Catchy K-names aside, these two small SUVs come packed with personality and ready to vie for the attention of consumers looking for style, function and economy packed into a city-friendly footprint. But is it better to shop at the bottom of an expensive pile, or at the middle of an affordable one? We find out.

When describing Australia’s small SUV segment, the word ‘crowded’ doesn’t quite cut it. ‘Cut-throat’ might be more suited, with established prestige marques facing off with challenger brands, constant upgrades made to safety, tech and cabin space, and new models landing almost monthly.

Cars in this space have to work as a Jack (or Jill) of all trades, with buyers ranging from urban professionals craving more cargo room and visibility, to budget-conscious families with a penchant for road trips, to image-conscious shoppers hungry for impressive tech and eye-catching design. Value for money, cabin comfort and practicality, driver feel and kerb appeal are all front of mind.

Hyundai’s Kona has been a successful mainstay in this category since 2017, while Skoda’s Kamiq landed more recently, in 2020, but quickly made its presence known in the sales stakes. The two variants we’re looking at here may share a similar price point, with drive-away prices on either side of $36,000, but exist at the different ends of the spectrum in their respective line-ups.

The 110TSI Ambition is the most affordable option in the pricier Kamiq range, while the Elite is one of the upper-spec options in the budget-friendly Kona range. So, is it better to shop at the bottom of an expensive pile, or in the middle ground of an affordable one? We investigate.

I can’t make up my mind. Does the new 2022 Hyundai Kona look like some kind of cartoon whale? Or, is the connection just coming from the Surfy Blue tone our Kona Elite is coloured in? I’m not sure.

Coming from a segment where interesting design is a common theme, the new Kona does a solid job of setting itself apart from the previous generation. The same combination of eyebrows and headlights persists up front, but it’s now a bit more of a caricature – cartoonish and cute.

As part of Hyundai’s current onslaught of new metal hitting showroom floors, one of the Korean brand’s most bread-and-butter models, and something of a perennial favourite in the small-SUV segment, the Kona will appreciate the update to fight against a slew of new competition.

The Kona is the second of Hyundai’s five-strong SUV range. It’s bigger than the baby Venue but smaller than the Tucson, Santa Fe and Palisade.

There are six models in the Hyundai Kona range priced from $26,900 to $42,700 plus on-road costs. The Hyundai Australia website shows prices ranging from $29,490 to $47,100 drive-away.

The base model is simply called Kona, then there is the Active (from $28,500 plus on-road costs, or $32,300 drive-away), the Elite tested here and the Highlander ($38,300 plus ORCs). These four model grades have a 2.0-litre petrol engine and CVT automatic transmission that drives the front wheels.

Two flagship models, dubbed N-Line ($36,600 plus ORCs) and N-Line Premium ($42,700 plus ORCs), are powered by a turbocharged 1.6-litre engine paired to a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic and all-wheel drive.

The variant we are testing here is the Kona Elite 2WD priced at $31,900 plus on-road costs or $35,850 drive-away.

We recently got the keys to the Skoda Kamiq. There are three models on offer, and the one I’ll tell you all about here is the 2022 Skoda Kamiq 110TSI Ambition, which opens the range. 

A small SUV attracts a broad audience – not just working as the bridge from a small hatch to a city car, but it serves as a family car and everyday urban runabout too. 

While not saturated, buyers are spoiled with choice with 17 brands swimming in the small SUV pool. Interestingly, it’s not just the mainstays filling the top spots, with challengers such as MG dominant in the class with the now popular MG ZS.

The Skoda Kamiq may not be frequenting the top three positions, but the brand owes a lot of its success in Australia to this car, with 33 per cent of last year’s sales attributed to this compact SUV. 

As mentioned, the one we tested was the base model. It starts at $36,990 drive-away with an automatic transmission.

While the Skoda is not the cheapest offering in the category, there’s plenty to sway you if you’re shopping down this aisle. A stylish, sporty-looking SUV, it’s not just its looks worth boasting about, it’s a pragmatic vehicle too. 

In the way of standard features, you get bang for buck as they’ve really packed plenty into a lower-grade model. 

These include interior ambient lighting, wireless phone charging, keyless entry and push-button start, height-adjustable front seats with lumbar support, power tailgate, multifunction flat-bottom steering wheel, automatic headlights, privacy glass, silver roof rails, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, to name a few.

If you want to add some extra frills, then you can pay for a panoramic roof that will set you back $1300, plus there’s the optional tow bar for an additional $2000. 

