by Roger Biermann
No longer is the Hyundai Tucson the smallest crossover offering from the South Korean brand, with the mantle being taken over by the subcompact Kona - which has taken the market by storm since its 2018 launch. Base models are powered by a 147 horsepower 2.0-liter motor mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox, while a 1.6-liter turbocharged motor produces 175 hp in more expensive iterations, mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. All models make use of front-wheel drive by default, but all-wheel drive is optionally available, as with other rivals like the Fiat 500X and Buick Encore. Priced between $19,990 and $28,900, there are four available trims and an Iron Man special edition to help you fulfill your superhero crossover fantasies.
For its second year on the market, Hyundai has revised the Kona with minor updates, reshuffling a couple of features, making a few things standard where they weren’t before, and adding some new features. The contrast roof option on the SEL drops Silver as a color option, while a new shark-fin antenna is standard from the SEL Tech Package up. The sunroof remains standard on the SEL Tech but is now optional on the Ultimate as a standalone item. Inside, a second front USB port has been added in place of the 12-volt socket of last year’s models, while the Infinity premium audio system is available on more models, as is Blue Link Connected Car services. The big news for the 2019 Kona is the widespread addition of crucial safety features to all models in the range, with forward collision avoidance assist, lane keeping assist, and driver attention warning now standard regardless of the Kona you buy. Lastly, Hyundai has added Sunset Orange to the available color palette.
While Nissan goes quiet on design, replacing the funky Juke with the sedate Kicks, Hyundai has taken up the mantle of quirky styling. All Kona models boast signature slit-like LED daytime running lights with the main headlight clusters being projector headlights on SE and SEL models, and LED units on Limited and above. The SE and SEL models feature black grille surrounds, while the Limited and Ultimate feature chrome surrounds and trimmings.
The SE trim gets 16-inch alloy wheels, the SEL 17-inch items, and the Limited and Ultimate benefit from arch-filling 18-inch alloys in varying designs per trim. All models feature body-colored side mirrors, though only SEL trim and upwards get integrated turn signals. The base SE and SEL trims feature black lower door cladding, swapped out for chrome on higher trims. SEL and higher also receive roof rails. All models feature a blacked-out B-pillar and a signature black strip on the C-pillar to create a floating roof effect.
Key to the Kona’s nimbleness are its dimensions, slotting it in at the smaller end of the subcompact segment. It measures 164-inches in length and 70.9-inches wide while riding on a 102.4-inch wheelbase. At 61-inches tall - add 0.6-inches for the roof rails - the Kona’s 6.7-inch ground clearance gives it crossover status compared to subcompact hatchback alternatives. The Kona is also a relative featherweight, with its curb weight ranging from 2,890 lbs in its lightest FWD iteration to 3,276 lbs in its heaviest all-wheel drive form.
Hyundai offers the Kona with an array of exterior color choices, some of which are linked by trim. The base SE gets seven hues to choose from, Chalk White, Sonic Silver, Thunder Gray, Surf Blue, Pulse Red, Ultra Black, and the new-for-2019 Sunset Orange. The SE retains these choices but allows Surf Blue and Pulse Red to be equipped with a black roof - an SE-specific option. The Limited and Ultimate models do without the two-tone options, but add the Kona’s signature hue, Lime Twist, to the available palette.
In the subcompact segment, the Kona is one of the few performance orientated offerings, focusing on driver involvement and offering up a pair of engines. It’s the turbocharged model equipped to higher trims that offers the best performance, however, with the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder churning out 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. Paired with available all-wheel drive (front-wheel drive is standard) and the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, the Kona manages the 0-60 mph sprint in 7.2 seconds, absolutely decimating the competition in the process. The fitment of all-wheel drive - which not all rivals offer - also equips independent rear suspension giving the Kona enhanced ride and handling attributes.
The 2019 Hyundai Kona offers two engine choices, each mated to their own gearbox. The Kona SE and SEL makes use of Hyundai’s familiar 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine, with outputs of 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. It’s mated to a six-speed torque converter automatic that slurs through the gears comfortably and efficiently, but the pairing is ultimately let down by the lackluster figures from the engine itself. It’s suitable for shuffling around town, but it’s not so well suited to highway driving and overtaking.
On the Limited and Ultimate derivatives, Hyundai has equipped its now-standard performance motor, a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. Outputs of 175 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque are substantially better than those of the base engine, and the performance is exponentially increased. Mid-range torque is immense, and there’s an abundance of overtaking punch. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is the only available gearbox for the turbo engine, and while it’s great on the move, at low speeds it’s jerky and ill-mannered, stunting performance and usability.
Still, the turbocharged motor’s merits far outweigh the marks against its name and it provides some of the best performance in this segment making it well worth the extra cost of buying the Limited Kona derivative.
