Hyundai Kona — Solid crossover value

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The sub-compact Hyundai Kona crossover was named North American Utility of the Year in 2019 beating out such vaunted finalists as the Acura RDX and Jaguar I-Pace. Now in its third year of production, the 2020 Kona is a delightful blend of style inside and out, considerable capability with a stout turbocharged engine, and a value in even the highest priced trim level coming in below 30 grand.

Hyundai has kept its winning formula over the past three years, and there are a few noteworthy upgrades in the Kona for 2020. For instance, some high-end features have trickled down to a new mid-range SEL Plus including a 4.2-inch color display located between two analog gauges, and a wireless charging pad for smartphones. Adaptive cruise control, one of our favorite features, is now standard on the top Ultimate trim level.

Visually, the Kona is one of the best-looking models in the growing sub-compact 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.

There are two engines — a 147-horsepower four-cylinder mated to a six-speed automatic that is standard on the SE and SEL models. But the standout engine is a 175-horsepower 1.6-liter turbocharged GDI four cylinder engine mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

We were impressed by the performance of the turbo, 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 seems to seek out higher gears to keep the engine purring along to its best gas mileage advantage. For comparison purposes, the 1.6-liter can propel the Kona from 0-to-60 in 6.6 seconds, one of the fastest times in the segment.

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 even over choppy roads, and it should please most people.

Fuel economy is on the minds of many buyers in this segment, and the Kona answers the call with decent numbers, although not the best among its competitors. The 1.6-liter is EPA-rated at 28 city, 32 highway and 30 combined in front-wheel drive and 26/29/27 in all-wheel. The smaller engine rates at 27/33/30 in front drive and 26/30/28 all-wheel. Both engines operate on regular gas.

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, automatic full-LED headlamps and cruise control. And there are actual knobs to control the climate-control system and audio adjustments.

The well-shaped 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), there is plenty of space for hauling travel gear or a big stop at Costco.

The 2020 Kona comes in five trim levels starting at $21,420  — SE, SEL, SEL Plus, Limited and Ultimate. Normally we would recommend the SEL Plus trim that comes with a nice range of features for $25,070, but we can't because it also comes with the base engine. The best buy then is the Limited that — along with the Ultimate trim — comes with the excellent turbocharged engine and 7-speed dual clutch automatic for $27,220 including the $1,120 destination charge.

All-wheel drive can be added to any trim level for $1,400.

The Ultimate tops out at $30,470 in AWD. Our FWD Ultimate test car carried a bottom line of $28,980 including destination charge.

And don't forget the Kona comes with Hyundai’s now well known warranties including 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper and 10-year/100,000-mile drivetrain. Add to that free maintenance for 3 years/36.000-miles.

2020 Hyundai Kona

Base price: $21,420; as driven, $28,980
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: front 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: 28 city, 32 highway, 30 combined
0-60: 6.6 seconds (Car and Driver)

The Good
• Strong turbocharged engine
• Nimble handling
• Excellent warranties

The Bad
• Tight rear seat

The Ugly
• Weak base engine