Lime-green subcompact crossovers tend to spend a lot of time in my garage, collecting dust or moonbeams or whatever they attract.
I mean, I’m still struggling to accept the notion of tiny SUVs that stand tall and try to roll tough with dinky four-cylinder engines and skinny little tires.
They remind me of miniature Doberman Pinschers. What are you supposed to do with them -- sic them on really small burglars?
I have to admit a lot of those biases changed recently with the arrival of the over-achiever 2020 Hyundai Kona, wearing a shocking shade of lime green visible from the outer edges of the solar system.
Sometimes, though, you have to swallow your lime-green misgivings.
In fact, after a week with the turbocharged Kona, I would put it at or very near the top of the subcompact crossover segment.
Actually, the Kona – which has 19 cubic feet of cargo space – is slightly larger than most subcompact SUVs and looks it.
As you probably know, Hyundai favors large grilles and the Kona sports one that dances on the edge of excess but ultimately just looks bold.
A raised, sculpted hood curved down to the grille while long, thin squinting headlamps add a kind of sinister element to the Kona’s face.
Like the front, the Kona’s sides were strong without seeming silly, carved crisply by a deep character line above the door-handles that makes the Kona look taut.
The sides also featured black cladding around the fenders that sort of tied the front to the rear.
Also helping with the visuals were good-looking 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped with 235/55 tires.
Meanwhile, thin high-mounted taillamps that kind of mimicked the headlamps wrapped around the rear of the Kona.
It looked like a small crossover with big ambitions – and rightly so.
The high-end $29,000 model I had came equipped with the optional turbocharged 1.6-liter four – an engine I first experienced with mixed emotions in a Hyundai Veloster years ago.
With 175 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of toque, it did a commendable job of pushing the 3,100-pound front-wheel-drive Kona to city speeds pretty effortlessly.
Though the engine and its sometimes quirky 7-speed dual-clutch transmission never seemed truly sporty, they were fairly impressive – especially above 3,000 rpm.
That was when the turbocharger really came on stream, providing a strong surge in the upper ranges that powered the Kona to 60 mph in a really quick six seconds, according to Car and Driver.
Moreover, it is rated at a commendable 30 miles per gallon overall.
However, the engine and transmission could use a little more polish. The engine stumbled occasionally down low and the transmission tended to deliver the Kona’s power abruptly – both of which seemed out of character with the rest of the Kona.
Its handling, though, already shines thanks to the vehicle’s stiff new platform, which allows more precise suspension settings.
The Kona ripped into corners with surprising enthusiasm, rarely exhibiting much body lean or clumsiness.
Likewise, its steering was quick and borderline sporting, but didn’t have much road feel.
I preferred the Kona’s sport setting for the suspension, which keeps the ride firm and even a bit fidgety on bad pavements.
If that’s not your preference, the ride gets smoother in the suspension’s normal setting.
Although the black interior in my Kona appeared to be mostly plastic, it was as well-executed as the exterior.
An upper dashboard formed of fairly high-grade plastic, for example, curved down to a spare mid-dash anchored by an 8-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
It also provided knobs to tune the radio and control the volume, earning points with me for its functional simplicity. (No one will ever nominate me Techie of the Year.)
Like just about every new vehicle I’ve driven lately, the Kona offered forward-collision avoidance, lane-keeping assist, and blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warnings.
Likewise, its door-panels kind of mimicked the dashboard with textured plastic on the upper portion of the panel and more conventional plastic on the panel.
The Kona clearly does not want us to take it too seriously.
In a slick twist, the Kona featured yellow-green rings around the edges of its climate vents, while the seats flashed yellow-green piping and stitching.
It will make you smile every time you climb in.
Though mostly a subcompact in dimensions, the Kona offered reasonable leg- and head-room in back for people under six feet.
As a well-equipped Ultimate model, my Kona had one option: carpeted floor mats ($135).
Subcompact sedans and crossovers are particularly tough to get right because of their limited space and budget constraints.
Hyundai largely succeeded with the Kona, again showing that it and corporate sibling Kia are becoming real players in the industry.
I presume Toyota, Honda and Nissan are paying close attention.
2020 Hyundai Kona Ultimate Review
- What I liked most: The Kona’s impressive mix of styling, quality and decent performance in a subcompact crossover.
- What I would change: The engine and transmission could use some tweaking
- MSRP: Base price, $20,300; as equipped, $28,890 for an Ultimate Front-Wheel-Drive.
- Official color: Lime Twist.
- Fuel economy: 28 miles per gallon in the city, 32 on the highway and 30 mpg overall with filler on the left.
- Odometer reading when tested: 3,040 miles.
- Spare tire: Temporary compact.
- Weight: 3,072 pounds.
- Length-width-height: 164 inches long/70.9 inches wide/61 inches tall
- Fuel-tank capacity: 13.2 gallons.
- Towing capacity: Not applicable.
- 2020 Hyundai Kona in a few words: A subcompact crossover that is likely to have a big presence in its segment.
- Warranty: Five-year, 60,000-mile overall warranty and 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain protection.
- Final assembly location: Ulsan, Korea
- Manufacturer’s website: www.hyundaiusa.com
- E-mail me at email@example.com
- Up next: 2020 Toyota Avalon TRD