2018 Hyundai Kona Review

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2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Aaron Cole Aaron Cole Managing Editor
May 31, 2018

The 2018 Hyundai Kona compact crossover SUV uses its space—and your money—wisely.

The 2018 Hyundai Kona catches a wave of small crossover SUVs rushing toward showrooms. It’s the latest to replace the hatchbacks of yesteryear.

It’s Hyundai’s smallest crossover and strikes out with a style all its own. We’re more smitten with the price—for just $20,450 to start, the 2018 Kona is a good value among its competition such as the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, and Subaru Crosstrek. Like those competitors too, the Kona doesn’t get better by throwing more money at it—there’s good value right around $25,000. We give the Kona a 5.8 overall with an asterisk, because we think the best Kona to buy comes with a plug. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The Kona adopts a chunky, frenetic style that goes heavy on cladding and light on convention. We’ve seen looks like the Kona from other automakers—and some of those already have been abandoned.

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Thankfully the interior doesn’t work too hard and it’s convincingly sturdy, even though we know it’s built to a budget.

Under the hood is a 2.0-liter inline-4 or an optional 1.6-liter turbo-4, both mated to automatic transmissions. Those autoboxes aren’t the same; the 7-speed paired to the turbo-4 is clunky and fussy at low speeds. The 6-speed automatic is better suited to reality, and thankfully it costs less.

All-wheel drive is optional on every trim level for $1,300 and it’s more than all-weather traction, it’s also a better ride. Save money by opting out of the quicker engine and spend it on all-wheel drive, we say.

The Kona will fit five, barely. Average-sized adults will appreciate the taller ride height, which makes for easier entry and exit, and the leg room that’s built for 6-footers and shorter. We think everyone will appreciate nearly 20 cubic feet of cargo room and a low loading floor.

The Kona fits into Hyundai’s push for value, but just in one trim. The base SE is forgettable, but the only way to get into a Kona for less than $21,000. Step up to the SEL trim level and 17-inch wheels, blind-spot monitors, keyless ignition, and heated front seats award the extra outlay. For $1,500 more, SEL-trimmed Konas get a moonroof and active safety features that can help avoid a crash. Limited and Ultimate trim levels add the uprated engine and leather upholstery, but active safety features skip Limited and are standard on Ultimate. At nearly $30,000 fully loaded, the Kona Ultimate kind of misses the point, we think.

All trim levels get a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and a rearview camera.

For less than $25,000, a Kona SEL can be equipped with all-wheel drive and active safety features, which we think is good value.

And at around 30 mpg combined for most models, it’s not expensive to run either.

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2018 Hyundai Kona

Styling

The baby crossover in Hyundai’s lineup skips cute and heads right toward awkward adolescence.

Getting started is usually the toughest part.

The 2018 Hyundai Kona is new for the automaker and represents the first step toward a new look for Hyundai’s crossovers. The journey may be a long one.

The Kona mixes some elements we’ve seen from other automakers like Jeep and Audi—perhaps not in good ways. The interior doesn’t commit any sins, but we ring the bell on the exterior. It needs to grow on us. We give its looks a 4. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The Kona’s front end is where we start because of course we do. The split headlights and daylight running lights and cladding that reaches from the fenders into the bumper is an awkward, fussy motion. Its anxiety doesn’t end there.

Around the sides, deep creases in the doors and sculpted arches help break up any slab-sidedness—but that’s what the exaggerated cladding is for, too. It muddles around the Kona until eyes reach the tailgate when the split-light treatment finishes with disconnected taillights and turn signals. Sister-brand Kia does the trick better on its tailgates; the Kona just looks busy by our eyes.

It’s all settled in the inside of the Kona. The dash and seats largely skip the kitsch found outside, except in top trims where designers add a lick of lime green around vents and stitching. It’s OK, but it requires opting for a lime green exterior color that tries too hard.

By our eyes, the one we’d like to bring home is a two-tone red and black exterior, but we won’t—oddly, active safety isn’t available with two-tone paint. Bummer.

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2018 Hyundai Kona

Performance

The 2018 Hyundai Kona is ace when it’s base; the top-shelf engine carries too much baggage.

