when it’s cruising and coasting around town, there is a lot of engine-off driving and regenerative braking to reduce fuel consumption.

For the tech-heads out there, here are some extra details on the Kona Hybrid, in comparison to a Corolla Cross Hybrid. The Kona has a 1.32kWh lithium ion battery, which runs at 240V. The electric motor on the Kona Hybrid makes 32kW and 170Nm on it’s own, the petrol engine is rated at 77kW and 144Nm.

And of course, the benefits of efficiency are plain and obvious to be seen.

Regenerative braking can be controlled through the paddle shifters, and you can hold down the left-hand paddle for maximum braking, or adjust the pre-set levels to your own liking.

In terms of ride quality, handling and steering, the Kona feels good and solid without being overly impressive in any regard. Some sharper hits on potholes can translate into the cabin more fluently, but most things are absorbed nicely by the suspension.

Refinement is good as well, in terms of wind and road noise overall.

There isn’t a huge amount of additional weight being carried in the Kona Hybrid, and the vehicle generally feels light enough on its feet and suitably responsive through corners. It’s certainly no rascal through the corners, but it’s good enough for the application.

Key details 2024 Hyundai Kona Hybrid
Engine 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol hybrid
Power 77kW @ 5700rpm petrol
32kW electric
104kW combined
Torque 144Nm @ 4000rpm petrol
170Nm electric
265Nm combined
Drive type Front-wheel drive
Transmission 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
Power-to-weight ratio 68.2kW/t
Weight (kerb) 1525kg
Spare tyre type Space-saver
Tow rating 1300kg braked
600kg unbraked
Turning circle 10.6m

Should I buy a Hyundai Kona Hybrid?

Just like our favourite Greek warrior, the new Kona hybrid impresses in many ways. It’s spacious, comfortable, well-specced, practical and impressively efficient.

Plus, it has a bit of pizzazz in terms of how it looks, both inside and out. When you compare it on interior and exterior aesthetics with the Corolla Cross, it’s certainly the more interesting of the two.

However the infuriating traffic sign recognition system is a major road-block when it comes to livability. Driver assist systems should do just that – assist, and not hamper a driver’s efforts. The sheer number of alerts and needless alerms triggered by Hyundai’s unhelpful system counter any possible benefits.

And while Hyundai Australia isn’t able to make any concrete comment on what they are doing to fix what is clearly a problem, we are seeing the first signs of remedy coming to Australia. The new-generation Santa Fe we recently drive in Korea had a gentler calibration, which makes it much more user-friendly, along with the ability to mute the system if required.

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Sam Purcell has been writing about cars, four-wheel driving and camping since 2013, and obsessed with anything that goes brum-brum longer than he can remember. Sam joined the team at CarAdvice/Drive as the off-road Editor in 2018, after cutting his teeth at Unsealed 4X4 and Pat Callinan’s 4X4 Adventures.

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