Hyundais Kona

Hyundai's Kona

This month in our Hands-On-Tech (HOT) reporting series, we put the Hyundai KONA's Blue Link system to the test*. Taking you through the top-spec connectivity features offered by manufacturers in detail, this HOT report series looks to benchmark the connectivity functionality of each manufacturer based on various test criteria. Hyundai has done a good job to position its technology with what the market is currently expecting. Yet, in this fast changing world, it is a system that will date very quickly.

Display

The display has a bland design. That's not to be unkind. There's just nothing particularly remarkable about it. The physical switchgear frames the 8" capacitive touchscreen. It is simple, easy-to-use with a reasonably good responsiveness. It has swipe capability, but no pinch and zoom. Though leather gloves don't work on the screen, there are no problems with woollen-clad fingers—though a heated steering wheel on the more premium trims will render this particular observation extraneous. Unsurprisingly, there was no gesture control.

The KONA's Blue Link system has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. Not much has changed since we last used this interface, though there have been updates. Now both Apple and Google ask the user to confirm they are not physically driving when using the handset.

Hyundai has configured the system to not engage Android Auto if the vehicle is in motion. This was also the first time, while toggling between audio sources on Auto, we got the message 'You've been distracted by this for too much time now'. Unlike manufacturers that can't accept over-the-air updates, these changes highlight the ability to, like Tesla's system, keep these applications as fresh as possible.

There's another 4.3" central screen with the option to display a digital speed, turn-by-turn navigation and other service information. It seems a little redundant for the premium SE and GT trims, since this same information can be found on the 8" head-up display (HUD). The HUD, provided as standard on these trims, consists of a separate glass screen on the dash above the wheel, i.e. in the driver's eye-line. It's brightness and height were consistent with others we've tested.

Audio

The KONA's system comes with all the usual suspects; FM, AM, DAB and Bluetooth pairing capabilities, for audio choices. Though the Premium SE and GT models carry Krell's premium sound system with external amplifier, there isn't an enhanced DSP or a way of tuning the sound output to concert, sound stage, studio or room profiles, as in the Volvo, simply. The user can manually adjust the bass, treble and mid- levels, as found in other less premium models.

Switchgear

The Hyundai KONA sports a compact area for the central switchgear, but it's well laid-out and highly accessible.

There are a good number of ports but they are all up front, making it less convenient for charging devices for backseat passengers.

The basic nature of the KONA's design means there is little proprietary functionality, such as driver profiling and personalisation, as we have seen on some of the other models. However, what is available works well and looks good.

There is a Qi wireless charging port with a green light to show when the phone is effectively charging. The only downside is that the space where the handset sits has not been made large enough to accommodate a variety of sizes of handset. Ours was a little smaller than some and there was no effective rubber pad for the phone to sit on (presumably such a measure would inhibit the electromagnetic charge). This meant the device moves out of the optimal place for a full charge or sometimes shuffles itself so far off the pad with the movement of the car that the charge is no longer effective.

Networking

The Blue Link Connect system in the KONA relies heavily on a tethered device for its networking capability. This is particularly notable with voice control, which will only work with Siri or OK Google, initiated from the button on the steering wheel controls. Hyundai is clearly hedging its bets that CarPlay and Auto will dominate and so has focused on providing the most responsive integration of these mirroring apps.

There is no connectivity to public or private WiFi hotspots and there is no over-the-air update feature, which is to be expected given the rudimentary foundation of the system.

Due to the fact the proprietary system has no connectivity of its own, there are no integrated apps either. Thus, the only ones that can be used are those that Apple and Google deem suitable for their respective mirroring apps.

Navigation

The proprietary navigation isn't particularly accurate, scoring only two out of five for route accuracy. One of our test journeys was calculated to take almost five hours, but when we turned left instead of right—knowing that the navigation had to be inaccurate—the route altered and recalculated to under three hours. Without connectivity, we knew traffic couldn't be the issue, so the navigation software has to be at fault. This highlights an ongoing issue with consumer confidence. Manufacturers will only get consumers to use the sat-nav systems for all journeys if, and only if, they can be trusted to be the most accurate thing at that very moment in time. Otherwise, it's simply a glorified A-to-Z. Drivers who are confident of their routes won't use the system for all journeys and data will not be picked up to feed into the machine-learning algorithms needed for self-driving.

The navigation did score slightly better on intuitive design, obtaining 3 out of 5, where good presentation, acceptable nesting and a mixture of natural and unnatural user experience can be found. There were seven steps to set the navigation, which is towards the high end of our benchmarking, but by no means the worst.

POIs are standard and layout is similar to other models tested.

ADAS

Though there's no 360-degree parking camera, the KONA does have a reverse-parking camera and parking sensors. The KONA has excellent lane keep-feedback through the steering wheel, which feels convincing. The cruise control is fairly smooth, but there was no indication of what speed the vehicle had been set to.

Companion App and Telematics

Hyundai Access Point (AP) app enables a hotspot, but it's done by disabling the device's native hotspot, which is counter-intuitive, since the handset can do this for itself. It also seems less reliable.

Hyundai has created a secondary 'service' app, giving info on service and maintenance. Functionality is limited and users should treat this like a troubleshooting guide, rather than a companion app.

Conclusion

Other manufacturers have the control to integrate parking, payment and alternative navigation applications if they wish. Hyundai's decision to use this stripped back Blue Link Connect system limits its control. However, the features it does have works well and it's a great stepping stone to future systems. Hyundai's strength, in building reliable, comfortable vehicles, will over time become its weakness, as its own in-cabin tech ages badly. Dependence on CarPlay and Auto will prove to be either Hyundai's saviour or saboteur.

*This article is an extract from a report that first appeared in our QUBE service. The QUBE article is accompanied by a comprehensive data sheet with our full evaluation of the Hyundai's connectivity and HMI. 

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