The Kona’s overall party piece is wonderful driving dynamics that send it straight to the top of the subcompact CUV segment. Those dynamics are led first and foremost by the turbocharged 1.6-liter engine and the Kona’s light weight, which propels it rapidly from both standstill and whilst on the move, in spite of the dual-clutch gearbox retarding performance. But once you’re bored of the acceleration, there’s some genuine depth and breadth of ability as far as the Kona is concerned.
Upon initial inspection, the steering is dull and lifeless, and the resistance on the wheel is artificial and rubbery. The weighting is also false, but keep it in sport mode and as you push on there’s some genuine load and feedback that starts to work its way through the system. Lean on the steering through corners and you’ll find an abundance of grip and composure that begs the Kona to be driven in much the same way you would the Mazda CX-3, like a hot hatch. The suspension offers loads of support and just a touch of body roll through hard corners. But it keeps things glued to the surface and leaves you feeling one with the driving experience. If it had to be criticized, it’d be for the slight bounciness over mid-corner bumps, driven largely by the fact that the Kona weighs just 3,000 pounds on average. This is improved a little in all-wheel drive models that carry a little extra weight and also offer independent rear suspension.
The ride quality when relaxed is just as exemplary, and it’s not just the fancy suspension in the all-wheel drive model, but the standard setup too that really impresses with levels of comfort over large and small bumps alike, and the Kona shines brightest in this regard.
Where it could be improved is in the braking department, where the Kona just doesn’t quite have the same efficacy as many rivals. The pedal feels good and is easy to modulate, and the Kona is composed under hard braking, but 60-0 mph brake tests have yielded substandard results compared to rivals.
In a competitive segment such as the subcompact CUV one, fuel economy matters a lot more than in others. The base 2.0-liter engine boasts claimed EPA estimates of 27/33/30 mpg for the city/highway/combined driving cycles when equipped with front-wheel drive, while the addition of all-wheel drive reduces these figures to 25/30/27 mpg on the same cycles. The more powerful, turbocharged motor boasts economy estimates of 28/32/30 mpg with front-wheel drive, while the all-wheel drive derivative loses a couple of mpg with estimates coming in at 26/29/27. With consumption estimates near on matching the base engine, but with hugely improved performance, the 1.6T is the superior motor in all aspects. With a 13.2-gallon fuel tank capacity, maximum range expected in mixed driving conditions should be around 396-miles.
Compact proportions result in a relatively cramped rear cabin and cargo area, neither of which is really out of character for the segment. But Hyundai deserves credit for giving the Kona an upmarket feel and design, masking cheaper plastics to make the Kona feel far more premium than the $19,990 entry price would suggest. The front seats are comfortable and spacious, and height adjustment from the base model ensures it’s easy to find a comfortable driving position. Visibility is good forward and to the sides, and the rearward visibility isn’t terrible either. Cloth upholstery is standard on SE and SEL trims, while the Limited and Ultimate models get full leather. Heated seats are also available.
The rear of the cabin is somewhat cramped, with limited knee room for adults but there’s plenty of toe room beneath the front seats. Headroom isn’t exceptional, but neither is it terrible - only taller adults may have gripes about the vertical space available. The rear seats fold in a 60/40 split and house two full sets of LATCH anchors.
The Hyundai Kona seats five occupants in relatively cozy quarters. The front seats have plenty of space, while those in the rear are a little cramped, particularly for those with longer legs. Headroom is surprisingly decent in the rear, but taller passengers may still struggle. The front seats offer six-way adjustment, with a tilt-and-telescoping steering column giving decent reach to enable driver’s of any height to get comfortable. The instrument cluster is positioned low, but it ensures forward visibility is great, while narrow A and B pillars increase visibility further. The rear pillars are chunky but are positioned well to minimize blind spots. Seats are comfortable, despite minimal side bolstering, but they offer good levels of support for longer journeys. With the limited rear space, rear-facing child seats may not fit.
On the Kona SE and SEL, the standard and only available upholstery available is cloth. The seats come upholstered primarily in black, with the seat and seatback insets upholstered in gray fabric. While the fabric color isn’t variable, interior trims pieces are, with the main horizontal dash and upper door panels available either in black or light gray. The headliner is light gray regardless, and the SEL gets a leather-wrapped steering wheel. On the Limited and Ultimate models, seating surfaces are upholstered in firm perforated leather, available in two colors, black or gray. The gray choice also changes the upper door panels and main dash bar to light gray as well. When the Limited and Ultimate are ordered with the Lime Twist exterior paint, only one interior is available, an exclusive all-black interior, including headliner, with green contrast stitching and green highlights throughout, including air vent surrounds, and the surrounding trim for the gear selector.
