Even before reading the first word of this review, I’m betting you’ve already decided whether you’d ever seriously consider buying the 2019 Hyundai Kona seen here. Such is the power of decisive — and divisive design.
Since you’re still reading, I’ll assume you’re cool with — or at least intrigued by — this subcompact crossover SUV’s distinctive appearance, including its funky split headlamps and willfully different cladded fenders.
Hyundai is directly courting millenials with the Kona, and according to Chris Chapman, the big chief at Hyundai’s design center in California, this model’s appearance is inspired by “those smaller dogs that think that they’re tough… they don’t care how small they are, they can just stand up to anything.” Like a bulldog, the Kona has a long front overhang with a big, expressive face paired to a relatively small body. It’s not a look that’s for everyone, and that’s exactly the point — if you want wallflower design, another dealer will happily sell you aor .
Me? I like it.
Available turbo attitude
That tiny-but-pugnacious spirit carries over to the Kona’s engine offerings, too. Available in both front- and all-wheel drive, the powertrain range starts with a naturally aspirated, Atkinson-cycle Nu 2.0-liter four-cylinder bearing 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. However, in the spirit of being properly small and feisty, you’ll likely want to step up to a Limited or Ultimate trim, both of which come with a diminutive 1.6-liter turbocharged engine outputting 175 horsepower and a meaty 195 pound-feet of torque.
That’s a pretty generous amount of power for this class, and it essentially comes without a fuel economy penalty. FWD 2.0-liter models are EPA rated at an unremarkable 27 miles per gallon city, 33 mpg highway and 30 combined. The 1.6-liter turbo gains 1 mpg in the city but trades away one in both highway and combined cycles, so in real-world driving, it’ll likely be a wash. AWD models take a not-insignificant efficiency hit, dropping to 25/30/27 mpg (2.0L) and 26/29/27 (1.6T), respectively.
There are other reasons to splurge on the forced-induction engine — not only does it come with a quicker-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox (the 2.0 receives a conventional six-speed automatic), it’s also paired to a multi-link rear suspension that’s fully independent. Although I did not have the chance to test it at the Kona’s media launch event, the base engine’s torsion beam rear axle is markedly less sophisticated and undoubtedly affects its ride and handling acumen.
If you’re not into filling up your car at the pump and would rather plug in at home, Hyundai isto offer an all-electric version of the Kona here in the US that will compete with models like the and base, smaller-capacity , a vehicle that still isn’t on sale yet. (Hyundai has already shown the in other markets.)
This being a youth-centric vehicle, you’re likely expecting a generous amount of convenience and safety tech inside the Kona, and you won’t be disappointed.
Hyundai has quietly offered one of the most intuitive infotainment packages in the business for many years now, a system that typically punches well above the price points where its vehicles live. That’s largely true, here, too. A 7-inch touchscreen is standard, and an 8-inch unit with navigation is optional.
The latter features Blue Link LTE-powered telematics, bundling features like remote start and stolen vehicle recovery, as well as Amazon Alexa skills and Apple Watch/Android Wear functionality. If that’s not enough, the up-level Infinity eight-speaker audio that comes with it makes the bigger system a worthy upgrade. Either way you go, though, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration come standard.
Regardless of model, the infotainment screen is mounted atop the center stack in a floating mount, and is smartly flanked by an array of buttons and knobs that make for easier use. However, the screen itself could be integrated more cleanly with a bezel-less design. As it is the system doesn’t look particularly slick or high-tech.
Other cabin tech niceties include an optional Qi wireless device charger, as well as an available head-up display. Like theand , the system doesn’t project directly onto the windshield, it displays information on a transparent piece of plastic that motorizes into place and disappears when not in use.
This is a less-attractive, less-integrated solution than HUDs found on many luxury and sports cars, but it has a large 8-inch readout that’s much brighter (10,000 nits) than competing systems, and it works well. It’s also much less less expensive, lighter and more compact to package into the dashboard. Finally, since it’s not part of the windshield, this type of HUD solution makes for far less-costly replacement in the event of a rock strike — an important consideration at this price-sensitive end of the market.
