2020 Hyundai Kona — A standout small crossover

By Russ Heaps
Clanging Bell

(February 21, 2020) A wonderful blend of style, capability and value, the 2020 Hyundai Kona packs a lot into its compact-crossover package. Depending on your point of view, its exterior styling is either born of genius or an auto designer's stab at cubism. Its face, in particular, is a riot of shapes and contrasts. In any event, there is nothing else on the road that looks quite like it.

It may not cart around as much cargo as some of its rivals, but Kona's engine choices, available all-wheel drive and gobs of technology more than make up for it. Oh, and it's easy to park when not effortlessly navigating busy city streets.

In a nutshell, it's difficult not to like this feisty CUV.

Hyundai pretty much left Kona alone for 2020. Adaptive cruise control is now standard on the Ultimate grade. The SEL Plus adds a 4.2-in color display within its instrument cluster, as well as a smartphone wireless charger. Limited and Ultimate trims with either black or orange exterior colors get unique orange accents inside.

Kona comes in five trims: SE, SEL, SEL Plus, Limited and Ultimate. Base prices, including factory destination fee, begin at $21,420 for the SE, building to $29,070 for the top-of-the-line Ultimate. Choosing AWD on all trims adds $1,400 to the bottom line.

Kona offers two engine choices based on trim. The lower trims use a 147-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine to turn the wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission. It delivers 132 lb-ft of torque. In FWD versions government-estimated mileage is 17 miles per gallon city, 33 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined. Opting for AWD reduces fuel economy to 26 mpg city/30 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined.

Stepping up to either the Limited or Ultimate grade garners you the 175-hp 1.6-liter 4-cylinder turbo generating 195 lb-ft of peak torque. Switching the cogs falls to a 7-speed double-clutch automatic transmission. This engine/tranny combination doesn't alter the estimated fuel economy by much. With FWD the numbers are 28 mpg city/32 mpg highway/30 mpg combined. Driving all four wheels the mileage is 26 mpg city/29 mpg highway/27 mpg combined.

Roughly $2,000 separates the SEL Plus and Limited grades. If quickness is among your must haves, a good reason to pony up the extra green for Limited is upgrading to the turbo. I've driven both in a variety of settings and conditions. Most drivers will be fine with the 2.0L, even with AWD adding more to its burden. It's responsive enough for every-day puttering around, running those household errands and commuting to work. Is it engaging to drive? Ah, no.

On the flip side, you'll find the 1.6L turbo significantly more zippy. It answers the accelerator's call with enthusiasm. The turbo and double-clutch transmission work wonderfully together when conditions allow moving smartly up and down through the gears. Not so much in heavy city traffic where the transmission is forced to constantly search for the appropriate gear. That, though, is a fairly minor nit to pick for, what is otherwise, an entertaining experience.

With either engine, Kona is nimble and remarkably athletic. Although steering is a bit vague, cornering is consistently without drama. Even with AWD, the suspension soaks up most pavement imperfections. For a small CUV, Kona provides efficiency and credible performance.

Smaller cabins are a greater challenge to design than larger ones, but Hyundai did an admirable job in bringing together comfort, sensible ergonomics and quality within Kona's interior. A smidge of Kona's exterior pizzazz seeps into its cockpit, mostly in the available accents, rather than the actual styling. In most respects, the convenient layout is tastefully designed. It's a tidy look with a sensible number of switches and knobs for the driver to negotiate.

A large touchscreen providing access to the systems interface sits above the center stack. There are actual knobs to control the climate-control system and audio adjustments. The well-shaped, comfy seats provide plenty of support. Although cargo room is less than some others in the segment, with the split second-row seat folded (making a dual-level cargo floor), I had plenty of space to load a lawn mower on its way to be serviced.

Hyundai offers loads of technology in Kona, both safety/driver-assist and connectivity. Every Kona comes with an audio system including Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, USB ports and Bluetooth connectivity. As you move up through the trim levels an 8-in touchscreen, satellite-radio capability, Hyundai Blue Link connected-car system and a navigation system are added to the mix.

Every Kona comes out of the box with a back-up camera, forward-collision-avoidance assist, lane-keeping assist and driver-attention warning. Every other grade from SEL to Ultimate come with blind-spot monitor, lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert. The top Ultimate grade also gets rear parking-assist, forward-collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian detection, automatic high-beam assist and adaptive cruise control.

No matter the grade, wheels are alloy and vary in size from 16-in in the base SE to 18-in in Limited and Ultimate. Additionally, the SE comes with hill-start assist, seven airbags, full power accessories, remote keyless entry, auto on/off LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, air conditioning and a tilt-telescopic steering wheel.

My latest encounter with Kona was the 2020 Ultimate FWD. Ultimate is fully loaded, incorporating or upgrading all the features available in lower trims. This includes LED taillights, head-up display, automatic climate control, power sunroof, leather seating and a premium 8-speaker Infinity audio system, among other features.

In the world of small crossovers, the 2020 Hyundai Kona stands out as a well-contented value.