The compact crossover market continues to grow, and now Hyundai is throwing its proverbial hat into the ring with a strong contender. The all-new Kona brings the Korean automaker’s reputation for great value wrapped in a fun-to-drive stylish crossover that has looks unique enough to separate it from the rest of the CUV crowd. Built on an all-new platform with a choice of fuel-efficient engines, the Kona should do well in this burgeoning market segment.
Stylish and Functional
“Our new Kona crossover is a stylish and functional compact CUV, tailored to the needs of customers who pursue active lifestyles of all kinds,” said Mike O’Brien, vice president of product, corporate and digital planning at Hyundai Motor America. “We’re confident it will set new standards for its segment, with appealing design, cutting-edge connectivity and class-leading available safety features,” O’Brien concluded.
The Kona’s platform consists of 52 percent high-strength steel, with Hyundai actually producing its own steel. The lightweight construction uses structural adhesives that further reduce weight and improve torsional rigidity.
The new Kona is available in four trim levels: SE, SEL, Limited and Ultimate. All trims have standard front-wheel drive but can be upgraded to all-wheel drive for an additional $1,300.
With a low starting price of $19,500, the Kona SE comes well equipped with air-conditioning, cloth seat trim, a rearview camera, an AM/FM/MP3 audio system with six speakers, Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat and a cargo cover. Also standard are LED headlights and running lights as well as 16-inch alloy wheels.
The SEL is likely to be the most popular version of the Kona. With a base price of $21,150, the SEL upgrades the SE with heated front seats, a proximity key with pushbutton start, Sirius XM and HD radio, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, rear privacy glass, blind-spot warning, lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, roof side rails and 17-inch alloy wheels. The SEL also is available with a contrasting-color roof for an additional $150.
Moving upscale is the Kona Limited that starts at $24,700. More luxurious than the SEL, the Limited adds leather trim, an 8-way power driver’s seat, a power sunroof, automatic climate control, LED taillights, fog lights, a chrome-framed grille and 18-inch alloy wheels. The Limited also upgrades to a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine.
With a starting price of $27,400, the Ultimate is the aptly-named top-of-the-line Kona. Standard equipment above and beyond the Limited includes an Infinity premium audio system with eight speakers, an 8-inch touchscreen display with navigation, rain-sensing wipers, wireless device charging, head-up display, park-distance warning, high-beam assist and forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection. Kona can be equipped with crash avoidance but not adaptive cruise control, which uses the same technology — chalk it up to keeping the price as low as possible.
Under the Hood
The Kona SE and SEL have a standard 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 147 horsepower and 132 ft-lb of torque. Available with front- or all-wheel drive, the 2.0-liter engine is teamed with a 6-speed automatic transmission. U.S. EPA fuel-economy ratings are 27 mpg city / 33 mpg highway / 30 mpg combined. All-wheel drive drops the numbers to 25 / 30 / 27, respectively.
Powering the Kona Limited and Ultimate is a new 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine producing 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, which comes in at a low 1500 rpm. The 1.6-liter unit sends power to the front or all wheels via a quick-shifting 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Although the 1.6-liter engine is more powerful, fuel efficiency is similar to the non-turbo engine — 28 mpg city / 32 mpg hwy / 30 mpg combined. As expected, fuel consumption is slightly higher with all-wheel drive.
With either cloth or leather, the interior of the Kona is attractive and comfortable. Front seats have plenty of headroom and side bolsters add support without being too snug. One surprise: the head restraints in front are pillowlike, with so much cushioning one would expect to find them in a luxury sedan — not an entry-level crossover.
Like other Hyundai models, the Kona’s controls display is easy to read with intuitive functionality. Volume and tuning knobs are welcome, as are hard buttons alongside the screen for quick access to the nav and radio. The home screen can display multiple bits of information — no need to change screens from audio to navigation since both can be seen simultaneously.
Higher-level Kona trims also offer wireless charging for properly-equipped mobile phones. A nice added feature: a message appears in the driver display when the engine is shut off, reminding the driver not to forget the phone.
One USB Port?
Although there are two 12-volt outlets, surprisingly Hyundai introduced an all-new model with just one USB port. There are no ports in the center console or in the rear seat — something most competitors offer and consumers will be looking for.
The rear seat can be a little tight depending on how far back the front seat is adjusted; however, during our press drive we spent more than an hour riding in back and found it quite comfortable. Three people in the rear seat would be cramped, especially for a long period of time.
Cargo room is plentiful and a built-in cargo cover provides some visual security for valuables. An additional space below the floor can accommodate smaller items. Rear seats can be folded flat for an impressive amount of space — especially for a vehicle this size.
On the Road
We had the fortunate opportunity to test drive the new Kona in the vehicle’s namesake destination in Hawaii, where we found a nice mix of freeway driving, twisty roads and less-than-optimal road surfaces. The turbocharged Kona feels quick off the line — low-end torque is immediately obvious, so pulling into traffic is a breeze. The transmission shifts smoothly and quickly; however, it tends to jump to a higher gear whenever possible for better fuel savings.
The 2.0-liter engine is not quite as responsive as the turbo; however, for most conditions it provides enough performance that owners won’t be displeased. The non-turbo is most certainly slower to 60 mph than the more powerful 1.6-liter, but ultimately it’s sufficient for safely getting up to cruising speeds.
On roads with elevation changes and sharper turns, Kona’s Sport mode works well to keep the rpm higher for better performance. The transmission can also be shifted manually with the gear shifter, which works surprisingly well — shifts are quick and satisfying enough that drivers might even long for paddle shifters to take better advantage of the transmission’s fun factor.
Not So Smooth
Granted, Kona has a smooth ride while on freeways or other smoothly-paved roads; rough roads result in a proportionately rough ride. Although the ride itself is not uncomfortable, a full drink in the cupholder would likely be sloshing out all over the console.
Hyundai has equipped all Konas with brake torque vectoring, which applies brake force to the inside wheel in a turn to help vehicle stability. This action is practically invisible to the driver — as it should be — although when making very quick left-hand turns, the Kona noticeably pivots into the turn with practically zero understeer.
Right for You?
With crossovers replacing sedans in just about every vehicle category, the Kona trumps most players in the compact sedan segment. With standout styling, fun-to-drive characteristics and the latest in available safety technology, Kona will certainly get noticed in the growing compact crossover market. Add to that a high level of utility and a low starting price and Kona is one new vehicle that needs to be on buyers’ consideration lists.
Pros: Standout styling; good handling; great value.
Cons: Only one USB port; ride can be bumpy; rear seat tight for three.
Bottom Line: A strong new entry in the compact crossover market.