Model tested: 2019 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged GDI 4-cylinder
Transmission: 7-speed EcoShift dual clutch
Torque: 195 lb.ft.
EPA ratings: 26/city, 29/highway, 27/combined
Base price: $28,900
As tested: $30,080
Overview: Winner of numerous awards, the Kona is the smallest of the Hyundai lineup — and in its class. But it proves the old adage that good things come in small packages. It competes in the seemingly ever-expanding small crossover utility category populated by the Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Kia Soul, Subaru Crosstrek and Toyota H-CR, among others.
Walkaround: In an environment difficult for so many look-alike vehicles to stand out, the Kona is distinctive due to its proportions, stylish design, limited overhangs and Honda Element-style vinyl cladding. With the large Hyundai grille and sweeping character lines, coupled with squinting LED headlights and taillights, the Kona brings a unique sense of style to the crowded small-CUV field.
Interior: Inside, the Kona is both comfortable and well appointed, with instrumentation and controls not requiring consulting the owner’s manual to use. It features a 7-inch center-dash touch screen on the SE and SEL models, with an 8-inch in Ultimate trim (our test driver), or SEL with the optional tech package. The screen handles some control functions, but there’s also conveniently situated knobs and switches. Even the base SE is well equipped, including power everything — tilt-telescopic wheel, decent audio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and Hyundai’s Blue Link telematics. The top-of-the-line Ultimate model includes navigation and a head-up display. Upholstery in the Limited and Ultimate is leather, while other trims feature an attractive houndstooth check-pattern cloth. The front seats are roomy, supportive and comfortable. Only the driver’s seat on the Ultimate features height adjustability. The front passenger seat doesn’t adjust upward, regardless of trim. Like with all other vehicles in the small-CUV class, adult-size people shouldn’t sit in the rear. However, there’s a competitive 19 cubic feet of cargo room behind those rear seats.
Under the Hood: Our Ultimate test driver featured the 1.6-liter GDI turbo, putting 175 ponies to the pavement. It’s married to Hyundai’s seven-speed EcoShift dual-clutch automatic.
Behind the Wheel: We’ve driven the Kona twice: at the Northwest Automotive Press Association’s Mudfest event and again in our regular rotation. The Kona drives sporty — not something every competitor can claim. Handling is confident and competent, with minimal body roll when attacking corners. Its strong and certain braking is due to Kona’s torque vectoring. The 1.6-liter powerplant is strong, with smooth transmission performance.
Whines: A manual transmission and paddle shifters would be great options but neither is offered. While the Kona has an all-wheel-drive option, 6.7 inches of ground clearance makes it vulnerable to Mother Earth.
Bottom Line: The Kona is small but roomy, offering enthusiastic driving dynamics outside the urban environment. It’s a blast to drive and supports Hyundai’s usual strong value proposition in a very crowded market segment.