If you’re going to arrive late to the subcompact SUV party, you’d better be something worth waiting for. Luckily for Hyundai, the new Kona is. And one look at the anything-but-minimalist front end proves it clearly came ready to make a big entrance.
2018 Hyundai Kona
The 5-passenger Kona is Hyundai’s brand new baby crossover -slash- hatchback. It’s also the first model built on the brand’s new platform. The Kona goes up against a slew of competitors including the Honda HR-V, Toyota CH-R, Jeep Renegade, Ford EcoSport and Mazda CX-3, to name a few. The Kona stands out with its impressive ride and drive, engine options and tech offerings, along with perhaps the best lane-keeping assist system I’ve run across. My test model was the top-of-the-line 2018 Kona Ultimate trim. The SE, SEL, and Limited come before it. Prices start low just over $19K but to get the bells and whistles along with all-wheel drive you climb over the $29K mark.
Ride, Drive, and Performance
For me, the big story with the Kona is my AWD model’s great ride and handling. Steering was quick and responsive with a fairly tight turning radius. All-wheel drive equipped models feature independent rear suspension and a locking differential, giving the baby crossover a planted feeling on the road. (Both all-wheel drive and forward-wheel drive are offered across the lineup.) Highway road noise was noticeable but in line with its class.
It offers two engine options – something that sets it apart from many of its competitors – and one of them is turbocharged. My Ultimate model was perfectly-powered with its upgraded turbo 1.6-liter 175-horsepower engine mated to a 7-speed CVT. A 147-horsepower 2.0L engine comes standard on the two lower trims and it’s paired to a 6-speed. If you are considering the Kona test both engines because that’s a marked difference in horsepower. You get normal, sport and eco modes.
The Kona’s stylish curves and spunky personality fit right in with the segment that favors an aggressive, beefy look to counter its size. I think my tester’s subdued but respectable Thunder Gray hue muted a bit of its overall pizzazz, but more colorful options with two-tone roofs are available in the Kona’s color pallet. The Ultimate features 18-inch alloy wheels, a roof rack, and chrome-framed grille. The front ends stacked LED running lights and headlights resemble the Jeep Cherokee’s look.
Open the doors and I have to say I was a little disappointed to see all the plastic my range-topping test model had for the price tag, which was just over $29K. While laid out well, the stark black interior was rather uninspiring, though you can get a lime green trim (pictured below) if you are so inclined.
My model did sport leather seating surfaces, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and gear shifter. The 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat was a highlight (the passenger seat is manually adjustable.) Designed well with some bolstering, the heated front seats get my thumbs up for comfort. Designers also did a great job with the tachometer and 4.2-inch driver display screen. A 3.5-inch screen is standard. Single-zone automatic climate control and a power sunroof come standard on the Ultimate and Limited.
While shorter than some of the competition, the Kona still feels roomy enough to fit four adults comfortably. It has a 60/40 split fold-down and reclining rear seatback with 19.2 cubic-inches of cargo space with the seats up, 45.8 with them down. All trims have a dual level cargo floor.
Where the Kona lacks inspiration in the cabin, it makes up for with technology. The Limited is the only trim to offer wireless charging and also features a standard heads-up display with speed limit signage. My tester also included Hyundai’s next-gen Blue Link infotainment system that’s simple and easy to navigate with a great voice command system.
An 8-inch color touchscreen (a 7-inch is standard) offers modern, vibrant graphics and mapping. Its volume-mounted controls on the steering wheel did thwart me a bit. I accidentally muted the sound more than once. My tester’s upgraded Infinity premium 8-speaker audio system with Clari-Fi Music Restoration Technology sounded great. All models come with one USB and two 12 volts along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The Ultimate comes decked out with driver assistance features. My favorite is lane-keeping assist with driver attention warning. It felt like semi-autonomous driving — wow did it ping pong perfectly keeping me within my lane – and it audibly reminds you to keep both hands on the wheel when you’re trying to test out the feature. The Blind Spot Monitoring is system is quite robust in its audible alert as well. BSM and rear-cross traffic are standard on everything but the base SE. The Ultimate is the only trim to get high beam assist. Surprisingly, automatic emergency braking and forward-collision warning are only standard on the top trim. (What’s up Hyundai?) Another head scratcher is that while cruise control is standard across the board, adaptive cruise control is not even available.
Standard Lineup Features
Standard features across the lineup include power windows and locks, a rearview camera with parking assist, a tilt and telescopic steering wheel, steering wheel mounted controls and a tire monitoring system.
So overall, does the Kona have what it take to compete in this ever-growing small compact SUV segment? While not quite perfect, yes. Proving coming late to the party isn’t a bad thing.