The Kona is Hyundai’s first subcompact crossover and it’s got personality in spades. Aimed at the Honda HR-V, Subaru Crosstrek, and Jeep Renegade, the Kona is a late entry into a fast-growing class and as a result, Hyundai has had more time to ensure that its entry doesn’t underwhelm. Although not perfect, the 2018 Kona doesn’t feel rushed just so Hyundai can have an entry in a new segment.
We drove the 2018 Kona on the big island of Hawaii and found it easy to maneuver through the region’s narrow roads. In terms of ride and handling, the 2018 Kona leans more toward the sporty end. It’s no performance crossover, but it corners and changes directions with minimal body roll, making the car feel planted on winding roads. All-wheel-drive-equipped models come with an independent rear suspension and a locking differential; the former gives the Kona its agile handling. Some may find the steering a little too heavy in city driving; however, like many electrically assist units, there’s not much feel and feedback.
Small road imperfections don’t upset the Kona’s suspension too much—although its ride is definitely on the firm side, it takes a sizable bump or pothole to unsettle the car and bounce you around. Unlike the all-wheel-drive Jeep Renegade and Subaru Crosstrek, the Kona doesn’t have much ground clearance, at 6.7 inches.
The 2018 Kona SE and SEL come standard with a 2.0-liter I-4 producing 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque; the naturally aspirated engine is paired to a six-speed automatic transmission. A 1.6-liter turbo-four with 175 hp and 195 lb-ft paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic comes standard on the Limited and Ultimate grades. We spent our time in an all-wheel-drive Ultimate model and found that the turbocharged engine has plenty of low- and midrange torque for passing.
Part of our drive route included climbing up a road on the slopes of Mauna Kea up to high altitudes. The turbocharged engine had plenty of torque to get up to speed at high elevations, even with three people onboard. Opting for the turbocharged engine doesn’t come at the cost of fuel economy, as the 1.6-liter Kona is EPA-rated at 28/32 mpg city/highway in front-drive guise and 26/29 mpg with all-wheel drive. The base 2.0-liter I-4 is rated at 27/33 mpg with front-wheel drive and 25/30 mpg with all-wheel drive.
Hyundai’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is much improved in the Kona compared to the unit in the Tucson, featuring quick shifts, especially in Sport mode. Throttle response isn’t hesitant, making the Kona easier to drive in all modes. At low speeds, the car crawls smoothly and doesn’t shudder. Although the gearbox is clearly tuned for efficiency, it shifts smarter and goes to a lower gear at city speeds instead of always staying at a higher one to save every drop of fuel.
Interior materials are as you’d expect for a car that starts at $20,450. The dash, door panels, and center console are mainly hard plastic but there are soft padded areas near where your arms fall. The interior design, however, is conservative and doesn’t match well with the funky exterior despite the additional splashes of green in the cabin when you opt for the Lime Twist or Thunder Gray exterior colors. Tire noise are especially noticeable at highway with the 18-inch alloy wheels shod in 235/45R18 all-season rubber on the Limited and Ultimate grades. Wind noise, on the other hand, is minimal.
The 2018 Kona is on the smaller side in the subcompact crossover segment, and space is at a premium inside, especially in the back seat. Behind those split-folding rear seats is 19.2 cubic feet of cargo capacity and 45.8 cubic feet with the seats folded—that’s on the smaller side but you do have a false floor for extra flexibility.
Hyundai’s multimedia system is easy to use and responsive to inputs. There’s pinch-to-zoom functionality on the optional navigation system and the center stack sticks with traditional buttons and two knobs, making them easy to operate. A 7.0-inch touchscreen is standard on all but the Ultimate grade, which gets an 8.0-inch unit. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard on all trims, and as in other Hyundais, the optional Infinity audio system is a solid unit that plays music clearly even at higher volumes. Other available features include a 4.2-inch instrument cluster display, a head-up display (with info projected on a panel that lifts above the instrument cluster displays), and a wireless phone charger.
Starting at $20,450, the base Kona SE has plenty of standard equipment including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a rearview camera, Bluetooth, keyless entry, and 16-inch alloy wheels. Moving up to the SEL grade that Hyundai predicts will be the volume model adds 17-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, push-button start with hands-free keyless access, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. The SEL trim is also available with the $1,500 Tech package, which comes with a sunroof, a power driver’s seat, fog lights, lane keeping assist, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, and a driver attention warning system. Adaptive cruise control isn’t available on any trim but Hyundai says it’s working on adding it later on.
Move up to the Limited and the Kona gets LED headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, the 1.6-liter turbo-four, the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, and leather upholstery. The range-topping Ultimate model adds navigation, the full range of active driver assists, high beam assist, rear parking sensors, and the wireless charging pad. All in, a Kona Ultimate with all-wheel drive will run you $29,650, not cheap but still in line with its segment.
The 2018 Kona comes with an expressive exterior, a user-friendly multimedia system, and a pleasant driving experience. No, it’s not the most spacious subcompact crossover but it’s not really meant to be a family car. If hauling people and gear is your main mission, the Honda HR-V and Subaru Crosstrek will serve you better. The Kona puts style and an entertaining driving experience first, especially with the independent rear suspension on all-wheel-drive models.