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Hyundai's littlest SUV a tribute to Hawaii's big island

Sub-compact Kona launches in Korea first, then Europe and North America

2018 Hyundai Kona

After months of image and info leaks, Hyundai has officially unveiled its first B-segment sport utility vehicle, called Kona, which will be sold around the world and will slot in below Tucson in Hyundai’s North American SUV/CUV stable.

The sub-compact offering joins a growing segment that already includes the Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3, among others, and will soon also include a Kia Stonic and Toyota C-HR. The vehicle launches in Korea this month and is due in North America and Europe in the Fall.

“With the Kona, we have created a stylish and highly functional compact SUV, perfectly suited to the needs of customers who pursue challenging, action-filled lifestyles,” said Euisun Chung, Vice Chairman of Hyundai Motor Company, at the vehicle’s launch in. “We aim to set new standards for the compact SUV segment, with appealing design, cutting-edge connectivity and class leading safety features.”

Hyundai says the bold design departure will pave the way for future SUVs from the company (incorporating current styling cues, such as the mesh cascading grille), but points out it’s not just another pretty face — the low wide stance is meant to provide a more stable stance at higher on-road speeds, though it might not be as adept at delivering typical SUV go-anywhere ability (despite short front and rear overhangs and lower body cladding front and side to protect it from trail imperfections).

The sleek and simple interior contrasts with the bold new exterior, but it follows the horizontal exterior theme evident in the front and rear light treatments, with a strong horizontal character line creating a wide and spacious feel for the best-in-class interior space. Elevated hip points enhance visibility for cabin occupants without impacting head room, thanks to optimal under floor packaging that allowed a lower floor. Split folding rear seats and a two-level cargo area floor enhance cargo-carrying capabilities to allow Kona to carry anything from groceries to a bicycle.

The instrument panel uses a 5-inch, 7-inch or 8-inch display, depending on trim level, bringing new levels of connectivity through Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, DAB Audio in Europe, HD Radio in North America and 4G connectivity. Optional wireless charging keeps mobile devices topped up on the road.

Depending on the market, Kona comes with a selection of engines similar to those of the hatchback Accent, from which it's derived. Expect North American Konas to use the turbocharged 1.6-litre Gamma 4-cylinder that delivers 174 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, which is good to take the Kona to 100 km/h in 7.7 seconds and to allow a top speed of 210 km/h, when controlled by a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.

A more docile version uses a 2.0-litre “four” using an Atkinson cycle to deliver 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque. It gets to 100 km/h in 10 seconds and reaches a top speed of 194 km/h. It uses a 6-speed automatic. European versions also get a 1.0-litre diesel 3-cylinder engine and 1.6 diesel “four,” which will also be used in other world markets. Hyundai has promised a Kona EV in the future, in keeping with the company's electrification plans.

Ride and handling is entrusted to a suspension setup of front Macpherson struts and drivetrain specific configurations in the rear — torsion beam in the front-wheel drive model; multi-link in the 4WD. A driving dynamics system for the 4WD model adjusts torque distribution and shift patterns between Normal, Sport and Eco modes.

Driving aids include forward collision avoidance and mitigation, using a forward-facing camera and radar, lane keep assist, automatic high beams and a driver alert system. The last two also use the forward camera, while radar is employed by the blind spot detection system and the rear cross traffic alert system. An optional head-up display puts all relevant information and warnings in front of the driver.

At the vehicle launch, Hyundai announced a special Iron Man edition, and though it might lead you to think it’s in shout-out to Kona’s being the birthplace of the Ironman triathlon (and current home of the Ironman World Championship), it’s actually a tribute to the Marvel superhero.

Touches include unique body cladding to convey the iconic comic hero’s armour, gold and red exterior accents, unique LEDs applied to the headlights, and unidirectional wheels with Iron Man mask centres. The car will be displayed at Hyundai’s Motorstudio in Seoul.

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