New Hyundai Kona vs Volkswagen T-Roc

Fuel efficiency is at the heart of Hyundai’s new small SUV, but does it have enough strings in its bow to beat the five-star Volkswagen T-Roc? Let’s find out...

New Hyundai Kona vs Volkswagen T-Roc fronts

The contenders

NEW Hyundai Kona 1.6 Hybrid N Line S

List price £34,225
Target Price £34,225

In hybrid form, this latest iteration of the Kona small SUV promises to be very efficient. It’s also lavishly equipped and more practical than its predecessor

Volkswagen T-Roc 1.5 TSI 150 R-Line

List price £34,575
Target Price £32,896

The T-Roc has long been one of the best small SUVs you can buy in entry-level Life trim. Does the top-spec petrol version we’re testing here make as much sense?

Back in 2013, when K-Pop band BTS first rose to fame in its native South Korea, you’d have been hard pressed to find anyone here in the UK who knew it existed. However, fast forward to 2017 and the group was winning Western music awards, and two years later it was selling out Wembley to some of the most committed fans in the industry.

We’ve seen something similar with South Korean cars. The models from the likes of Hyundai and Kia used to be oddball choices, but both brands have gone from strength to strength in recent years and seemingly can’t put a foot wrong these days.

Hyundai Kona rear cornering

The former will be hoping that this trend continues with its latest model: the new Hyundai Kona small SUV. Building on the firm foundations set by the previous version, it brings more interior space and a new infotainment system, plus it’s the first Hyundai to offer over-the-air software updates, so your car can be upgraded without you having to visit a dealer.

As before, the Kona is available in petrol, electric and hybrid forms, with the latter tested here. And what better test than putting it head to head with one of our favourite small SUVs, the Volkswagen T-Roc? Seen here in 1.5 TSI 150 form (there’s no mild or full hybrid version of the T-Roc), it represents fierce competition. So, can the Kona dethrone it in the same way that BTS knocked big-name artists off the top of the charts?


Performance, ride, handling, refinement

While the Kona and T-Roc are both being tested in sporty trims (N Line S and R-Line respectively), these beef up the looks rather than the performance, so neither car takes your breath away when you put your foot down.

Volkswagen T-Roc rear cornering

It’s the Kona that can pull away from a set of traffic lights quicker, thanks to the responsiveness of its electric motor. However, the T-Roc is lighter and more powerful, so it soon catches up and is ultimately the livelier performer; it can accelerate from 0-60mph in 8.5sec, versus 9.9sec for the Kona.

This extra performance is welcome when overtaking or joining a fast-moving motorway, but both cars can keep up with the everyday ebb and flow of traffic easily enough.

The only frustrating thing about making progress in the T-Roc is that its seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox tends to hesitate before changing down when you floor the accelerator pedal, especially in Eco mode. This isn’t an issue for the Kona’s six-speed automatic ’box, with the electric motor filling in any gaps.

Hyundai Kona front

However, the Kona differs from a lot of other new hybrids (including the rival Toyota Yaris Cross) in that it rarely runs purely on electric power around town. Even if you pull away gently and do little more than tickle the accelerator pedal, the petrol engine soon kicks in. It’s a similar story at higher speeds: the engine switches off (to help save fuel) whenever you lift and coast, but not for long.

If fun is more important to you than efficiency, the T-Roc is definitely the car to choose. On a spirited drive, it actually feels more like a Volkswagen Golf hatchback than an SUV, with its taut suspension minimising body lean and its accurate steering giving you a good idea of what the front wheels are doing and how much grip is available. Our car was helped by being fitted with optional Dynamic Chassis Control (£1105), which allows you to firm up and soften the suspension at will, but the T-Roc handles well even without this.

Volkswagen T-Roc front

By contrast, the Kona gives the impression that it would rather you avoided winding roads altogether, because its steering is relatively vague and and its softer suspension causes the car – and its occupants – to lurch about more.

The pay-off for this softness is an uncanny ability to take the sting out of potholes, but ride comfort could still be better, because the Kona tends to fidget around on smoother roads. As a result, it’s actually the T-Roc that’s more comfortable more of the time; it feels settled over patched-up surfaces and still copes with large bumps reasonably well.

Both cars are quiet cruisers, shutting out wind and road noise well at motorway speeds. And when you put your foot down, neither engine gets overly raucous.

Next: What are they like inside? >>

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