First, let it be said you don’t have to be a millennial to like the Hyundai Kona. Sure, it has a youthful vibe and an attractive price tag for first-time buyers. But these days, with the average price of new cars in the mid- to upper-$30s, lower priced subcompact SUVs are beckoning a lot more than 20-somethings. And the Kona fits the bill nicely for many people because it offers a lot of safety and features in a fun to drive, affordable package. Hyundai just reported Kona sales were up 34% in August of 2019. It’s also racked up its share of industry accolades (so clearly I was onto something when I gave the 2018 Ultimate with the turbocharged engine my thumbs up.) It’s been named 2019 North American Utility Vehicle of the Year and also made Car And Driver’s 10 Best Trucks and SUVs list. Even Tony Stark wanted in on the action with the limited-edition 2019 Kona Iron Man Edition.
This is the Kona’s second model year, so no major changes, but there are a few tweaks and more standard driver assistance. There are four trims, the SE, SEL, Limited and Ultimate. There are still two powertrains offered: a basic not very powerful base engine for the SE and SEL trims, and a much more impressive for its class turbocharged engine reserved for the Limited and Ultimate models. All-Wheel Drive remains optional across the lineup.
The choice of two markedly powertrains sets Kona apart from competitors. My test model is the SEL AWD with the base model 2.0-liter 147-horsepower engine mated to a 6-speed transmission. The top two trims get a 1.6 liter-turbocharged engine good for a substantially more 175-horses mated to a 7-speed dual clutch. I’ve driven both powertrains and wow what a difference. To be fair, the base model’s 147-horses beats some of the competition like the Honda HR-V and Toytoa C-HR, but still I yearned for the power of the Ultimate’s 1.6-liter turbo which gave me more confidence accelerating onto the highway or into traffic from a stop. I also found the SEL’s base engine to be pretty loud when flooring the throttle to pull into traffic or merging onto the highway. Once in traffic acceleration felt fine.
The biggest thing going for the Kona is a great ride and drive when equipped with optional all-wheel drive. Its upgraded multi-link rear suspension delivers a comfortable ride that handles bumps easily. The Turbo engine makes it a bit more fun to drive, but like the Ultimate, the SEL is easy and enjoyable to drive with good maneuverability. The cabin did have more road noise than I would have liked, and the engine noise didn’t help.
Hyundai went for rugged when designing the Kona perhaps to make up for its subcompact status. My Chalk White model sports a lot of black cladding on the exterior, especially above the wheel arches. The SEL features larger 17-inch alloy wheels over the SE’s 16-inch. Hyundai separated the headlamps and taillights from the turn signals in front and back. The lineup comes with LED daytime running lights, but full LED headlights and taillights are disappointingly reserved for the 2 upper trims.
Inside the Kona SEL you’ll find cloth upholstery and hard plastic surfaces, though Hyundai updated 2019 trims with soft touch front door armrests and inserts. The layout is user-friendly and I welcomed the two-tone black/gray interior. The front-row felt roomy but more impressive is the headroom throughout the entire cabin. Legroom space is more limited in the second-row.
The cloth seats are comfortable (the upper trims feature leather) though the bottom cushion seemed on the short side.. A manually adjustable 6-way heated driver’s seat is standard, but an 8-way power with lumbar support is optional. Thanks to the high seating position, visibility out the front and back is great.
The SEL’s tilt-and-telescopic leather-wrapped steering wheel offers cruise and audio controls. Look up from the steering wheel and you see an easy to read tachometer with a 3.5-inch digital info display. Upper trims get a larger 4.2 inch. The SEL sports manual A/C with large manual dials. The black center console is clean and minimalist with a leather-wrapped gear shifter.
A 7-inch color touchscreen jets up from the dash. The infotainment system is responsive and easy to navigate either via touchscreen or its buttons and knobs. Voice recognition is impressive. Android and Apple are standard across the lineup, as is a rear view monitor with parking guidance. However, navigation is only available on the top Ultimate trim. There are now 2 USB ports up front.
There is a 60/40 split fold-down rear seatback. Open the trunk with the keyfob and you get 19.2 cubic-inches of cargo space with the seats up, 45.8 with them down. There is a storage area underneath the cargo area too. Dual-level cargo floor and cargo cover are standard across the lineup.
2019 brings enhanced standard safety across the lineup. New standard Hyundai SmartSense safety technologies on all levels include Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist, Lane Keep Assist, and Driver Attention Warning. The SEL nets some additional features unavailable on the base model: blind spot warning, lane change assist, and rear cross traffic warning. But there is no high beam, pedestrian detection or parking distance warning.
My SEL’s $1,600 tech package comes with a power tilt and slide sunroof, 8-way power driver’s seat along with an 8-speaker Infinity premium audio. It also adds fog lights and a shark fin roof antenna. Toss in another $125 for carpeted floor mats. (Note: In 2020, the tech-package equipped model becomes the SEL Plus and includes a 4.2-inch driver’s display screen and wireless charging.)
Fuel economy for the AWD-equipped models is 27 combined. It increases to 30 combined if you go with the front-wheel drive.
The Hyundai Kona is award-winning for a reason, offering a comfortable, enjoyable ride along with excellent safety features. For the price and features, I’d probably pass on the SEL with the options ($25,970) and go for the Limited (MSRP $25,550) for the additional standard equipment, more powerful turbocharged engine, LED headlights and leather seats.
2019 Hyundai Kona SEL AWD
- What I liked most: The Kona’s comfortable, easy to drive, ride.
- What I would change: The base engine/powertrain; add automatic A/C to the Tech Package.
- MSRP: $23,200; as equipped, $25,970.
- Official color: Chalk White.
- Fuel economy: 26 city/29 highway/27 combined, with filler on the driver’s side.
- Odometer reading when tested: 1,087 miles.
- Spare tire: Compact temporary.
- Weight: 3,259 pounds (AWD).
- Length-width-height: 164” long/ 70.9” wide/61” tall (w/roof rails.)
- Fuel-tank capacity: 13.2 gallons.
- Towing capacity: N/A.
- 2019 Hyundai Kona SEL in a few words: One of the best subcompact SUV choices out there when equipped with the turbo engine.
- Warranty: 5-year, 60,000-mile Warranty; 10-yr, 10,000-mile Powertrain warranty; 7-year/Unlimited-mile Anti-Perforation Warranty; 5-year, Unlimited Roadside Assistance.
- Final assembly location: Ulsan, Korea.
- Manufacturer’s website: Hyundai