Because the American appetite for sport-utility-style vehicles continues to increase, car companies are feeding us more models in an expanding array of styles and sizes. The stylish and sensible Hyundai Kona is a standout on the small end of the size spectrum.
The Kona is a compact scamp that carries all the essential ingredients of a car/sport-utility crossover – those SUV-style vehicles, usually called just crossovers, that are all the rage. The Kona’s undercarriage rides a little higher off the roadway, while its seats are positioned for elevated vantage. It has a high-roofed, integrated cargo space in back that you reach through a rear hatch. And it can provide four-corner traction, since it’s available with all-wheel drive as a $1,300 option.
A model-year 2020 Kona starts at $21,750 when equipped with all-wheel drive. When fully loaded with cabin niceties like power sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, wireless phone charger, leather upholstery, heads-up windshield display, and eight-inch color touchscreen for navigation and high-end audio, and with advanced safety features and driving aids that include lane-drift detection with automatic steering correction, front-crash avoidance with automatic braking, parking distance monitor and driver attention monitor, the Kona with all-wheel drive tops out at $29,650.
With equipment like that, and with the flair and flash to make a statement on the pavement, the Kona doesn’t seem to fit with an economy-car classification. But now that crossover sport-utility vehicles have become the predominate type of personal transporter, compact models like Kona are occupying the place that bland little hatchbacks and shrunken sedans once filled.
The smaller size of the compact and sub-compact crossovers makes them more affordable to purchase and more economical to operate. With an adequate back seat that gives them five-passenger capacity in a pinch, they’re sensible cars for singles, young couples and small families, for retirees and empty-nesters, for daily commuters, and even larger families that need a stand-by car in the driveway.
The Kona meets the sensible side of that formula. Its purchase price is reasonable, especially when you consider the equipment that Hyundai packs into it. Even its lowest priced model comes with such goodies as alloy wheels, split and folding rear seat, back-up camera with guidelines, Android Auto and Apple Car Play smartphone links, adjustable steering wheel, tire-pressure monitoring, color touchscreen for controlling cabin accessories, and solar-shading windows.
Lower-priced versions of Kona have a six-speed geared automatic transmission that responds to driving demands more quickly and crisply than the continuously variable automatics that are prevalent among other small crossovers. Kona’s 147-horsepower four-cylinder motor earns a government fuel-economy rating of 25 miles per gallon in city driving and 30 mpg on the highway, with all-wheel drive.
Higher-priced Kona trim levels, up to the Kona Ultimate, come with a more gutsy, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 175 horsepower, attached to a fast-acting and efficient, seven-speed geared automatic transmission. With all-wheel drive, the higher-end Konas return an economy rating of 26 mpg city, 29 mpg highway.
The Kona separates from the sensible and steps into the desirable with its contemporary approach to the sport-utility class. Hyundai introduced the Kona early in 2018, making it now about 20 months old as we enter model-year 2020. It remains fresh in appearance and attitude. Hyundai gave it a pertly sculpted shape, highlighted by eye-grabbing details like tiered black-mesh grille and air openings in front, flanked by tiered forward-pointing light sets. Deeply indented side-panel strakes and contrasting body cladding flow toward the rear, where more tiered light sets wrap to a tidy closure.
The Kona’s cabin shows the same attention to nifty design. Dashboard and door panels are craftfully sculpted. Vehicle controls and indicators are arrayed cleanly around the driver, while the center-dash control screen and panel for cabin-ambiance features creates a bold – yet functional – focal point.
Hyundai clearly recognizes that an artful, spunky appearance increases the model’s appeal. For an extra charge, it offers the Kona with a black leather interior trimmed by jaunty orange piping and similar accents. The car’s exterior colors include such saucy choices as, in Hyundai’s nomenclature, sonic silver, pulse red, surf blue, sunset orange, and lime twist. A few colors are available with a dark-hued contrasting roof, for an additional $400.
For 2019, its first full year on the market, the Kona reigned as the North American Utility Vehicle of the Year, selected by a panel of automotive journalists. (The conventionally powered Kona that is discussed here shared the award with Hyundai’s electric-powered variation, called the Kona Electric. The battery-powered version lists at $38,085 to start. It has an estimated range of about 260 miles between battery charges and is sold in limited quantities.)
In its 2019 Winter Vehicle of New England Awards, the New England Motor Press Association chose Kona as the top sport-utility in its size class. Kitty-corner across the country, the Texas Motor Press Association named it 2019 Crossover of the Year. The magazine U.S. News and World Report picked the Kona as the Best Subcompact SUV for the Money, while Car and Driver magazine placed the model on its 10 Best list for trucks and SUVs.
And those are just some of the Kona’s more prominent awards.
When I test-drove the Kona, I appreciated both its sensible and desirable characteristics. The model’s pert and expressive style made me feel that my transporter, though small and economical, was above the ordinary. Equipped with the more powerful, turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive, it spurted with assurance in around-town traffic, and moved with authority and stability during freeway runs of better than 100 miles. I remained comfortable during those long jaunts, too. Firmly on the sensible side, the higher powered, high-content Kona I evaluated averaged 32 miles per gallon over a week of mixed driving.
As car companies expand the range of crossovers to meet America’s growing appetite for the vehicle type, Hyundai took care to make the Kona stand out in the expanding crowd.
Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.
2020 Hyundai Kona
Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front- and all-wheel-drive subcompact crossover utility vehicle
Price range: $20,450 to $29,650 (plus options)
Warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles basic warranty; 10 years/100,000 miles powertrain warranty; 7 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty; 5 years/unlimited miles roadside assistance
Base engine: 2.0-liter I4
Power: 147 horsepower at 6,200 rpm; 132 lb.-ft. torque at 4,500 rpm
Base transmission: 6-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 25 mpg city; 30 mpg highway (with AWD)
Wheelbase: 102 inches
Length: 164 inches
Width: 71 inches
Height: 61 inches
Weight: 2.890 pounds
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons
Turning circle: 34.8 ft.