Key details 2022 Hyundai Kona Elite 2022 Skoda Kamiq 110TSI Ambition
Price (MSRP) $31,900 plus on-road costs $36,990 drive-away
Colour of test car Dive in Jeju Candy White
Options None None
Price as tested $31,900 plus on-road costs $36,990 drive-away
Drive-away price $35,850 (Victoria) $36,990 drive-away

The cabin of the Kona is smart-looking and easy to live with. An electric handbrake and push-button start tidy things up, and power comes via two 12V outlets, one USB and an inductive charging pad. The latter is now standard across the Kona range.

Storage is par for the course in the segment, with a decent centre console, two cupholders, storage in the doors, and a handy slot for your wallet.

Space in the rear is decent without being amazing, but remember the Kona is at the smaller end of the SUV range. The door opening is narrow, which means you’ll need to manoeuvre yourself in and out. The second row allowed us to sneak the baby seats in without much room left over, which is typical for the segment.

The Kona’s boot is 374L, which makes it smaller than the Hyundai i30 hatchback despite housing a compact space-saver spare wheel under the floor. It is bigger than the Mazda CX-3 (264L) and Toyota C-HR (318L), but smaller than the Kia Seltos (433L) and Nissan Juke (422L).

First impressions last, and I got a really good feeling when I first jumped in the cabin of this Skoda. The interior is a really pleasant place to be, keeping in mind that this isn’t one of the available higher-grade models.

With clever contrasting of materials on the dash, seats and doors, they’ve managed to cover any nasties well. While not leather, the fabric upholstery on the seats is aesthetically pleasing and the seats themselves offer plenty of support – the front-row seats aren’t electric, but do offer lumbar support.

What’s more, the cabin is simplistic with very few buttons and dials cluttering the surfaces. The steering wheel has a real presence – flat-bottomed, sporty-looking and wrapped in leather. The steering wheel buttons are just enough and not too convoluted like many other brands. 

The front row scores ample storage for a vehicle of this size with a cubby in between the two cupholders, decent-sized door bins, centre compartment and glovebox. Other accoutrements include a wireless charging pad and the pop-out umbrella in the door – a nice surprise and very Rolls-Royce-esque. 

The rear seats offer more than enough space for adults in the way of leg and head room. You’ll only find seat heating in the higher-grade models; however, there are two USB-C ports, seat back pockets, dedicated air vents, door bins, and ISOFIX mountings points on offer. 

The 400L boot can be accessed via a power tailgate. With the rear seats folded there’s 1395L on offer. A real winner up against its head-to-head rivals with the MG at 359L and the Mazda at 317L. 

Not only is the boot large but it’s deep too, with storage on both sides, plus it comes complete with top tether points and hooks for added convenience. Under the floor is a space-saver spare wheel.

2022 Hyundai Kona Elite 2022 Skoda Kamiq 110TSI Ambition
Seats Five Five
Boot volume 374L seats up, 1156L seats folded 400L seats up, 1395L seats folded
Length 4205mm 4241mm
Width 1800mm 1793mm
Height 1565mm 1531mm
Wheelbase 2600mm 2651mm

Infotainment and Connectivity

Inside, our Elite specification is the first in the line-up to get the uprated 10.25-inch infotainment display. Lower specs make do with only 8.0 inches. There is also an eight-speaker Harman/Kardon premium sound system in this specification, but the later 10.25-inch head-up display is kept for Highlander and N Line Premium models. Subjectively and anecdotally, the sound system seems to be a worthy upgrade.

The only complaint I can level at this system – whose size and wide ratio look resplendent across the dashboard – is that smartphone mirroring only uses part of the screen closer to the passenger. It just seems a shame to lose full use of the screen, I reckon.

There’s good and bad news – let’s start with the bad first. I still can’t get my head around the fact that a lot of the Volkswagen Group vehicles still don’t offer DAB radio.

So no, the Kamiq is not equipped with this. Good news, it does have both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (wired). Note that if you don’t have a newer iPhone, this car is equipped with updated USB-C ports only… Time to upgrade your cable! 

All of this can be accessed within the 8.0-inch infotainment display – a high-resolution and easy system that you should become familiar with pretty quickly. Functions such as connecting Bluetooth and flicking through menu options are all simple to grasp. 

One nifty addition is the full-sized 10.25 digital instrument cluster, which is a real stand-out in the cabin and allows for effortless switching between the different screens.