Overall, the Kona’s interior is a nice place to be — there’s a surprising amount of space for occupants and their stuff. Cargo-wise, there’s 19.2 cubic feet of space available with the rear seats down, and 45.8 cubic feet with them stowed.
In the examples I drove, cabin fit and finish was strong. I do wish the overall aesthetic was as bold and funky as this cute ute’s exterior. As it is, unless you splurge for the high-line Limited model’s leather seats with their lime accents, it’s a pretty ordinary-looking environment, one that could be at home in an. A few more unique trim bits, light-hearted Easter Eggs or surprise-and-delight features could go a long way.
Oh, and one other minor quibble: I wish the door caps featured soft-touch plastic, which would be more comfortable for drivers like me who occasionally rest an elbow on the sill. The dashboard trim in front of the passenger is identically grained, yet has a nice amount of “give” — it’d do nicely.
Over two days and hundreds of miles of driving on the Big Island of Hawaii (where else?), I found the seats to be both comfortable and supportive whether casually taking in the countless scenic vistas or when hustling up or down the island’s many twisting roads. Our drive route included a good amount of climbs and ascents, and there was always plenty of power underfoot with the 1.6T Gamma engine.
I’ve driven this same basic powertrain previously in Hyundai’s Tucson Eco,
Having said that, I do wish Hyundai had splurged for paddle shifters. They’re not expensive, and especially with this type of gearbox, they’re a great way to amp up driver involvement and control (particularly in hilly environments like Hawaii, where frequent engine braking is an asset).
I found the Kona’s steering to be light, accurate and reasonably quick from lock-to-lock, a welcome mix of attributes for a vehicle of this type. High-speed runs aren’t exactly Hawaii’s metier, but I still found the Kona to be an entertaining drive partner, with ample traction from its 18-inch 235/45 Goodyear Eagle touring rubber.
Perhaps more importantly for a subcompact SUV, the Kona was surprisingly quiet inside, and despite its modest 164-inch overall length (over a foot shorter than Hyundai’s next-largest
Not much for the rough stuff
Of course, before you entertain any visions of off-road glory, Hyundai says the Kona is “for urban adventurers,” and it only has 6.7-inches of ground clearance, a figure it shares with the humblesedan. That means this crossover is better suited for traversing the pothole-strewn dirt lot in front of the taco stand blowing up your Yelp “Hot And New” feed than it is at attempting actual off-roading.
Despite its armored fenders and planted stance, this Hyundai is actually more of a hatchback with optional all-wheel drive traction than it is a bona-fide SUV. That onroad bias makes sense, though, because with the exception ofand , none of the Kona’s competition is exactly rough-and-tumble ready.
In terms of active safety tech, this Hyundai covers the waterfront, at least on SEL-grade models and higher. The Kona features an available forward collision-avoidance with pedestrian detection; blind-spot, lane-keep and automatic high-beam assists; and even a (fairly rudimentary) driver attention warning system. A rear cross-traffic collision warning system augments the standard backup camera — no 360-degree camera coverage is available, but parking-distance sensors come on top-trim Ultimate models.
Weirdly, despite having most of the necessary hardware, adaptive cruise control is not available at launch.
Price-wise, the Kona is squarely in the hunt. MSRPs start at a reasonable $19,500 for the base FWD SE trim, and climb to $27,400 for an Ultimate with the aforementioned lime-accented leather and a brace of added features (both prices plus $950 freight). The electronically lockable all-wheel-drive system adds $1,300 to the bottom line of all trims, and the first models are trickling into dealers as you read this.
Overall, the 2018 Hyundai Kona has all the makings of a standout model in one of the auto industry’s quickest-accelerating segments. Its refined power and handling combine with a strong complement of advanced safety and convenience tech to make it must-drive if you’re shopping for a new small SUV — provided, of course, that you like its bulldog looks.
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