Hyundai Kona — A real charmer

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The subcompact crossover class is exploding. It seems like a new model appears on the market every few months to satisfy the driving public's large appetite for small cargo haulers. So it behooves manufacturers to build vehicles that stand out from the crowd, and Hyundai has done just that with its all-new Kona.

It's loaded with personality including quirky, but endearing styling both inside and out, a pleasing driving demeanor, and a technology-rich interior. Kona should do well against such serious performers as the Subaru Crosstrek, Mazda CX-3, Jeep Renegade and Honda HR-V.

Visually, the Kona is one of the best-looking models in its segment with an exterior design said to be inspired by the flowing molten lava of the world’s most active volcano, Kilauea on the Big Island of Hawaii. Although we are not fans of "cladding," the charcoal colored Pro-Tec-T (Hyundai’s name for cladding) over the wheel openings and lower body looks attractive and gives the Kona a more rugged and capable look, embodying the “Smart Armor” design theme. Hyundai says the look is intended to create a car for urban adventurers.

The Kona is available in four trim levels — SE, SEL, Limited and Ultimate. There are two engines available. The base engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque paired with a six-speed automatic. It's found in the SE and SEL trims. The Limited and Ultimate get a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Both powertrains are rated at 30 mpg combined city/highway when equipped with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is optional for $1,300, and both drivetrains feature torque vectoring, a system that allows the vehicle to control how individual wheels get power nearly instantly for improved traction.

We were impressed by the performance of the turbocharged engine, which we consider the best in the subcompact ranks. The Kona is ready to surge off the line and has plenty of power to dish out when passing or merging with the dual-clutch automatic putting the engine in its optimum range. When cruising, the transmission seemes to seek out higher gears to keep the engine purring along to its best gas mileage advantage.

We were also impressed with the little guy's flat cornering capability and its ability to quickly change direction. Steering feel was a bit lacking, but this is not unusual with small crossovers. At the same time, the suspension offered a very comfortable ride that should please most.

The interior exudes style and quality even though there was a lot of hard plastic. We liked the clean, simple design. And we were attracted to the Lime colored accents that went extremely well with the glossy black interior trim on our Ultimate test car. There’s a standard seven-inch touch screen that sits high on the dash. It increases to an eight-inch screen when trim levels include navigation. All controls are nicely placed, with an intuitive infotainment menu and other operational controls.

Rare-for-the-segment, up-market features available on the Kona include a head-up display, and standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. Ditto for Bluetooth, individual tire-pressure monitoring, tilt-telescoping steering wheel, power mirrors, au
tomatic full-LED headlamps and cruise control.

Additional items included on the Ultimate trim are navigation, a premium Infiniti Harman-Kardon audio system, wireless device charging, rain-sensing wipers, and Hyundai’s Blue Link connected-car system that is compatible with Android and Apple watch ap
ps, Google Home, and Amazon Alexa.

Hyundai SmartSense is available with advanced safety features such as forward-collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, driver-attention warning, automatic high beams, blind-spot collision warning with lane changing assist, and rear-cross traffic collision warning. SmartSense is available on all models except the base SE, but we feel it should be standard on all trim levels.

When it comes to overall value, the new Kona is nearly impossible to beat. The base SE has a MSRP of $20,450 including $950 for shipping and handling. For price sensitive shoppers, we strongly suggest moving up to the SEL trim level for an additional $1,650. It adds additional important safety features, a power driver’s seat with power lumbar support and a few other items.

But for the complete Kona experience we think you should opt for one of the two top trims and the 1.6-liter turbocharged engine. All-in, our all-wheel drive Ultimate topped out at $29,805 including optional floor mats.

Don't forget that all Hyundai products come with one of the best warranties in the business — five years or 60,000 miles bumper-to-bumper and 10 years or 100,000 miles drivetrain.

Base price: $20,450; as driven, $29,805
Engine: 1-6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 175 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 195 foot-pounds @ 1,500 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch automatic
Drive: all wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 102.4 inches
Length: 164.0 inches
Curb weight: 3,043 pounds
Turning circle: 34.8 feet
Cargo capacity: 45.8 cubic feet
Luggage capacity: 19.2 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 26 city, 29 highway, 27 combined
0-60: 6.6 seconds (Car and Driver)

The Good
• Strong turbocharged engine
• Nimble handling
• Quirky good looks
• Excellent warranties

The Bad
• Top trim can top 30 grand

The Ugly
• Weak base engine