The Hyundai Kona was crash-tested by ANCAP to its less stringent 2017 protocols, scoring 35.07 out of a possible 37 points and was therefore rated five stars. It scored 14.07 out of 16 in the frontal offset test, a perfect 16 in the side-impact test, and two out of two in the pole test. Whiplash protection was rated as ‘good’ and pedestrian protection ‘acceptable’.

The Elite specification is the first in the Kona range to get the full suite of active safety and convenience features, with variants down a rung or two missing out on some stuff.

Autonomous emergency braking, with pedestrian, cyclist and intersection detection, operates via a radar in the grille and camera in the windscreen. As does adaptive cruise control (with stop-and-go), blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and safe-exit warning.

Despite having rear parking sensors, the Kona and Kona Active miss out on those last two features (amongst others).

All Kona variants have two ISOFIX mounts, one in each of the second-row outboard seats, and three top-tether anchors across the back seat.

In the way of safety, the Skoda Kamiq is equipped with seven airbags, autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist, fatigue detection, multi-collision brake, rear manoeuvre braking assist, adaptive cruise control, and rear-view camera.  

None of these functions startled me or were too intrusive, which is a tick in my eyes. Similar to vehicle styling, though, this comes under the personal choice column.

The Kamiq was awarded five stars from ANCAP in 2019. Keep in mind that since 2018, ANCAP scoring has become much more stringent.

At a glance 2022 Hyundai Kona Elite 2022 Skoda Kamiq 110TSI Ambition
ANCAP rating & year tested Five stars (tested 2017) Five stars (tested 2019)
Safety report ANCAP report ANCAP report

Hyundai’s five-year and unlimited-kilometre warranty is good, and servicing comes every 15,000km or 12 months. With all Hyundai models, the first service at 1500km is free. After that, you can take advantage of servicing plans that cap the cost at $957 for three years and $1595 for five years if you pay upfront. 

Considering the full suite of active safety and upgraded infotainment inside, the Elite specification is the smart pick of the Kona range.

The Hyundai Kona’s fuel economy on test was 7.2L/100km, which was a bit shy of Hyundai’s 6.2L/100km claim but nothing horrendous. This figure does put it behind the Nissan Juke for claimed efficiency, as well as rivals like the popular Mazda CX-3, Toyota C-HR and Kia Seltos.

Every Skoda is supported by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. Services occur every 12 months or 15,000km (whichever comes first). The warranty is on par with industry standards and in line with Mazda; however, brands like MG and Kia offer seven years, and Mitsubishi up to 10 years.

In terms of servicing, buyers also have the option of service packs – three years/45,000km for $800, or five years/75,000km at $1400.

Fuel consumption is an area where the Skoda Kamiq shines with the brand claiming a combined 5.6L/100km. We returned a very respectable reading of 5.5L/100km. 

While there are a bunch of alternatives on offer in the market, the price tag seems fairly justified for the ample features on offer. Depending on how far you can stretch your budget, you won’t have to go trawling through an options list to add bits and bobs. It’s economical, has ample safety, and is a stylish alternative to others in the segment.

At a glance 2022 Hyundai Kona Elite 2022 Skoda Kamiq 110TSI Ambition
Warranty Five years, unlimited km Five years, unlimited km
Service intervals 12 months or 15,000km 12 months or 15,000km
Servicing costs $957 (3 years), $1595 (5 years) $800 (3 years), $1400 (5 years)
Fuel cons. (claimed) 6.2L/100km 5.6L/100km
Fuel cons. (on test) 7.2L/100km 5.5L/100km
Fuel type 91-octane regular unleaded 95-octane premium unleaded
Fuel tank size 50L 50L

The 2.0-litre ‘SmartStream’ petrol four-cylinder engine is new, but carries the same displacement and peak figures as the last one: 110kW at 6200rpm and 180Nm at 4500rpm running through a CVT automatic gearbox to the front wheels.

While it’s easier to be excited and impressed about motors with fancy dual-clutch gearboxes and forced-induction, I’d hazard a guess that this engine will supply anything and everything one needs, with plenty of refinement and efficiency at the same time.

Perhaps it comes from the dual continuously variable camshafts and two-stage intake manifold, or the new (also continuously variable) transmission, but the 2.0-litre Kona felt torquey, flexible and responsive across the board.

It’s no rocketship, but there is enough power on tap for town and country driving alike. The tachometer rarely needs to travel above three grand unless you’re pegging it hard. Then, it redlines itself mercilessly for acceleration in true CVT fashion.

