Search Cars for Sale

2018 Hyundai Kona: First Drive Review

The small crossover segment is constantly expanding, with new entrants being introduced all the time. Not one to miss out on the trend, Hyundai recently debuted its 2018 Hyundai Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii — the place from which its name was derived. As it would turn out, the island’s diverse geography and highly variable weather patterns proved to be a perfect testing ground for the tiny CUV, while providing a stunning environment to motor through.

The Hyundai Kona is Hyundai’s smallest crossover, meant to compete with other CUVs like the Honda HR-V, the Toyota C-HR and the Subaru Crosstrek. Competitively priced, the Kona starts around $20,000 and tops out right around $30,000 when equipped with the top-of-the-line trim and all-wheel drive.


The Kona was designed specifically to fit the lifestyle of an urban adventurer, using, according to Hyundai, the “spontaneity of a lava flow” to influence the exterior design (hence the name “Kona”). The stance of the Kona is low and aggressive, much like a football lineman ready to tackle the road ahead. The plastic cladding and helmet-like front end add to the rough-and-ready motif, imparting an almost protective air to the crossover.

Good Looks

When it comes to size, Hyundai’s new small crossover is smaller than most of its competitors, despite doing a lot with its diminutive package. The Kona is 164 inches long — shorter than virtually all of its competitors, including the Honda HR-V and Subaru Crosstrek. Its width is 70.9 inches, about as wide as the Toyota C-HR, and its height is 61.0 inches — slightly taller than the Mazda CX-3. And despite its low stance, ground clearance comes in at 6.7 inches, slightly more than a VW Golf Alltrack, which handled off-road terrain passably.

Inner Space

The interior of the Kona is stylish and thoughtfully laid out, with tech features exactly where you’d expect them. The available black leather with lime green accents is attractive and stylish, though how much so depends on your affinity for lime green. The front seating is actually quite comfortable, although the rear seats can feel a bit cramped for taller folks. This lack of rear legroom doesn’t come as much of a surprise in this segment, but most of the Kona’s competitors provide more leg room for rear passengers.

The rear cargo area is a bright spot on Hyundai’s new crossover, allowing for 19.2 cu ft. or storage, which is more than the Chevy Trax or Jeep Renegade. The rear storage area also offers a dual-level cargo floor and hidden cargo area storage for all the things you don’t want rolling around loose in the back of your crossover.

Power Plants

There are two engines choices — an efficient 147-horsepower 2.0-liter Atkinson cycle 4-cylinder engine for the base models, and a 175-hp 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder unit for the higher trim levels. A 6-speed automatic transmission is mated to the 2.0-liter unit, while a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission comes with the 1.6-liter. Front-wheel drive is standard, with optional all-wheel drive available for both engines.

Tech on Deck

The Kona comes with a variety of available technologies, depending on the trim level. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard on the base SE trim, along with a 7-inch touchscreen display. Blind spot monitoring and heated front seats come with the SEL trim, and forward-collision avoidance assist, lane-keeping assist, driver-attention warning and a power tilt-and-slide sunroof come with the SEL tech package, as well as the top-level Ultimate trim. The Limited trim level adds LED headlights and taillights, automatic temperature control and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Finally, the top-level Ultimate trim gets the addition of an 8-in touchscreen with navigation, wireless charging, a head-up display, rain-sensing wipers, high-beam assist, Infinity audio and Hyundai’s Blue Link connected car system.

The Drive

Hyundai’s two-day drive event in Hawaii brought us through a variety of elevations, topography and weather conditions, which reasonably tested the Kona as we made our way across its Big Island namesake. Beginning at our hotel on the northwest side of the island, we headed south across the rolling hills in the tiny Hyundai, taking in the breathtaking scenery along the windy roads. Almost as soon as we got to an area of old lava flow, a fine but persistent heavy drizzle began to fall, fully saturating the pavement. Despite the thorough soaking of the island’s “highways,” the Kona felt confident every step of the way. Eventually, we found our way to what felt like a lonely jungle road in a developing country, where the Kona handled the wet and narrow roads like a champion, utilizing its superior grip thanks to its available AWD. At the end of a waterlogged day, I made my way back to our dry and sunny hotel, muddy and soggy but no worse for the wear — much like the Kona.

The second day of driving provided a more extended experience behind the wheel, with plenty of wet weather to navigate through once again as I headed to Kilauea — the island’s active volcano. Along the trip, I noticed one of my favorite features was missing from the host of tech functionality in the Kona — adaptive cruise control. While this was a bit of a bummer on the two-and-a-half-hour trip across the Big Island, the lack of adaptive cruise control was unsurprising, as competitors like the Honda HR-V and Jeep Renegade fail to offer the feature as well. Subaru does offer adaptive cruise control on the Crosstrek.

After a short hike along the crater of Kilauea, I headed back to the hotel to conclude my time behind the wheel of the Kona. The front seats proved to be quite comfortable, as I had spent more than 15 hours driving the Hyundai over the course of two days and, remarkably, didn’t have any back pain or discomfort. I wouldn’t want to spend much time in the rear passenger seats, however, due to the lack of legroom and my 6-foot-plus frame — but for the segment it’s pretty much par for the course.


Just around the time the sun was making its descent over the Pacific, I pulled into the hotel and concluded my time piloting the 2018 Hyundai Kona around Hawaii. The experience allowed me to get a good feel for the all-new Hyundai and appreciate what the small crossover brings to the table. The Kona is a solid entrant in a competitive segment, and makes a lot of sense for adventurous urban dwellers due to its size and capabilities. With a more-than-reasonable ticket price and a healthy helping of options, the Hyundai Kona is a CUV you should consider.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

Rob Nestora
I’ve been working as an editor and content producer on the team for about six years. I love cars and technology, so working on a website with an automotive focus is a perfect fit.

Sign up for Autotrader newsletters

The best cars and best deals delivered to your inbox

Email Address 

By subscribing, you agree to our privacy policy

Where You Can Buy

Loading dealers...

Leave a Comment

Hyundai Kona News & Reviews

Most Popular Articles

2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid: First Look

The 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid jumps to the head of the hybrid class.

Best Truck Deals: November 2021

These are the best deals on trucks for the month of November 2021.

Search By Style

More Articles Like This