SUVs set to dominate Hyundai push

With the sub-compact Kona in the mix, Hyundai’s local fortunes will predominantly ride on three sports utilities.

ARRIVAL of the Kona sub-compact crossover has left Hyundai here confident that this model and its two other sports utilities, Tucson and Santa Fe, will cumulatively achieve “at least” 60 percent of the brand’s total NZ sales.

This level of dominance doesn’t disturb as it’s entirely in tune with a market swing toward high-riding all terrain-flavoured product.

However, there is concession that this swing has triggered a review of some of the Korean giant’s traditional hatches and sedans whose favouritism has faltered as result of the trend shift.

Hyundai NZ boss Andy Sinclair, right, is convinced the market’s swing toward choosing SUV and crossover cars over traditional road-bound passenger fare is permanent.

Yet while further acknowledging the crossover growth has come at the expense of those models, he says there is no intent – yet – to succumb to the temptation to simply become an SUV-specific operation.

All the same, two past powerhouses that are no longer performing at anything like peak - the Elantra compact and Sonata large sedans - are subject to in-house scrutiny, and Kona’s arrival could well further erode their standing. It’s in the same price range as the Elantra and, in fact, also the recently-released i30 hatch.

Sinclair says his team is “constantly reviewing” individual models’ sales performances. Yet he’s reluctant to axe Elantra and Sonata as they retain loyal followings.

“We feel it is important to maintain a presence for those loyal buyers, some of whom might be on their third or fourth Elantra or fifth or sixth Sonata.”

Still, it seems increasingly possible every traditional passenger car Hyundai has will ultimately have a crossover equal. A brand high-up here for the Kona event hinted that a smaller Kona style car is in development, perhaps a step up from the current i20 Cross. And there is also talk about the brand’s upmarket Genesis operation is developing a large SUV, to sit above the Santa Fe, which is also up for a big refresh in early 2018, including probable transition to an eight-speed transmission.

Hyundai’s electric vehicle push presently centres on the Ioniq five-door car, but the next step is a Kona with the same battery drivetrain that is found in the full EV edition of this hatch. It will be here in mid-2018 in front-drive format to place above the four petrol Konas launching on November 1.

As things stand now, those current editions of this effective replacement for the old iX35 will have the grunt to take in-house ascendancy, with Hyundai confirming Kona pricing that sees it place up to $6000 cheaper than some rivals in this category despite having a stronger than average standard specification.

Most notably, every version comes with a safety package called SmartSense that implements forward collision alert, blind spot assist and lane keep, rear cross traffic collision and driver attention warnings.

As reported last week, Kona is here in front-drive naturally aspirated 2.0-litre and four-wheel-drive turbocharged 1.6-litre formats, each in standard and higher-end Elite formats.

Having already announced the cheapest would cost $31,990, Hyundai has now revealed the 2.0-litre Elite and entry 1.6 will each cost $36,990, while the Elite 1.6 will place at $41,990.

The Elite’s $5000 premium ticks off leather in place of cloth trim in the entry spec. The Elite also has a head-up display, wireless charging and climate control air conditioning and updates from 215/55R17 to 235/45 R18 tyres and alloys.

While Sinclair insists that in-house volume predictions for the model are too sensitive to share, he believes that it has potential to at least run with the sector’s biggest performers, the Mitsubishi ASX (which holds 23 percent market share) and the Nissan Qashqai, Mazda CX-3 and Honda H-RV, all on 18 percent.

“… it also has the potential to be our single biggest seller, given the market’s transition from passenger car to SUV.”

In some other countries, he agrees, Kona is more expensive than it places in NZ. He says his office did not specifically seek factory help to establish its pricing, but it did put a lot of effort into researching what its competitors had done – successfully and otherwise.

“We looked at what was selling in the segment, what the price sensitivities were and what the specifications were. We looked at what made any one brand dominant.

“Right now we say there is not one dominant brand. There are a few that are all holding similar market share. ASX has more than the others but not a lot more. Four brands are quite close and we expect to get a share of that pie.

“The sector is that it is price sensitive so we have made sure that, because we are late to the party, we’ve come out with the best-specced vehicle that, when you take the spec for the price, is the best on offer.”

Hyundai is tipping that most buyers will go for the 2.0-litre over the 1.6.

The bigger capacity engine is not as zesty – it makes 110kW of power and 180Nm of torque (at 4500rpm), against the 1.6’s 130kW and 265Nm – and the six-speed auto it drives through is less involving than the smaller engine’s seven-speed dual-clutch unit. Obviously, too, there is less crossover ability because lacks the 1.6’s all-wheel-drive and it has a less sophisticated rear suspension. But the cars look all but identical: And that’s probably all that matters.

When comparing within the segment, consumers will see Kona is smaller than most rivals, at just 4165mm long and 1800mm wide, on a 2600mm. Yet Hyundai claims above-average cabin space and packaging. The boot is a respectable 360L, expanding to 1143L with the back seats folded.

The Kona seems set to win attention on its looks alone, Styling is the work of Hyundai’s studio in California. The car offers a new take on the familiar Hyundai grille, flanked by slim and angry little headlights. There are also lots of side-profile character lines, an aggressive stance, and a hefty dollop of faux tough plastic add-ons.