The transmission is otherwise stepped to feel like a seven-speed auto and is a dutiful companion, without any aberrations of character to worry about. And with relatively meagre overall power outputs, the Kona has no trouble with wheel spin for regular driving in normal conditions.

For 98 per cent of its operation, it’s a quiet and proficient powertrain, and only starts to hum noisily when revving hard.

Although it’s front-wheel drive only, the Kona does have a small selection of low-traction driving modes to help put power down (and minimise wheel spin) in sand, mud and snow. Although, we can’t attest to how effective these might or might not be, as we stuck to the blacktop for our review.

Thanks to the Australianised ride and handling program that Hyundai developed for the Kona – which carries over from the pre-facelifted model – the facelifted model continues to carry few negatives in its deportment. Either around town or on the highway, it’s got a nice balance of comfort and control, with a playful edge. The steering in particular feels alert and eager.

A 10.6m turning circle combines well with the visibility and a decent-quality reversing camera to make it easy to operate in town.

One benefit of the Kona Elite in this regard is the 17-inch wheel package shod in our case with Nexen tyres. Higher-specced Konas get bigger rubber; however, the trade-off of extra wheel diameter – looks aside – could be a loss of ride compliance.

First things first, let’s take numbers. The Skoda Kamiq packs a 1.5-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, which is capable of 110kW at 6000rpm and 250Nm at 1500–3500rpm. This is paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission driving the front wheels.

The ride height and seat positioning are near perfect making for comfortable outings. The front and side visibility get a tick, but the rear is a little hampered due to its smaller rear window design.

While the turbo provides some bite, the engine isn’t always well-matched to the transmission. The dual-clutch is jerky in some conditions and stops you from gaining that immediate power that would otherwise be there off the line. That’s the only real shortfall. 

Once you get up to speed, the response improves remarkably providing a smooth, much more sporty drive. Even without a Sport drive-mode option, it cruises with plenty of punch and delivery feels linear. 

The ride is impressive offering a balanced and defined drive, with the 18-inch wheels capable of plenty of grip through corners, with tyre noise rarely plugging into the cabin when on coarser roads.

Speaking of which, there’s no throw-around on the bumpier surfaces either. The Kamiq takes to harsher roads well, proving to be more than just an urban hopper – it works on longer drives out of town too.

Bottom line, my gripe with the Skoda is its transmission. That aside, you’ve got yourself a pretty neat drive – nice steering, a good engine, and an overall pleasant cruise behind the wheel.

Key details 2022 Hyundai Kona Elite 2022 Skoda Kamiq 110TSI Ambition
Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
Power 110kW @ 6200rpm 110kW @ 6000rpm
Torque 180Nm @ 4500rpm 250Nm @ 1500–3500rpm
Drive type Front-wheel drive Front-wheel drive
Transmission CVT automatic Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Power to weight ratio 81kW/t 89kW/t
Weight 1383kg 1237kg
Tow rating 1300kg braked, 600kg unbraked 1250kg braked, 630kg unbraked

First and foremost, this was always going to be a battle of value. With similar price points on the road, which variant of our respective small SUV foes delivers the best bang for your buck?

Purely from a specifications standpoint, the Kona Elite offers a longer list as standard – just. The key differences are leather-trimmed seats, along with a fancy eight-speaker Harman Kardon sound system and DAB radio – three things base-spec Kamiq buyers have to do without. 

Families with a safety focus will also find their needs met in both models. They each receive essentials like lane-keep assist, forward-collision avoidance, autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and a rear-view camera. 

However, the Kona adds to that list with even more active safety tech like a safe exit warning, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert and a driver attention warning, while its cruise-control system can stop and go, and its forward collision avoidance system can detect cyclists and pedestrians as well as cars.

However, the Kamiq’s 2019 five-star ANCAP rating is more recent than the Kona’s, which was granted in 2017, and the Kamiq offers one extra airbag on top of the six available in the Kona: a knee airbag, to protect the driver’s knees and shins. 

The two cars come with identical five-year warranties, but Hyundai shoppers will actually have to hand over slightly more money for capped-price servicing, with the brand’s three- and five-year plans about $150 more expensive than Skoda’s respective offerings. 

Economy isn’t as clear-cut a comparison, but it’s possible the Kamiq could come out on top in that department too. While it requires the more expensive 95-octane premium unleaded at a minimum, the Kamiq’s fuel economy during our testing was impressive at just 5.5L/100km.

