Despite the all-new 2018 Hyundai Kona going up against compact crossovers such as Subaru Crosstrek, Jeep Renegade and Mazda CX-3, Hyundai would have us think of it as a new category of crossover. Hyundai is calling this segment "small crossovers."
Slotting into the brand’s lineup below the Tucson (the Kona is about a foot shorter), other named competitors include the Toyota C-HR, Honda HR-V, Chevrolet Trax and the yet-to-be-released Nissan Kicks. It is shorter than all the above-mentioned players; significantly shorter than the C-HR and Crosstrek. Because its wheelbase is in the middle of the segment mix, the Kona’s passenger space is competitive in this segment. And, it has more cargo room behind the second-row seat than most named competitors.
The first thing that struck us about this crossover is its head-turning styling. It has a swoosh of LED daytime driving lights high up on the front of the fenders. Flanking the Hyundai familial cascading grille at the outer limits of the nose are large headlights. Think the 2019 Jeep Cherokee. Beefy styling elements provide the core of what Hyundai designers call "urban smart armor." The Kona’s lines stand out even when compared with the C-HR, Renegade and Crosstrek.
Many automotive pundits have speculated that Hyundai’s sales struggles of late can be attributed to its lack of depth in trucks, SUVs and crossovers. If so, the Kona could go a long way in igniting some real excitement in the showroom.
What’s New for 2018?
The 2018 Hyundai Kona is an all-new vehicle.
What We Like
Standout styling, entry-level trim has 7-inch touchscreen, available Blue Link with Alexa capability, available 1.6-liter turbo and available AWD
What We Don’t
Uncomfortably low, fixed front-passenger seat and driver-assist/safety technology not available on entry-level trim
Although a fully electric Kona will go on sale in the fall of this year, two gasoline-fueled engines, in the meantime, will provide the propulsion. The two lower grades use a 147-horsepower 2.0-liter Atkinson Cycle 4-cylinder engine mated with a 6-speed automatic transmission. The two upper trims qualify for the 175-hp 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine borrowed from the redesigned Tucson and married to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. According to government measurements, both engines deliver 30 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving. The 2.0-liter does it with 27 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway. The 1.6-liter, however, achieves it with 28 mpg city/32 mpg hwy.
We have only driven the top-end grade with the 1.6-liter/7-speed setup. Working well with the 7-speed, it has plenty of get-up-and-go.
Standard Features & Options
The SE ($20,450) comes fairly well equipped with a 2.0-liter engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, 16-in alloy wheels, a backup camera, hill-start assist, 7 airbags, power windows, power door locks, power outboard mirrors, remote keyless entry, LED headlights with auto on/off, LED daytime running lights, air conditioning, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port, driver’s-seat height adjustment, 6-way driver’s-seat adjustment, 60/40-split fold-down rear seat, a 7-in touchscreen, an audio system with satellite radio capability/Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, cargo cover and dual-level cargo floor. Optional on all grades is AWD.
The SEL ($22,100) beefs up the SE content with 17-in alloy wheels, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-change assist, keyless entry, heated outboard mirrors with turn-signal indicators, leather-wrapped steering wheel/shift knob and heated front seats. Options include Hyundai Smart Sense suite of driver-assist/safety technology except high-beam assist, power sunroof and 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat.
The Limited ($25,650) adds all SEL options except Hyundai Smart Sense plus 18-in alloy wheels and leather seating. The only option is black-with-lime interior. Hyundai Smart Sense is not optional for Limited.
The Ultimate ($28,350) features all of SEL’ content as well as Hyundai Smart sense with high-beam assist, rear parking distance warning, rain-sensing wipers, Blue Link with remote care/remote access/destination guidance, wireless device charging, and upgraded audio system with 8-in touchscreen, navigation and traffic info. The only option is the black-with-lime interior.
Neither the government nor IIHS has crash-tested the 2018 Kona. In addition to the usual airbags in nearly all new vehicles today, Hyundai adds a driver’s-knee airbag to the Kona. A backup camera and hill-start assist are also standard on every Kona. All but the SE grade get blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-keep warning. Optional for the SEL and standard on Ultimate is Hyundai Smart Sense with forward-collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, driver-attention warning and automatic high beams. The auto high beams aren’t available on the SEL.
Behind the Wheel
Settling back into the driver’s seat, which is supremely comfy and supportive, a quick look around doesn’t offer much in the way of polarizing styling. That is, the rather dynamic exterior styling doesn’t carry through to the interior. Yes, it’s well built and the bulk of the materials are topnotch, but there’s nothing outrageous in terms of the lines or component arrangement. If you pony up for a Limited or Ultimate grade, you can get some lime-green accents. Otherwise, there’s nothing crazy happening.
We found the 1.6-liter turbo to be engaging and spunky. The 7-speed DCT is a good match. Steering is responsive, and the turning radius remarkably tight. Our test Kona had AWD; so it came with a multilink rear suspension rather than the FWD’s solid beam rear axle. Regardless of the suspension, torque vectoring through the brake system increases the Kona’s cornering acumen. The ride is surprisingly smooth and quiet.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 Subaru Crosstrek — With its standard AWD, the Crosstrek is a smart pick for anyone with an eye on some outback adventure. Solid fuel economy and a roomy cabin are big pluses.
2018 Jeep Renegade — The most off-road capable of the Kona’s competitors, the Renegade, when properly equipped, can take on terrain that most in this class would need to detour around. People love or hate its styling, but the Jeep DNA is apparent.
2018 Mazda CX-3 — Great styling, solid mileage and athletic driving dynamics make the CX-3 a must-see for shoppers in this segment. There’s plenty of technology, too.
2018 Toyota C-HR — If the Kona’s looks aren’t far enough out there for you, and you don’t want AWD, the C-HR is a good place to begin your search. Quirky styling, loads of safety tech and decent fuel economy, it’s like the Venza reflected in a fun-house mirror.
When considering price, content and options, we think the SEL with the $1,500 Tech package is the way to go. The Tech package includes all the SEL options, including Smart Sense. No doubt the turbo is more fun to drive, but you can’t get Smart Sense with the Limited, and moving up to the Ultimate means plunking down another five large over the SEL’s cost.