he The Hyundai Kona I jumped on the auto industry as violently as the russian nobility jumped on Grigori Rasputin in Yusupov Palace’s basement. And if you were born after 2000 and you have no idea who the Yusupov or Rasputin are, then Hyundai Kona stormed the car industry as violently as Jain’s Makeba stormed the music industry 7 years after it got released. Hyundai Kona – The Hurricane of the automotive world.

We are in 2015 and everyone is back to building affordable compacts because we were still recovering from the crisis of 2008 and we had to give up the tractors with vertical engines and apparently there is a replacement for displacement. But also during that time some manufacturers thought that the SUV era was very profitable and they also saw the success of the Qashqai, so they started selling a new musical genre – the small cross-over. Audi Q3, BMW X2, Mercedes GLA and so on. The second option was to take a regular car and give it the visual cross-over treatment, like they did with the Sandero Stepway or the Fiesta Cross. And both approaches worked.

And then there’s the Hyundai-Kia group. They were already wreaking havoc with the i30, Cee’d, Sportage and ix35 because they were finally cars designed in Europe, for Europe. They were no longer wheeled washing machines, no-frills, honest and cheap motoring. So they held a meeting, got drunk on Soju and they launched their first small cross-over – Hyundai Kona I. And Kia, because the Asians learned from VW how it is with internal cannibalization,  took the market from below the Kona by launching the Kia Stonic and Kia Picanto X Line. And so they covered every market sector without stepping on each other.

So, much like U2, the Hyundai Kona I took the market by electrical storm, effectively overnight. It looks good, it came with everything necessary to be considered a car and, perhaps most importantly, it also came with prices that were competitive with the competition. Of course, the crisis came and the inflation did have a say in the pricing, but back when it was launched the Kona was one of the best cars you could buy as far as value-for-money was concerned.

Since we’re on the subject of competitive pricing, Hyundai played aggressively back then and came with some aggresive discounts and incentives, so you could leave with your own almost-cross-over for only 15000 pounds if you did some haggling from the 16195 pounds price at launch. It reminds me of the Lexus LS, another good car that played aggressively and got it’s foot in the car market’s door. Except that this price strategy would bite Kona’s ass worse than Bariumoxyd Calciumsulfat took a bite out of that reporter’s dignity and punched him in 2014. All the way. Probable. I guess. I hope.

Hyundai Kona I Engines


  • 1.0 Turbo Kappa II or SmartStream of 120 horsepower – The entry-level engine for the Kona and the only relevant engine to be honest. The bigger engines are 1. much more expensive and 2. you don’t need more power. An excellent engine, without notable issues and with enough power to move around a young family. No, you won’t tear up the tarmac with an 1 litre turbocharged petrol, but if you’re the kind of person who looks at the Kona, chances are you don’t even care about tearing up the tarmac.
  • 1.6 Turbo Gamma II and SmartStream of 177 and 195 horsepower – The most delicious engine that was bolted on the European version and the most reliable sportier engine, this 1.6 Turbo debuted on the Veloster and ended up on the Tucson III, after which it was mounted on the Kona because at Hyundai there is always an engine available for the budget-conscious and one for the rich. As with the Veloster, there are timing belt issues and the turbo that leaks oil on the gaskets, but overall it is a reliable engine, especially for the punch it offers. Sure it was also a part of the lawsuits but it wasn’t the main star.
  • 2.0 MPI Nu and SmartStream of 147 horsepower – Ah yes, the famous Hyundai Nu engine which was the butt of all lawsuits Hyundai and Kia received. The SmartStream one is ok though, if you have the courage to try again an 2 litre Hyundai.
  • 2.0 T-GDi Theta II of 280 horsepower – What was supposed to be the bane of hot hatchback’s existence turned out to be a flop. Also part of the lawsuit, with the same turbo, timing, cathing fire and oil leaks issues, and it’s also an GDi engine and I’ll explain soon what’s what with the GDi part.


1.6 CRDi U-Line and SmartStream of 136 horsepower – Last call before closing for the diesel, because this 1.6 diesel was permanently retired by 2020 and from there on the diesel era went out of fashion, 15 years later than the MC Hammer pants went out of fashion. It has no specific issues but only if you don’t buy it and drive exclusively in town as it will be strangled like it paid for it.


1.6 Kamma and SmartStream Hybrid of 141 horsepower – Started out as an experiment on the Tucson and Sportage engines, the 1.6 Hybrid engine eventually made it’s way to the Kona as well. Unfortunately, the issues have also been transferred from the Tucson and Sportage, the most notable being the transmission belt from the hybrid engine, which gives up and jumps out of place every time you move. But at least it has a 6-speed torque converter automatic gearbox and it’s pretty much the only one with this reliable automagic.


  • Electric Lite SE of 136 horsepower – Advertised with a range of up to 290 km with a full battery, which was about the industry average when it was launched. The price is attractive, but that’s about it as this is not the electric Kona you’ve been looking for.
  • Electric SEL of 204 horsepower – Now we’re talking. With a official range of 482 km and a real life range of 350-400 kms, this Kona Electric has quickly become one of the most successful electric cars today. And I know you will comment that the range is pigly but you can easily travel from Birmingham to Plymouth on a full charge and still have some juice left. The question is if you can make this journey without any breaks and if you don’t stop for the toilet because you wee yourself and so you don’t have any reason to leave the car at a charging point while you smoke a cigarette or sip a coffee or take a break in general. 

Hyundai Kona I Common Issues

  • Basically the Hyundai Kona I might look like a bigger and taller I30, but it’s not. Limited interior space is one of the main issues for the Kona so make sure that the interior space and the boot are big enough for your needs.
  • Interior plastics are the second main issue. It’s an relatively affordable entry-level cross-over. And, as is the case with budget manufacturers, that lower price tag must be reflected somewhere. But at least with a 15000 pound Hyundai you won’t get angry if the dashboard rattles, unlike a 30.000 pound C Class.
  • Before tackling the big one, let’s quickly move on to the mechanical side and the complementary moment comes when I have to talk about the 7DCT 7 speed double clutch automatic gearbox. It should be avoided because it’s constant issues and was even withdrawn from production for a while. What you want instead is the 6AT torque converter automatic box, but that one was only available on the hybrid.
  • And now, like a beautician who regrets the next few minutes, I will also tackle the big one. This is the period when they transitioned from the dubious GDi to the SmartStream engines. And the GDi engines had all the issues but they also commonly suffered from carbon deposits and they can’t work with LPG so this severely impacts the running costs.

Hyundai Kona I Verdict

It’s obvious that the Hyundai Kona I knocked down the competition and left it in the dust. A compact cross-over, executed correctly. Small engines, fairly reliable, decent fuel economy, relatively low purchase price. Kind of like a Ford Puma, only reliable. Because Ford Puma approached the situation in the same way and look, the country is full of Kona and Puma. And that’s why it’s worth buying one too. If you manage to fit in.

Which engines do I recommend? Honestly, the 120 horsepower 1.0 T-GDI turbocharged petrol is all the engine you’ll ever need. But there is also the decent 1.6 diesel, if you can find one.