The Hyundai Kona is a very small SUV/crossover with superb crash test scores, very competitive pricing and, the evidence suggests, excellent quality.
The Kona also has an eye-catching design and is very fuel efficient. This new wagon is more entertaining to drive – quick, nimble, balanced – than rivals such as Honda’s HR-V, Toyota’s C-HR and the Chevrolet Trax.
Yes, yes, the cabin is on the small side, but it’s versatile and well-conceived, with great headroom for a relatively low-riding rig, and best-in-class cabin room overall. You’ll find lots of storage spaces inside, and the rear seats fold flat and split. Such versatility, along with a two-level loading floor, makes it possible to stuff a bike back there behind the front seats.
Quality? Hyundai has yet to recall a single Kona in Canada, though this tallish wagon has been on sale for just a few months. That said, we’ve grown accustomed to hearing good things about Hyundai’s quality.
For instance, the latest third-party research (J.D. Power and Associates) ranks the Hyundai brand higher than Porsche, a high-priced luxury brand. If you’ve been shying away from Hyundai and its Kia sibling because you’re worried about breakdowns, don’t.
And if you want a little city SUV with some personality in its design, the Kona is certainly more entertaining to the eye than other Lilliputian crossovers like Nissan’s Kick and Ford’s Ecosport.
True, the overall two-box shape is nothing special, but the look is accessorized by many details (a strong horizontal character line) and an under-skin platform that maximizes ground clearance without creating the ride height of a semi-tractor trailer. Ride height is taller than a Hyundai Accent but lower than a Santa Fe. As a result, the Kona looks strikingly planted.
You may or may not like the black cladding around the wheel wells. Some might even be reminded of Chevrolet’s Aztec. But no Aztec ever had the handsome LED front lighting of my tester. Moreover, the slim brake light/turn indicators/reverse lamp configuration is simply terrific, visually and functionally.
The cabin, meantime, is comfy enough up front, while the back seat is okay for hip and shoulder room, though adult legs will be squeezed. Hyundai’s engineers cleverly packaged suspension and drive bits under the floor and that has made the most of available interior space, especially for an all-wheel-drive (AWD) rig. Nonetheless, this is still a small car…ah, crossover.
The seats are as good as any in this class, which is to say, okay, but not ideal for long drives. The design of the controls and readouts is very good. The 8.0-inch monitor in my tester, the one through which so many functions are channeled (audio, navigation, systems), fits into the overall dashboard scheme much better than you’ll find in the latest small rides from BMW and Mercedes-Benz — with their slapped-on screens that have the look of an i-Pad Gorilla glued to the dash.
In the Kona you also get proper and accessible controls for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. To be clear, Hyundai and Kia vehicles stand out for their good looks andthintelligent way they manage the key functions – sound and climate systems and the like.
As for power, well, I tested a Kona with the 1.6-litre turbocharged four-banger and it’s very good for power and fuel economy. This direct injection engine is the equal of German rivals and is rated at 175 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque. The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (7DCT) delivers quick, clean and snappy shifts, up and down the ratios. (A 2.0-liter four-cylinder is the base engine (147 hp/132 lb.-ft. torque), and it’s mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox.)
Kona pricing starts at $20,999 for a front-drive model, and tops out at $31,799, plus options, fees and taxes. That’s a huge spread. Most buyers will land in the $25,000-$30,000 range, which isn’t inexpensive, though competitive for this type of wagon.
Some last words: If you simply want a four-door hatchback that’s a functional match for the Kona, wander across the showroom floor and have a look at Hyundai’s Accent. Base price: $14,599. In other words, the jump to a crossover comes at a 30-plus per cent premium over the hatchback Accent.
2018 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged (175-hp/195 lb-ft of torque).
Transmissions: 7-speed dual clutch automatic.
Drive: all-wheel drive.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.0 city/8.0 using regular fuel.
Comparables: Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Nissan Kick and even Qashqai, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, Toyota C-HR, Jeep Renegade, Kia Niro, Fiat 500X, Ford Ecosport, Mini Countryman.