It would be easy to dismiss this outcome as a case of “a new broom sweeps best”, but it’s untrue.
From the spec sheet to behind the wheel, the modest mid-spec Kona Premium has core advantages that put it to the front of the pack from a family car perspective.
The arrival of the new-gen K3 platform brings substantial dimensional growth, with a 60mm stretch in wheelbase and 145mm more overall length translating into 77mm more rear seat legroom (delivering plenty of space for an average-sized adult) and 33 litres more seats-up luggage capacity.
Width is up too, so there’s top-tether anchorages for three child seats and the rear sear backrest is reclinable, which is rare in this segment.
There are dedicated air vents for rear passengers and even seat heaters for the outboard rear seats, which compliment the seats in the front which are heated/ventilated.
Even better news is that the new Kona's extra acreage is used wisely.
The Kona Premium features an enormous open-topped centre console tray that stretches from the centre stack all the way to the rear air vents, with retractable cupholders and removable partitions to help manage smaller cargo.
It's a generous storage area freed up by moving the gear selector from the centre console to a rotary shifter on the steering column and it doesn't only help to make the front cabin feel impressively roomy, but it puts the Kona firmly ahead of its rivals for cabin storage.
There’s also a mid-dash shelf ahead of the passenger that’s perfect for stashing snacks, phones and other oddments, and a sizeable wireless phone charging tray too.
The dual-12.3-inch screens for infotainment and instrument panel look slick and are easy to operate, but they’re outshone by the sheer utility of what surrounds them.
The Kona's infotainment also includes a number of family friendly features like Quiet Mode which mutes the audio volume in the rear so kids can sleep but front passengers can still to listen to the radio/music. And Premium models score Hyundai's useful blind spot camera which shows a live video feed in the instrument cluster when indicating.
A roomy boot is a crucial feature for a family SUV and the Kona now has one of the largest and most feature-rich luggage bays in its segment. Measuring 407L, the Kona's boot is 33L larger than before and has a wider and lower loading lip. There’s also a two-stage boot floor, three bag hooks and an ingenious design for storing the parcel shelf against the back of the rear seats for when you want to carry larger items.
To drive, the Kona’s 110kW/180Nm 2.0-litre Atkinson-cycle petrol four-pot works well with its CVT, with quiet, vibration-free operation and intelligent transmission mapping that easily tugs the Kona along at urban speeds.
There might only be a simple torsion beam at the rear end, but delivers a smooth ride with supple damping that’s geared toward comfort – yet avoids becoming floaty and unpleasant. Top marks.
Toyota Corolla Cross GXL Hybrid FWD – $39,250
Ultra-low thirst from a dependable hybrid powertrain puts the Corolla Cross in good stead, as does great ride/handling balance and a spacious-feeling cabin. Can’t match the Kona for family-practical features, however, and that infotainment setup still feels well behind the rest of the pack.
Kia Seltos Sport+ 1.6L AWD – $39,300
One for the power-hungry, the Seltos provides a thrusty 146kW/265Nm turbo engine and the security of all-wheel drive at a sub-$40K price point. The tradeoff is soggy handling and cabin quality that lags behind its newer Hyundai cousin, and a high fuel burn in real-world driving.
2023 Best Small SUV series
Looking to get into a brand-new small SUV? Our stories below will guide you to the model that best suits your needs!