There are few in this segment who truly shine when it comes to cargo volume, limited by the size constraints of the subcompact CUV genre. The Kona isn’t one of them, but with 19.2 cubic feet behind the rear seat, it’s more practical than some rivals like the Buick Encore, Mazda CX-3, and Toyota C-HR, and will perform admirably when it comes to holidays and weekly grocery shopping. It’s still some way off the 24.3 cubic feet possessed by the Honda HR-V. Adding further practicality, from the SEL model the cargo bay features dual-level storage. To increase seating capacity, the rear bench folds in a 60/40 split, increasing maximum storage space to 45.8 cubic feet. It may be more practical, but there are many in this segment who offer a greater maximum storage capacity with the rear seats deployed.
Small item storage throughout the cabin is decent for the segment. All four doors feature door pockets capable of holding a water bottle, and the anti-tip design cupholders can accommodate all but the largest of cups. The center console box and glove box storage are relatively compact, yet practical. Overall, storage is decent in the Kona, but the Honda HR-V is a segment leader here by some margin.
Even the entry-level Kona is well-equipped, boasting features likeautomatic headlights, air conditioning, a rearview camera, and assistance features like forward collision warning with auto-braking, lane keeping assist, and driver attention monitoring. Keyless entry is added at SEL level, as are heated front seats and blind spot monitoring, while from the Limited you’ll find the Kona equipped with automatic climate control, a power sunroof, power driver’s seat adjustment, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Optional on the Limited and standard on the Ultimate is rear parking sensors, pedestrian detection, and a wireless cahrging pad, while the Ultimate and Iron Man models feature a drivers heads-up display.
The high level of standard specification on the 2019 Hyundai Kona includes a range of technological appointments. From the base SE, a seven-inch infotainment touchscreen is equipped with Bluetooth/AM/FM inputs, and six speakers. SiriusXM satellite radio and HD Radio are equipped on all higher trims, while Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality are equipped to all four trim lines as standard. Two USB ports are also equipped to all models for the 2019 model year. The Kona Ultimate gets a large eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with built-in navigation and three years complimentary service to Hyundai’s Blue Link Guidance Package. On the Limited and Ultimate models, and optionally on the SEL, there’s an eight-speaker Infinity premium audio system with a subwoofer and external amp. The Kona Ultimate gets a wireless charging pad for compatible devices, and also benefits from a head-up driver display.
The Hyundai Kona is relatively new to the market and is only now entering its second year on the scene. But last year it still achieved a J.D. power predicted reliability score of 3.5 out of five, placing it marginally above the industry average. However, there are rivals in this segment that score higher, like the Buick Encore’s 4.5 stars, while the Honda HR-V scored just three, and the Mazda CX-3 score a paltry 2.5. Both engines are tried and trusted units, and most of the componentry is found in numerous other Hyundai models. There’s also Hyundai’s class-leading 10-year/100,000-mile drivetrain warranty to consider, along with a five-year/60,000-mile limited warranty.
Neither the 2018 nor 2019 Hyundai Kona have been tested by the NHTSA, but both have been tested by the IIHS. The IIHS awarded the 2019 model with the top honor of being a 2019 Top Safety Pick +, representing excellence in the subcompact CUV segment.
While the Hyundai Kona offers six airbags (dual front, front side, and side curtain), ABS, EBD, brake assist, traction control, and stability control across the range, the IIHS awarded it highly for the high level of standard safety specifications, which includes features like lane keeping assist and forward collision avoidance assist from the entry SE model, and blind spot monitoring and lane change assist in the SEL model. Park distance sensors and pedestrian detection on the Ultimate add further weight behind the IIHS’s high rating of the Kona.
Subcompact crossover SUVs aren’t renowned for spacious interiors, and the Kona offers one of the smaller interiors around in the segment. But it caters to demand for high quality on a budget, and Hyundai has equipped the Kona not only with high levels of specification but an abundance of safety and driver assistance features as well. While those aspects may lure buyers interested in the superficial, there’s genuine substance beneath the striking looks, with a capable chassis, an endearing drive, high levels of ride comfort, and of course that potent turbocharged engine giving the Kona best in class performance. While it’s still early on in its lifespan, and reliability remains to be determined, there’s little not to love about this funky crossover from Korea.
With four trims, an optional Tech package midway through the ranks, and the ability to equip all Kona models with all wheel drive, the Kona range has numerous price points that are bound to meet everyone’s budget, while undercutting numerous rivals. The Kona SE kicks off the range at $19,990, and while it might only be $10 below the $20,000 mark, it’s a mental barrier of affordability and one that will leave buyers of even the base model pleasantly surprised with the level of specification and quality. That price does, however, not include a $1,045 destination charge. From there, the SEL carries a sticker price of $21,800, the Limited carries a sticker price of $25,550 while the Ultimate starts at $27,500. The range-topping Iron Man Edition starts at a base MSRP of $30,550. Upgrading to an independent rear suspension and all-wheel drive on any trim level will cost buyers an additional $1,400.
