Hyundai Motor Company is betting big on an extended range of SUVs (sport utility vehicles) to boost its sales volume.
The Kona compact crossover, which made its global debut in Seoul last week, is just part of the first wave.
Like Hyundai's Tucson and Santa Fe, the Kona has an American name, taken from a coastal area on the Big Island of Hawaii. This is to evoke an adventurous persona for the new compact crossover.
The Kona's design is a bold fusion of stylised curves and familiar Hyundai design cues, all of which work towards conveying a vibrant image.
Slim LED daytime running lights incorporating turn signals sit separately above the main headlamp clusters in the style of the Citroen C4 Cactus. The mesh grille has a "cascading" design that looks a bit like Kia's signature grille. A trendy two-tone roof option is also available.
Another design highlight is the fenders' oversized plastic "armour" cladding, which overlaps to the sills and lower lamp clusters to make the car look rugged.
The Kona is still an urban crossover at heart, though, with front-wheel-drive as standard. The car is not intended for bashing through the jungle, although four-wheel drive (4WD) is optional on the top-spec variants.
SPECS / HYUNDAI KONA 1.6 TURBO
Price with COE: To be announced
Engine: 1,591cc 16-valve inline-4 turbocharged
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch with manual select
Power: 175bhp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 265Nm at 1,500-4,500rpm
0-100kmh: 7.7 seconds
Top speed: 210kmh
Fuel consumption: 7.8 litres/100km (combined cycle)
Agent: Komoco Motors
The Kona's new platform is shared with the i30 hatchback. The suspension gets basic MacPherson struts in the front and a torsion beam in the rear, but the 4WD version uses a multi-link rear set-up for better driving dynamics.
Compared to the exterior, the cabin of the Kona is nowhere as adventurous. Attention has been focused instead on high-tech functionality and plenty of safety kit.
A premium infotainment system with an eight-inch display takes centre stage above the dashboard. Smartphone wireless charging, first featured in the Ioniq, is also available in the Kona.
There is even an optional highluminance head-up display.
The Kona's active-safety features include Forward Collision Avoidance Assistance, Lane Keeping Assist, High Beam Assist, Driver Attention Warning, Blind-Spot Collision Warning and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Warning.
The backseat space is average - roomier than the Mazda CX-3, but less spacious than the Honda HR-V. The Kona's 360-litre boot is also average in size.
I drove the 1.6-litre turbo Kona at Hyundai's Namyang R&D Centre's proving ground. In the drivetrain's Sports mode, the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is responsive, while the 175bhp turbocharged engine is very rev- happy. The claimed 0-100kmh timing of 7.7 seconds is believable. During fast cornering, there is a hint of roll and some predictable understeer, and the nicely balanced steering inspires confidence on the go.
Even in the drivetrain's Normal mode, acceleration remains nippy, thanks to a generous torque spread of 265Nm from just 1,500rpm.
The ride quality is firm and European-taut, with contribution perhaps from the sporty 235/45 R18 Hankook tyres. The basic Kona will have 215/55 R17 tyres for a more pliant ride.
Wind noise at speed, road roar over rough patches, levels of vibration and harshness - all these in the Kona are acceptable by compact-crossover standards.
The Hyundai Kona will be jostling for attention with the Honda HR-V/Vezel, Mazda CX-3 and Toyota C-HR, along with the Opel Mokka X, Peugeot 2008 and Jeep Renegade.
The Kona will score with its trendy styling, zippy performance and technological specifications.
The 1.6-litre turbo Kona will be coming to Singapore in January next year. Its price could be 15 per cent lower than that of the Tucson Turbo, which has the same engine.
•The writer contributes to Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.