2019 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD Review

Some good looks with all the right moves


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Youthful exterior styling, really entertaining to drive, great handling and steering, peppy 1.6-liter turbo engine, ergonomics are top notch, fun colors.
Negatives: Some cheap interior materials, busy styling elements on the lower fascias.
Bottom Line: The Kona is a huge surprise. Hyundai has delivered not just a cute, practical compact crossover but one that's a total thrill to drive. It might be a bit overstyled for our tastes, but the complete package with its easy interior and driving dynamics make it a very compelling member of its segment.
The Kona is a fresh new face in the crossover game that came out last year, and Hyundai has added some new features for its second year. The zippy little Kona comes with two engines, a 147-hp version and a 175-hp 1.6-liter turbo. Hyundai has added automated emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, and a driver-attention monitor as standard equipment through in all trim levels. The upgraded Infinity audio system and Hyundai's BlueLink system are now available on the SEL trim, too. You can also now get the Kona in a bright orange color. We drove the top Ultimate trim with AWD and the more powerful engine for a week. Read on for the full review.
 

Driving Experience

9.3

 

We're scoring the Kona really high because most crossovers are completely snoozers to drive. With the 175-hp turbo engine (the base is 147 horses), this thing is punchy and fun. Add in great chassis and good brakes, are you have a recipe for affordable driving excitement.

Ride Quality: The Kona delivers agile handling and a surprising amount of fun. This doesn't translate to a rough ride over choppy roads; in fact, the suspension offers quite the opposite, damping out bumps and providing occupants with a cabin that is well isolated from pavement imperfections.

Acceleration: The turbo four is really peppy and responds well in Sport mode. 60 mph comes in the mid sixes.

Braking: Brakes are strong and apply pressure progressively, making the Kona easy to control.

Steering: The steering effort is unnaturally heavy and lacks feedback, but it's responsive and quick.

Handling: This thing handles like a little sports car. Minimal understeer and great body control make it great in the curves. We had more fun with it than we though possible.

Technology

8.8

 

Hyundai does in-car tech really well, and even on the more affordable vehicles in its lineup, the system is very easy to use and attractive. New displays sit on top of the dash and are easy to use. We just wish there was a center control knob between the seats like Mazda.

Infotainment System: The screen is easy to read, and menus are simple. Our tester had the larger 8" in screen just like the one found in the top trimmed Tucson we tested a few months ago.

Controls: Hyundai controls are some of the best, including the flanking buttons for infotainment, the superb steering wheel controls, and the well-placed knobs and buttons for climate control.

Styling

7.5

 

We like the fact that the Kona doesn't look like a lot of small crossovers out there. It's also a great departure from fuglies like the Chevy Trax and the Buick Encore Some elements are a bit busy, but the overall package is very good.

Front: The cascade grille looks great here with the thin driving lights, which are on top, while the headlight clusters and housings underneath are a little overdone.

Rear: The thin LED taillights are a nice touch, but we don't like the backup lights and reflector clusters that have a black surround that blends with the rear fender trim. It's just a bit too busy for our liking.

Profile: Here's a floating roof style we can get behind since it's less dramatic than vehicles like the Nissan Murano. The body crease and front and rear haunches look good, too. A tidbit of ruggedness to balance out the sportiness is nice.

Cabin: Though there are some cheap and hard plastics, as can be expected, the overall execution is very good. We like the contrast piping around the seats, as well as contrast trim around the vents and the shift boot. It's playful without being weird.

Comfort

8

 

It's not cavernous inside, but the Kona does a great job with the front seat occupants. As expected, the 2nd row passengers don't fare quite as well due to the Kona's compact size.

Front Seats: The Kona's front seats are very good with solid support and cushioning. The leather isn't super soft, but it's still pretty good. Seat backs are wide and plush.

Rear Seats: Though there isn't a ton of legroom, the seats are pretty good, and even the middle position is decent. Full-sized adults may have a hard time over longer distance.s

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): There's some road noise at highway speeds, and you can certainly hear the engine when it's pushed, but the Kona is well-built and didn't exhibit any errant noises.

Visibility: Visibility is quite good out the front and sides. The thick C-pillars make things tough out the back, and there's only a tiny rear side window, making things tough when changing lanes. The blind spot monitor is a huge help.

Climate: The system works well with plenty of air volume and quick heating. The heated front seats are also plenty warm.

Safety

9.5

 

The Kona in Ultimate AWD trim is a very safe vehicle with more standard safety features than you'd expect, as well as remarkably good crash test scores. Buyers should feel very confident driving it.

IIHS Rating: It nails the very top score of Top Safety Pick+ thanks to excellent crash scores and a superior set of accident avoidance tech. Headlights were also good, but LATCH usage was marginal.

NHTSA Rating: Not tested.

Standard Tech: There's a lot to love here. Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Keeping Assist and Driver Attention Warning, Blind Spot and Rear Cross Traffic Collision Warning, Parking Distance Warning Reverse, Rear View Montior, and Tire Pressure Monitoring System with Individual Tire Indicator all come standard.

Optional Tech: None.

Storage/Cargo

6.4

 

There are some thoughtful small item spaces, but overall the Kona is small for carrying stuff, not a huge surprise. If you want something bigger, go for the Honda HR-V.

Storage Space: The armrest compartent is fairly deep, and there's a decent compartment at the base of the center stack.

Cargo Room: It's not huge by any means with a smallish 19.2 cubic feet behind row two, and 45.8 cubes with the seats folded flat. It's a little bit bigger inside than the small Mazda CX-3 but not by much.

Fuel Economy

7

 

Hyundais aren't exactly rocking fuel economy, but the Kona does decently. We were in Sport mode most of the time, and we drove in spirited fashion to extract as much fun as possible. That being said, the Kona did better than we expected though we didn't hit the EPA numbers.

Observed: 24.5 mpg.

Distance Driven: 178 miles

Audio

7.9

 

The premium Infinity audio system has 8-speakers, and it's very good for a small vehicle like this. We would've liked more bass, but the clarity is very good. It comes standard on the Ultimate, which is a very nice added feature.



Final Thoughts

We had a ton of fun in this little crossover, and Hyundai has a winner on its hands. The sheer number of these we see on the road is a strong indication of its appeal. It's not weirdly polarizing like some of the competition, and the overall package and robust set of standard equipment make it a winner. Add in premium safety and great crash test scores, and the Kona is a strong candidate for those who want fun, comfort and style in an urban trekker. The driving dynamics and nimble personality are icing on the cake. We loved this thing.
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