- Squirty handling
- Standard automatic emergency braking
- Very good infotainment
- Reasonable fuel economy
- Kona Electric
- Busy to the eye
- Sluggish off the line
- Shifty dual-clutch transmission
- Snug back seat
- Value sags at the top
features & specs
The 2021 Hyundai Kona wears like statement jewelry, and drives like a bargain.
The 2021 Hyundai Kona would like your attention, please. Now.
It’s a small crossover SUV with economy-car roots, but the 2021 Kona has fancy hardware, from all-wheel drive to a dual-clutch transmission to an all-electric companion—and it’s all wrapped in a shape that demands you notice it.
Sold in SE, SEL, Ultimate, and Limited versions—and in that separate Kona Electric model—the 2021 Kona earns a TCC Rating of 6.3 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Kona is a lot to look at. All the clever crossover-SUV styling tricks show up here, from floating-roof cues to highlighter highlights to stacked headlights. It’s distinctive, but that doesn’t equal coherent. It’s better and more soothing inside, where a more routine layout of controls and a now-usual touchscreen interface take the wheel.
Selecting the right Kona for performance takes some hoop-jumping. Base cars get a middling 147-horsepower inline-4 and a smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic; we’d take the latter with the optional and way more perky 175-hp turbo-4 instead of the shifty 7-speed dual-clutch that’s supplied. (Truth? The Kona Electric has the best powertrain of them all.) Powertrain confusion aside, the Kona drives better with available all-wheel drive, which comes with an independent rear suspension that makes the most of its short wheelbase. It’s perky, entertaining on back roads, and easy to needle through city streets.
Four or five people can fit in the Kona, but the second-row seat’s snug for large adults even if only two come along for the ride. Flip down the back seat and the Kona can hold 45.8 cubic feet of cargo—about 30 boxes of books to curse at when you move, as we vividly recall.
Every Kona comes with automatic emergency braking, and the IIHS and the NHTSA give the crossover sterling crash-test scores. Base cars have a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility; our sweet spot is the $23,340 Kona SEL, which gets keyless start, 17-inch wheels, heated front seats, satellite radio, and blind-spot monitors. The Kona’s killer app? A 5-year/60,000-mile warranty and for 2021, three years or 36,000 miles of free maintenance.
We review the Kona Electric separately.
2021 Hyundai Kona
It’s party on the outside, business inside the Kona.
Have you seen a crossover-SUV styling cue you like? Chances are it’s in place on the 2021 Hyundai Kona, a busy-looking crossover that wears a lot of flash in its quest for attention. It’s less complicated inside, for which we give thanks—but we still give a 4 overall for the look.
The Kona doesn’t suffer so much from excess as it does from mismatch. The details abound—and they don’t line up. The headlights stack in tiers; the front end wears non-functional vents. There’s enough plastic body cladding to bring back memories of the old Honda Element, and the Kona can’t really live up to that functional hit. It’s complicated to look at and to touch, and not cohesive enough to be distinctive in the right ways. We can appreciate the boundaries Hyundai wanted to push with the Kona, but it’s not as convincing as it might have been.
The cabin reads differently, like a familiar book. The controls are laid out in a logical way, with pods of controls and vents framed in a lot of black and gray. The Kona’s central touchscreen lightens up the mood—we’re still waiting for a crackling-fireplace wallpaper for the screen. It’s not quite sober, but not nearly so radical as the body; the Kona interior seems almost to belong to a different car altogether.
2021 Hyundai Kona
The Kona handles well, but its powertrains need more refinement.
The gas-powered Hyundai Kona can handle winding roads, but its engines and transmissions lag. We much prefer its battery-powered Kona Electric companion, which we review separately. Here, the Kona’s a 4.
Base Kona crossovers adopt a 2.0-liter inline-4 that churns out 147 hp. It’s teamed to a 6-speed automatic that sends power to the front wheels. If that sounds like an economy car, it is—and the Kona seems sluggish in this configuration. All-wheel drive helps with traction in wet weather, but it adds weight and cost too, so we’d avoid it in this configuration.
