Hyundai Kona 1.0 T-GDi 120 Premium SE
List price £21,450
Target Price £20,314
Hyundai’s smallest SUV has the gutsiest engine and by far the most standard luxuries.
Seat Arona 1.0 TSI 115 FR Sport
List price £20,665
Target Price £18,909
Cheaper Aronas make plenty of sense, but what about this FR Sport model?
Volkswagen T-Roc 1.0 TSI 115 Design
List price £21,130
Target Price £20,470
More powerful T-Rocs are pricey, but this entry-level petrol model looks good value.
You’ve probably seen the TV ad by now. A black sheep is born on a stormy night and then proceeds to wreak havoc on its farm, fronting up to dogs and cows and then smashing through a barn before finally being cowed when it comes face to face with the new Volkswagen T-Roc.
The irony is the notion that buying a small SUV is somehow a left-fi eld or rebellious choice is at least five years out of date. There isn’t a more de rigueur type of car on the planet right now – and it’s not hard to understand why. After all, we’ve had decades of small hatchbacks that all followed the mould of the original Mini, whereas small SUVs offer similarly low running costs while being somewhat more attention-grabbing.
The T-Roc may be the newest of these 4x4 lookalikes, but so many have flooded the market in recent months that we were spoilt for choice when it came to lining up rivals. It’s the cheaper end of the T-Roc range that has the most appeal, so we had to include the Seat Arona – a car that’s already seen off the Citroën C3 Aircross and Kia Stonic in a previous test.
More of an unknown quantity is the Hyundai Kona because this is the first time we’ve put it through our rigorous group test treatment. However, since it’s built on the same underpinnings as the Stonic, it should be reasonably tidy to drive and you certainly get lots of creature comforts for your money.
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
You might imagine a small 1.0-litre petrol engine would struggle to haul around an SUV, but remember these cars all have a smaller footprint than a VW Golf. Besides, all three engines are turbocharged so actually pump out a respectable amount of power.
The Arona is nippiest when you put your foot down hard and allow its engine to rev before changing up through the gears. However, the others aren’t far behind and the Kona actually builds speed most swiftly from low revs in the higher gears. Even with four passengers on board and a boot full of bags, you won’t find any of our trio frustratingly sluggish.
That said, if you were hoping for a bit more performance, engines of up to 148bhp are available in the Arona and T-Roc, while the Kona is offered with an even punchier 175bhp turbocharged petrol.
When accelerating in any of our trio, you do hear an offbeat thrum and feel a bit of vibration through the soles of your shoes. However, the T-Roc does the best job of isolating you from this and, thanks to its low levels of wind and road noise, is easily the most peaceful companion at a steady cruise. The Kona has the least refi ned engine, although the Arona’s greater road roar makes it the rowdiest on the motorway.
Changing gear in the Arona and T-Roc is a largely pleasant experience; both cars have gearshifts that are precise and free from any irksome notches. The Kona’s isn’t bad, but there isn’t the same positive snick as you shift from one cog to another. You might also find the brake pedal a bit spongy and slow to respond, whereas the middle pedal in the others is that bit sharper – maybe even a little too sharp in the T-Roc.
There’s no cheating physics here; none of our protagonists handle corners as well as a conventional small hatchback, such as a Seat Ibiza. Their taller bodies inevitably lean more through faster corners and that makes them feel a little less agile. In the case of the Arona and Kona, we really do mean ‘a little’, though; both cars change direction remarkably smartly by SUV standards, but particularly the Kona.
That said, you’ll enjoy the experience of threading your way along a country road more in the Arona because its steering is more precise and tells you more about the relationship between tyre and road. The T-Roc actually has the most feelsome steering of the bunch, but it behaves the most like you’d expect an SUV to, with the least grip and the most body sway through tight twists.
All things considered, the T-Roc rides bumps in the most comfortable fashion, though. It breezes over speed humps with the least drama and deals best with the sort of long-wave undulations you regularly encounter along country roads. However, in FR Sport trim, the Arona has a clever suspension set-up that allows you to stiffen and soften the dampers at your whim, and in the more comfortable of two settings it actually stays more settled than the T-Roc along pockmarked roads – no matter what speed you’re doing.
The Kona, meanwhile, is always the least agreeable; it jolts the most violently over potholes and jostles you the most along scruffy town roads. There are less comfortable small SUVs (the C3 Aircross and Nissan Juke, for example) but the Kona is certainly no better than average for the class for ride comfort.
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