REVIEW: 2019 Hyundai Kona 1.6T Ultimate AWD – An Ideal Blend of Fun and Practicality

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We keep falling in love with Hyundai’s new vehicles. Sorry Elantra GT Sport, we are moving on.

What is it? 

The Kona is a new CUV (compact utility vehicle) from Hyundai introduced as a 2018 model year vehicle and unchanged for 2019. The Kona is about the size of a compact car inside but has all the benefits of a crossover. The Kona has all-road capability when equipped with its optional all-wheel drive and a fun character that drivers will enjoy.

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Pricing and trims

The Hyundai Kona is offered in four trims, two engines, and with and without all-wheel drive. The base FWD Kona starts at around $21K. An SEL one step up from the base with AWD starts around $24K.

We tested the Kona Ultimate with AWD and the up-powered 1.6-liter turbocharged engine. The total cost was $29,805 including freight.

Safety

The Kona has not yet been fully tested by the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety, but all of the crash test and active safety scores are great so far. One area the vehicle falls down on in testing is its headlights. Breaking from the new normal, the new Kona does not have active safety features like forward collision mitigation with auto braking standard. These are optional on the SEL and standard on the Ultimate.

Performance

The Kona comes standard with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that mates to a six-speed automatic transmission. Our up-powered 1.6-liter turbocharger-equipped Ultimate brought back fond memories of the Hyundai Elantra GT Sport we absolutely fell head over heels in love with in a recent week of testing. The turbo makes the Kona a fun to drive vehicle. The engine produces 175 hp in the Kona, which is not crazy power for a vehicle this size. However, the engine makes its maximum torque just off idle at 1,500 RPM. The dual-clutch seven-speed transmission is also fantastic. Shifts are snappy and in Sport mode this Kona Ultimate 1.6T AWD is really zippy. The Elantra GT Sport is lower, so it handles a bit better in corners, but not much better, and the AWD of the Kona helps put the power down better. With almost identical prices, it would be a very hard choice for us were we in a showroom looking at these two. It would all come down to snow. How badly do you need that AWD?  We need it badly, so we’d go with the Kona.

The Kona is smaller than a vehicle like a CR-V is, so one would assume that it has better fuel economy. Not so as our chart above shows. There is a sort of drop off in fuel economy gains after the compact crossover size.

Ride and handling

The Kona is a joy around town. It is a comfortable commuter-type “car” or it can be snappy when the Sport mode is engaged. Corners are not a problem and the Kona isn’t tippy or goofy like the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross can be. Hyundai did a great job making the Kona turn. Over bad roads, our Kona Ultimate with its low profile tires was fine. It’s no luxury car, but it doesn’t rattle your teeth either.

Seating

The seats in every top-trim Hyundai suit us just fine. Our perforated leather seats with power, heat and lumbar up front were outstanding. Comfortable and easy to adjust. The leg space is a bit narrow, but in this class you are somewhat confined by reality. Space in the back is decent. You will need to pull the front seats forward a few clicks to make room for rear seat passengers, but there is room for a pair of couples for sure and kids will be fine in the back.

Cargo

So if you are thinking that the Kona looks like a Honda CR-V-sized vehicle in these images let us bring you back to Earth. The Kona has 19.2 cubic feet of cargo space behind its rear seats. The CR-V has literally twice as much at 39.3 cu ft. A week’s worth of groceries will fit back there with no problem, but if your kids play hockey, you are going to have to drop a seat to put in a pair of hockey bags and sticks.

Infotainment and controls

We love Hyundai’s infotainment setup. The menus are super easy to navigate, syncing a phone is a snap, the ergonomics are great and the screens large and high quality for their class. Here’s a cool comparison; We just got out of a 2018 Genesis G80 base model. Our Kona Ultimate had a nearly identical infotainment system. Hyundai offers Apple Car Play and Android Auto and our Ultimate had a wireless power pad. Thumbs up. This is how to do infotainment and many luxury brands could learn much from Hyundai.

Overall

The Kona is a small crossover we love to drive. It is a really fun vehicle and its price point is very reasonable for what one gets at every trim level. This is not a vehicle that can be substituted for a CR-V or Tucson-sized crossover. It is not meant to be. Don’t try comparing them or you will come away unhappy. Think of the Kona on its own, and revel in what it is. This is a great CUV, possibly the best in its rapidly evolving class. Shoppers considering a Subaru Crosstrek, Mazda CX-3, or Honda HR-V would be crazy not to give the Kona close look.

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John Goreham

John Goreham