Hyundai offers the Kona in five trim lines for 2019 including one limited edition model: SE, SEL, Limited, Ultimate, and Iron Man.
The SE gets the 147 horsepower 2.0-liter motor and six-speed automatic gearbox and features 16-inch alloys, automatic headlights, keyless entry, air conditioning, and six-way manual driver’s seat adjustment. You get a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with six speakers, two USB ports, Bluetooth, a rearview camera, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. For 2019, the safety of the SE has also been bolstered with the addition of forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane keep assist.
The SEL adds 17-inch wheels, heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, keyless entry and ignition, a leather steering wheel, heated front seats, a split-level cargo area, as well as SiriusXM satellite radio and HD radio functionality. Further safety enhancements are to be had on the SEL with blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert as standard.
The Kona Limited get the turbocharged engine with dual-clutch automatic gearbox, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and taillights, automatic climate control, leather upholstery, an auto dimming rearview mirror, a power sunroof, power drier’s seat adjustment, and an Infinity premium sound system.
The Ultimate trim completes the standard range by adding rear park sensors, pedestrian detection for the forward collision avoidance system, automatic high beams, automatic wipers, a head-up display, and an eight-inch navigation touchscreen along with a wireless charging pad.
The limited edition Kona Iron Man, inspired by the suited Marvel superhero, features bespoke matte black exterior with a scarlet roof and body accents, along with Stark Industries vinyl, LED daytime running lights reworked to look like the eyes of the Iron Man suit, and a redesigned hood with red inserts. Fender badges are of the Iron Man mask, as are the centers of the Iron Man edition wheels. Based on the black and lime interior of the Limited model, it trades out green for red, and features extra red accents throughout the cabin. The gauges have custom graphics, and there’s a custom design for the head-up display as well.
|SE||2.0-liter Inline-4 Gas||6-Speed Automatic||Front Wheel Drive, All Wheel Drive||$19,405||$19,990|
|SEL||2.0-liter Inline-4 Gas||6-Speed Automatic||Front Wheel Drive, All Wheel Drive||$20,906||$21,800|
|Limited||1.6-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas||7-Speed Automatic||Front Wheel Drive, All Wheel Drive||$24,431||$25,550|
|Ultimate||1.6-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas||7-Speed Automatic||Front Wheel Drive, All Wheel Drive||$26,264||$27,500|
|Iron Manual||1.6-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas||7-Speed Automatic||Front Wheel Drive, All Wheel Drive||$29,438||$30,550|
There’s just one option package for the 2019 Hyundai Kona. The SEL Tech package splits the line-up clean down the center as an option for the second of four available trims. This $1,600 option can be fitted to the Kona SEL and equips a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, eight-way power adjustment with lumbar adjustment for the driver’s seat, fog lights, a shark-fin antenna, Blue Link connected car system, and an Infinity premium sound system with eight speakers, including a subwoofer and external amplifier. All of the equipment available in the Tech package is standard on the Limited and Ultimate trims.
The Kona SEL with tech Package may sound enticing, but it misses out on the turbocharged engine. For that reason, we recommend the Limited trim, as it equips that 175 hp turbocharged 1.6-liter motor, as well as LED exterior lighting, leather upholstery, automatic climate control, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Additionally, the Limited unlocks the Lime Twist exterior and interior color scheme, and packs all of the features of the SEL Tech package, including a power sunroof, eight-way power driver’s seat adjustment, an Infiniti premium sound system, and the Blue Link connected car system. At a shade over $25,000 the Kona Limited is huge value for money.
Honda is notorious for packaging high quality, commodious cabins in affordable packages annd the HR-V is no exception. As their smallest crossover, it still packs more storage space than the Kona with a high-quality interior, but that’s where it ends, as the Kona manages to best the HR-V in most aspects. The Kona boasts a more intuitive infotainment system, higher levels of specification, and a more engaging drive. With the turbocharged engine equipped, the Kona also provides far better performance than the HR-V, and is only marginally less economical than the Honda. For practicality and space, the Honda is great, but as a complete package, the Kona is hard to beat.
The Hyundai Tucson is the Kona’s larger brother, and as such it comes with more rear passenger space, a larger trunk, and higher ground clearance. But the Kona, at least in its higher trims, offers comparable spec levels, while the lighter weight of the smaller body ensures the Kona gets better gas mileage. The turbocharged engine also performs far better in the Kona, giving the Kona quicker performance, while it manages to handle better as well. Between the two, it comes down to needs. If you require space and practicality, the more comfortable Tucson is better, but if you don’t need the same storage and passenger space but would prefer performance, enjoyment, and high levels of specification for a lower price, the Kona is a great alternative.