It seems every car company has a contender in the small crossover category, not quite a car but also not quite an SUV. Think of them like hatchbacks with a little extra ride height and plastic wheel arches, but ultimately they are affordable, usable transportation. Now Hyundai is entering the mix with their new Kona, and it’s got some things to like. It’s always fun to test a whole new model because it’s usually the best of what a car company and their designers can come up with. On the face of it, the designers pushed ‘funky’ a little too far and tipped over to the weird side, but is there enough content to counterbalance the oddness? Let’s dive in and find out.
When you first walk up to the Kona, the first thing you notice are the odd dual headlight/taillight fascias. The ‘upper’ headlights look like they were ripped right off a Jeep, and the ‘lower’ headlights are a bit clunky to look at. Luckily they work better than they look, with tons of bright light on the road at night. The overall shape and proportions of the body are nice, but there’s just too much tacked-on to really consider it a nice looking vehicle. Of course, if weird and odd are your thing, you might really like it!
Hyundai gave us quite a boring color, there are several much more interesting colors available which might make the funky design feel more appropriate. The bland (if not very sparkly) gray paint really hides a lot of the body lines, which makes the odd fascias stand out more. There’s a very funk green, blue and red that all would look better on the Kona. On the inside, there are some telltale nods to other brands just like on the outside. The center 8” infotainment screen looks like it came right out of a Mazda, but it definitely has a better interface. The functionality is great, and it comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There are also plenty of charging ports, so the Kona is very mobile-device friendly.
The interior itself is pleasing to look at, with some funky materials chosen to complement the funky exterior. A patterned plastic adorns the top of the door panels and dash but feels a bit cheap to the touch. Green aluminum surrounds the HVAC vents and green stitching/piping adorn the seats. Again, with the green exterior, this would have looked even cooler. The seats are comfortable, and the controls are all a step up for Hyundai. There are less of them, and the button placement/style is an improvement for them.
Our test version was the ‘Ultimate’ AWD trim and came in at under $30k, good value for something that’s so loaded with features. From a heads-up-display to lane assist and premium audio, there’s not too much this doesn’t have. For the money, not too many competitors can come close to the content here. If you don’t want all the bells and whistles, the Kona starts at a modest $19,500, which is also a good value. Especially considering the amount of space inside, and the excellent Hyundai warranty. With 5yr/60k bumper to bumper coverage and 10yr/100k powertrain, you won’t have to worry about much for a long time.
Power comes from a 1.6-Liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, leading to impressive performance. The light little crossover is pretty quick, especially around town where it’s most at home. With 195 ft-lb of torque on tap at only 1500 rpm and a 7-speed dual clutch gearbox to deliver it, the acceleration is pretty instantaneous. On the highway, the power doesn’t feel quite as impressive, but this really wasn’t built for speed, to begin with. Handling is actually exceptional, with great feel/feedback and a stable platform. The Goodyear tires they chose have lots of grip, and the AWD drivetrain means there’s a ton of traction.
Not all of the small crossovers are available with AWD, so the Kona fills a need quite nicely. When you combine the futuristic, if just a bit odd exterior design, excellent drivetrain, efficiency and technology, you end up with a pretty compelling product. Named after the Kona region of Hawaii, we don’t really get the reference – there’s not a lot of ‘island’ feel to this thing – but in terms of the segment, this might be a wake-up call to some of the competitors, just like a big cup of Kona coffee. If you can get past the odd looks, there’s lots to like on the inside of this new Hyundai.
Special thanks to Hyundai Motor Corporation for providing the 2018 Hyundai Kona for review.