The Kona drinks 91-octane regular unleaded, but returned a fuel consumption reading of 7.2L/100km, which isn’t terrible, but could see the two cars land neck-and-neck at the servo checkout. 

Only a few dozen centimetres separates the cars’ measurements, with the Kona offering more width and height, but the Kamiq built on a longer wheelbase.

However, the Kamiq seems to fit more into its footprint, with more boot space than the Kona and a power tailgate to boost the convenience factor. 

The Kamiq’s back seat is also easier for adult passengers to get in and out of, while parents of young children could see the lack of rear air vents in the Kona as a problem on hot days. 

From behind the wheel, the Kamiq’s 1.5-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine has plenty of kick, but the dual-clutch transmission isn’t always its friend – with some jerkiness in stop-start traffic. At freeway speeds, however, this isn’t an issue and makes the Skoda a sporty, responsive tourer for family road trips. 

Conversely, the Kona’s 2.0-litre, four-cylinder non-turbo engine is a solid performer around town, but the continuously variable transmission can sap the fun out of freeway driving – although a peppy Sport drive mode can remedy this to a degree. 

On the road, both cars are composed and comfortable with playful, sporty leanings when it comes to steering and handling. The Kona’s 10.6m turning circle is helpful for those operating in small city streets, but the Kamiq’s impressively tight 10.1m turning circle makes it even more suited to urban living.

The verdict? It’s a tight contest, but success in the small SUV space is all about standing out from the ever-growing crowd – and the base-spec Skoda Kamiq 110TSI Ambition does a better job of turning our heads. 

If it’s equipment you’re after, the Hyundai Kona Elite is marginally better stocked for its lower price point, particularly in the active safety department, but the Skoda’s offering is by no means lacking, especially for an entry-level variant.

The Kamiq’s more spacious interior, slightly lower servicing costs, punchier drivetrain and lower fuel consumption help it edge ahead and more comfortably walk the line between family car and city car, or weekday commuter and weekend tourer. Just note that a dual-clutch transmission can be an acquired taste, so try before you buy.

Overall Ratings

Drive’s Pick

2022 SKODA Kamiq 110TSI Ambition Wagon

8.4/ 10

8.4/ 10

2021 Hyundai Kona Highlander Wagon

7.7/ 10

7.7/ 10

Ratings Breakdown

2022 SKODA Kamiq 110TSI Ambition Wagon
2021 Hyundai Kona Highlander Wagon
Ride Quality
2022 SKODA Kamiq 110TSI Ambition Wagon
2021 Hyundai Kona Highlander Wagon
Handling & Dynamics
2022 SKODA Kamiq 110TSI Ambition Wagon
2021 Hyundai Kona Highlander Wagon
Driver Technology
2022 SKODA Kamiq 110TSI Ambition Wagon
2021 Hyundai Kona Highlander Wagon
Interior Comfort + Packaging
2022 SKODA Kamiq 110TSI Ambition Wagon
2021 Hyundai Kona Highlander Wagon
2022 SKODA Kamiq 110TSI Ambition Wagon
2021 Hyundai Kona Highlander Wagon
Infotainment & Connectivity
2022 SKODA Kamiq 110TSI Ambition Wagon
2021 Hyundai Kona Highlander Wagon
Fuel Efficiency
2022 SKODA Kamiq 110TSI Ambition Wagon
2021 Hyundai Kona Highlander Wagon
2022 SKODA Kamiq 110TSI Ambition Wagon
2021 Hyundai Kona Highlander Wagon
Fit for Purpose
2022 SKODA Kamiq 110TSI Ambition Wagon
2021 Hyundai Kona Highlander Wagon
Susannah Guthrie

Susannah Guthrie has been a journalist since she was 18, and has spent the last two years writing about cars for Drive, CarAdvice, CarSales and as a motoring columnist for several in-flight and hotel magazines.

Susannah’s background is news journalism, followed by several years spent in celebrity journalism, entertainment journalism and fashion magazines and a brief stint hosting a travel TV show for Channel Ten. She joined Drive in 2020 after spending a year and a half at the helm of Harper’s BAZAAR and ELLE’s online platforms.

Susannah holds a Bachelor in Media and Communications from the University of Melbourne and cut her teeth as an intern for Time Inc in New York City. She has also completed a television presenting course with the National Institute of Dramatic Art. She lives in Melbourne with her husband and her one-year-old son who, despite her best efforts, does not yet enjoy a good road trip.

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