The 2018 Hyundai Kona lives on island time.

Most versions will be equipped with a 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 147 horsepower and is burdened with hauling about 3,200 pounds.

The Kona gets a 4 out of 10 on our scale for leisurely acceleration and that’s it. The ride is relatively composed and comfortable, provided you tick the right boxes. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The standard engine is paired to a smooth shifting 6-speed automatic that powers the front or all four wheels when optionally equipped. Those SE and SEL versions with the 2.0-liter aren’t quick—accelerating up to 60 mph will take more than 10 seconds—but are correctly geared for around-town jaunts at low speeds.

On paper, the 1.6-liter turbo that makes 175 hp should be a salve for the slows, but it’s burned by a finicky 7-speed dual-clutch automatic that we don’t like. Low-speed takeoff is a chore in the turbo version, and it’s no more fuel-efficient as the 2.0-liter. The engine is peppier, but it’s saddled with too much baggage by our book.

The Kona soaks up the road through MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam or multi-link suspension in the back, depending on model.

Front-drive versions use the solid beam to hit a lower price, and the setup isn’t bad—it’s just that the all-wheel-drive’s multi-link rear is better.

Our early drives of the Kona prototype revealed some damping issues that have been largely solved. Even on the big 18-inchers, the Kona’s ride doesn’t feel economy-car cheap and we logged several hundred miles on a Kona through pockmarked Hawaiian pavement to prove it.

The Kona’s 6.7 inches of ground clearance won’t traverse much more than dusty trail, but when coupled with the softer ride from a better suspension, the $1,300 extra seems justified.

Steering the Kona is a breeze, and the wheel doesn’t require much action to point the car in the right direction.

The Kona brakes and steers confidently without much slop, although there’s expected body leans from the tall-riding hatchback in twisty stuff. It’s par for the course among competitors.

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2018 Hyundai Kona

Comfort & Quality

The 2018 Hyundai Kona outruns its tight budget with decent materials, but leg room will be cramped for rear passengers.

Inexpensive cars have come a long way since the bad ol’ days.

Instead of cheap plastics and flimsy film-covered dashes, most budget cars come with reasonably solid materials and textured surfaces. It’s far from luxurious, but it’s far from bad too.

For $20,450 to start, the Kona comes equipped with seating for five adults (barely), good interior cargo room thanks to its hatchback, and a comfortable ride. It doesn’t punch above its weight class—even in top trims—but it’s enough to stay average and earn a point for capacity. We give it a 6. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The front seats are supportive and adjustable, and the Kona’s lifted ride height takes it easy on well-worn knees when it’s time to climb aboard. The base cloth interior is fine by our backsides, although leather is standard on Limited and Ultimate trim levels (we say skip both trims for multiple reasons).

For the most part, Hyundai has ditched the glossy piano black plastic trim for a matte finish that we think will wear better and look better. The controls are logically placed, with easy access, but just one USB port is baked into the Kona, underneath the climate controls.

Rear-seat passengers should be average build or smaller. The outboard positions are the most sculpted and have more support, but riding “hump” won’t be out of the question for small adults or children. The front seatbacks are scalloped enough for long legs to fold in the back, although our 6-foot-3 editor had his knees pressed against the seatbacks riding behind a similarly sized person.

Hyundai quotes 19.2 cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seats, 45.8 cubes with the seats folded. It’s good-sized space made better by a low loading floor and wide rear hatch opening.

The Kona mostly avoids feeling cheap through textured plastic and sound deadening, but the interior is very dark regardless. Black cloth will be a common sight, a gray interior color is available, although it’s mixed. Top trims with a green exterior color can add green bracelets around vents, but we’d skip the green inside—and outside.

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2018 Hyundai Kona

Safety

The 2018 Hyundai Kona lacks official crash-test data.

The 2018 Hyundai Kona is awaiting its dinner date with a wall, so we’re withholding our score for now. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Aside from official scores, the Kona is equipped with a standard complement of airbags including front head and knee airbags, and side-impact airbags for all passengers. In addition to standard traction and stability control systems, a rearview camera is standard on all trims too.

Active safety equipment is available, but it’s frustratingly walled into two trims. Blind-spot monitors are standard on SEL models and higher.

Forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, active lane control, automatic high beams, and drowsy driver alerts, are bundled into a package that Hyundai dubs “Smart Sense.” That package is available on SEL trim levels at $1,500 extra, or is standard on Kona Ultimate models, but isn’t available anywhere else.

That kind of packaging is frustrating, especially when automakers such as Toyota and Honda are making it standard on Kona-sized competitors such as the C-HR and HR-V, respectively.

We think $1,500 is a reasonable sum for the gear though, but it’s inexplicably excluded from some paint configurations, so shop carefully. 

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2018 Hyundai Kona

Features

Good standard features–including a touchscreen–and a warranty in the 2018 Hyundai Kona help it outrun poorly configured option packages.

Small cars aren’t savagely equipped anymore. Despite the Kona’s sub-$20,000 price tag, it boasts standard amenities that wouldn’t be out of place on a car twice its price. Even base Konas are equipped with cloth seats, 16-inch wheels, power features, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, Bluetooth connectivity, a rearview camera, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment.

That’s good base equipment, especially the touchscreen, and Hyundai’s superlative 5-year/60,000-mile warranty gives the new Kona three points above average. We take one back for some options agita that we describe below and land at a 7 out of 10 for features. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Hyundai offers the Kona in SE, SEL, Limited, and Ultimate trim levels with all-wheel drive optional at every stop for $1,300 more.

The SEL trim level will be the most popular with buyers and it’s our pick for best value. It upgrades the wheels to 17 inchers, adds blind-spot monitors, keyless ignition, satellite radio, heated front seats, and a leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel. A popular options package for $1,500 goes further with a sunroof, active safety features (that we cover separately), and power adjustable seats. That popular equipment package isn’t available with certain exterior colors, including a red and black color combo that we think looks best on the Kona. That’s frustrating and a Hyundai spokesman said that may change—we hope it’s soon.

The Limited trim level adds an uprated engine, LED taillights, 18-inch wheels, a standard sunroof, leather upholstery, and a power adjustable driver’s seat, but skips the active safety features altogether—it’s not even a spend-up option.

The Ultimate trim throws the rest of Hyundai’s gear at the Kona for nearly $30,000 all-in. It adds an 8.0-inch touchscreen with premium Harman Kardon audio, a head-up display, wireless charging mat for a smartphone, standard active safety equipment, automatic wipers, and navigation.

The premium audio sounds great, and the uprated touchscreen is nice, but the head-up display and other gear make the big price a tough ask.

Regardless of trim level, there’s just one standard USB port, underneath the climate controls. It’s the only way to run Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which means it’s 2.1 amps, but it also means that charging multiple devices will take a plug into the 12-volt socket. A Hyundai spokesman told us that the company recognized the oversight and will include a small dongle in each Kona for new buyers, but there’s no USB chargers—or 12-volt sockets—for rear passengers available at all.

We’d be more than happy with an SEL with active safety right around $25,000, if it were our money.

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2018 Hyundai Kona

Fuel Economy

The 2018 Hyundai Kona reaches up to 30 mpg combined but adding all-wheel drive dents that number a little.

The 2018 Hyundai Kona is relatively fuel-efficient among small cars but opting for all-wheel drive has a stiff penalty.

We think the most popular versions for buyers will be front-wheel-drive Kona SELs that are rated by the EPA at 27 mpg city, 33 highway, 30 combined. Those numbers earn it an 8 out of 10 on our fuel economy scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Adding all-wheel drive, a $1,300 option, drops those numbers to 25/30/27 mpg.

A more powerful 1.6-liter turbo-4 is available in Limited and Unlimited trim levels. The EPA rates it 28/32/30 mpg for front-wheel drive, 26/29/27 mpg with all-wheel drive.

Those numbers are close to the Kona’s competition, which include the Mazda CX-3, Subaru Crosstrek, and Honda HR-V. All three hover around 30 mpg combined in most configurations.

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$19,500
MSRP based on SE 2.0L Automatic
 
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5.8
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 4
Performance 4
Comfort & Quality 6
Safety N/A
Features 7
Fuel Economy 8
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