‘You drive it. You define it.’ That was how Hyundai wanted us to view this car, their small Kona SUV. If you like cars of this kind, you’re probably going to like this one because it ticks all the usual boxes in terms of style and fashionability. How will it fare on the used market in its standard forms though? Here, we’re going to look at the facelifted 2021-2023-era versions of the mainstream combustion-engined first generation models and try and find out.

The History

Small crossovers are big business. Back in 2021, this one, the Hyundai Kona, had become the brand’s second best selling model and by that point, nearly a quarter of a million Konas had found European owners since this car’s original launch back in 2017. For the 2021 model year, it got a substantial mid-term update, creating the version we’re going to look at here.

The Kona started life competing with SUVs based directly on superminis – Renault’s Clio-based Captur, Nissan’s Micra-based Juke and so on. Even though it sat on a platform originally intended for models in the next segment up. But by 2020, Hyundai had a proper supermini-sired SUV - the i20-based Bayon – positioned to sit below this car as the entry-point to this Korean maker’s crossover line-up. So the Kona could be pushed up-market a little, to take on more expensive small SUVs - and maybe also to offer an alternative to the Korean brand’s i30 family hatch.

A little more sophistication was required for this car to be able to meet this remit. A huge proportion of i30s of this period were being sold with sporty spec, so this enhanced Kona got that too – a more dynamic ‘N Line’ level of trim and a full-fat Kona N high performance variant joined the range. A line-up which by now was all-petrol powered and all fully electric; even the entry-level versions offered a 48V mild hybrid 1.0-litre powerplant, which sat below a full dosing of the Korean manufacturer’s battery technology. Customers chose between a full-Hybrid 1.6-litre combustion version. Or a full-Electric derivative (also substantially updated), with a driving range of up to 300 miles.

If you knew this car in its original guise, with this facelift version you’ll notice a general smartening up of the styling. And a much enhanced level of media tech inside. A new MK2 Kona design arrived in mid-2023.

What You Get

A car of this kind has to evoke a reaction from you: that’s part of the point of it. And the Kona has always done that, with its muscular toning, sensuous surfaces and high-contrast fender cladding. With the initial version though, all of this was a bit, well, in-your-face – a touch unsubtle. With this updated model though, the look was far more cohesive, gym toned and confident. This is how you do a facelift.

The front of cabin experience became more sophisticated in this form. Through the steering wheel, you view a 10.25-inch screen with virtual dials, while providing you avoid entry-level trim, there’s a vastly bigger central infotainment screen than with the original model – also 10.25-inches - full of features Kona folk had never had access to before. The rear is a bit tight for the carriage of two folk, but there’s a 374-litre boot (332-litres with the Kona Electric).

What To Look For

Generally, most Kona customers seemed very happy with their cars. However, in our ownership survey, we came across a number of issues. One owner advised potential future buyers to always take a test drive at night to check the headlights. The non-LED ones are dim and yellow. Also, moisture can accumulate in the non-LED headlights, plus in the daytime running lights, the fog lamps and the rear combination lamps. Another owner reported that when driving at over 40mph, the vehicle wandered to the left and right without driver input. Another owner had an issue with faulty vehicle speed control with an auto model – the vehicle inexplicably lurched forward when parking and the airbag activated.

Otherwise, it’s just the usual things for an SUV of this type. Check all the media tech on your test drive – and the workings of the navigation system to see if it’s been kept up to date. Check the touchscreens and Bluetooth connectivity. Check all the electrical functions too. And insist on a fully stamped-up service history.

On The Road

News that the Kona range was, in this updated form primarily all-electrified will probably lead owners of the original design to expect more changes in the drive demeanour of the standard model than are actually delivered. As before, there were full-Hybrid and all-Electric models further up the line-up, but mainstream variants merely got 48V mild hybrid embellishment for the core three cylinder 1.0-litre T-GDi petrol unit, which offers 120PS. The difference that mild hybrid technology makes isn’t very noticeable, though Hyundai provided a selectable ‘Energy Flow’ screen in the instrument cluster so that drivers could see how the system was working. A further addition as part of this update was the brand’s ‘iMT’ ‘intelligent Manual Transmission’ system, which de-couples the engine from the 6-speed stick shift gearbox after the driver releases the accelerator.

For bigger efficiency gains, you need to be looking at the Kona Hybrid, which uses a four cylinder 1.6-litre GDi petrol engine mated to a 32kW electric motor powered by a lithium-ion polymer battery. To do better, you’ll need a full-EV, the Kona Electric, available in a choice of forms. With a 39kWh battery, up to 189 miles between charges are possible, a figure you can extend to 300 miles with the 64kWh battery variant. A completely different audience was targeted by the flagship model in the Kona line-up, the powerful Kona N, which uses a 2.0-litre GDi petrol powerplant putting out 280PS through the front wheels.


So does this car have what it takes to stand out on the used market? Well most agree that it’s been styled to do so – which in this segment is half the battle. The Kona Electric and the Kona N are stand-out products. And in this facelifted form, the commoner mild hybrid version stands out just a bit more in the High Street. Which for its target market, is all it really needs to do.