The Kona Limited and Ultimate swap out the base engine for a 1.6-liter turbo-4 with 175 hp, but they also drop the traditional automatic for a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic that feels hesitant and gets confused at city speeds. The base transmission is better, but the turbo-4’s finer at full boil. It’s a quandary we solve—again—with the Kona Electric.
In handling the Kona fares much better. The independent suspension on all-wheel-drive versions delivers deft handling (front-drive models have a twist-beam rear that’s a little less planted) and good ride comfort for a car that rides on a short wheelbase. Steering feel builds heft when the Kona’s drive modes flip into Sport, and the ride degrades a bit when the larger 18-inch wheels are fitted, so finding the best Kona performance is a needle-threading exercise. With all-wheel drive, the Kona has 6.7 inches of ground clearance, so visions of Moab would be better replaced by visions of a close-in parking spot at Costco on a rainy weekend morning.
2021 Hyundai Kona
Comfort & Quality
The Kona’s smaller than a Tucson—and not much bigger than a Venue.
Hyundai slots the Kona crossover between its Tucson and Venue utility vehicles, but it’s closer in size to the value-packed Venue—and that makes it more suitable for two adults and occasional passengers rather than four people on long hauls.
We think it’s a 6 for comfort, thanks to its spacious cargo hold.
The Kona’s front seats have good bolstering and range of adjustment; they sit relatively high, which sells this crossover SUV to people who might think a Kia Soul is too low. The cloth seats can be upgraded to leather in the top trim.
While the seats themselves are fine, the Kona’s cabin is snug, and rear seats are limited in shoulder and knee room for adults. Head room works better, thanks to the Kona’s bubble-roof design.
The rear seats fold down to boost the Kona’s cargo space from 19.2 cubic feet to 45.8 cubic feet. Better than some lower-riding hatchbacks, the Kona has a wide hatch and a low load floor, which makes for an easier cargo loading experience.
The Kona interior comes in gray or black, and it’s somewhat drab but tightly fitted.
2021 Hyundai Kona
The Kona comes standard with great crash-test scores.
Crash-test scores put the Kona near the top of its small-SUV niche—so we give it a 9 here.
The NHTSA pegs the Kona at five stars overall, with a sole four-star score for rollover risk. The IIHS gives it “Good” scores in all its crash tests, and a Top Safety Pick award.
All Kona crossovers come with automatic emergency braking. Blind-spot monitors become available on the SEL, while Ultimate Konas get a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control.
Outward vision is mostly fine, but the rearward view from the Kona’s driver seat isn’t great, thanks to its thick roof pillars.
2021 Hyundai Kona
The Kona’s best in its value-packed SEL trim.
Hyundai fits all Kona crossovers with lots of features and covers them with the same great warranty, but the SEL offers the best value. We give it 9 out of 10 here.
Base $21,540 Kona SE crossovers have power features, cloth upholstery, 16-inch wheels, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth, and automatic emergency braking.
Hyundai’s 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty covers the Kona, and it expands to 10 years/100,000 miles for the powertrain. Hyundai also includes three years of free maintenance on all its 2021 models.
The $23,340 Kona SEL adds 17-inch wheels, keyless start, heated front seats, blind-spot monitors, and satellite radio. It’s our favorite, and can be fitted with a sunroof and Infinity audio. The $25,190 SEL Plus adds to that a power driver seat and wireless smartphone charging.
The $27,340 Kona Limited deletes the sunroof and gains leather upholstery, 18-inch wheels, a power driver’s seat, LED headlights and taillights, and the turbo-4 engine. The $29,190 Ultimate gets a head-up display, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, wireless smartphone charging, and navigation. It’s a lot to spend on a small crossover.
2021 Hyundai Kona
The Kona turns in fine fuel economy, but the Electric’s the ultimate.
Hyundai’s Kona generates strong gas mileage ratings, but the electric model puts a bet on a future without gas.
We give the Kona a 6 for fuel economy, and rate that battery-powered version separately in another review.
Base Kona SE and SEL hatchbacks sport a 2.0-liter inline-4. With front-wheel drive, they’re rated at 27 mpg city, 33 highway, 30 combined. All-wheel drive drops ratings to 25/30/27 mpg.
With the turbo-4, the front-drive Kona earns EPA ratings of 28/32/30 mpg; all-wheel-drive turbos check in at 26/29/27 mpg.