We drove a $30,000 Hyundai Kona SUV to see if it's ready to take on Jeep, Honda, and Toyota. Here's the verdict.

Benjamin Zhang/Business InsiderOur 2018 Hyundai Kona Ultimate test car.
  • The Hyundai Kona is one of the newest contenders in the subcompact crossover SUV market.
  • Its rivals in the market include the Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V, Toyota CH-R, Nissan Kicks, and Mazda CX-3.
  • Kona comes standard with a 147 horsepower, 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. A 175 hp turbocharged engine is available as an option.
  • We were impressed by the Kona’s peppy turbocharged engine, sporty driving dynamics, and its solid array of standard tech features.
  • We aren’t quite in love with Kona’s quirky styling and limited cargo capacity.

From the armada of Cadillac Escalades invading mall parking lots across America to the millions of the car-based crossovers dotting the nation’s driveways, SUVs are everywhere these days

While the idea of the SUV within the collective conscious may be that of a rugged off-roader, the vast majority of SUVs sold in the US are actually car-based crossovers. In many cases, they are nothing more than economy hatchbacks with some extra ride height.

This is especially the case for entry-level subcompact crossovers SUVs.

But, these “cute utes” have become increasingly popular thanks to the recent tidal wave of demand for SUVs.

According to data from Kelley Blue Book, the segment accounts for 3.6% of the American auto market. While it doesn’t have the sheer sales volume of the compact SUVs and full-size pickup trucks, it is still a rapidly growing segment.

Read more: We drove a $US49,000 Toyota Highlander and a $US49,000 Honda Pilot to see which is the better family SUV – here’s the verdict.

In 2018, automakers sold nearly 620,000 sub-compact crossover SUVs in the US that’s up more than 30% over the previous year.

One of the newest additions to the segment is the Hyundai Kona.

Recently, Business Insider had the chance to spend a few days behind the wheel of a 2018 Hyundai Kona complete with a Thunder Grey paint job. (The 2018 Kona carries over into 2019 with only minor updates.)

The base 2019 Hyundai Kona SE starts at $US19,990 while the top spec Kona Ultimate starts at $US27,500. The mid-grade SEL and Limited trims start at $US21,800 and $US25,550 respectively. All-wheel-drive is available as a $US1,400 option. With options and fees, our 2018 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD carried an as-tested price of $US29,850.

Here’s a closer look at the 2018 Hyundai Kona.


Here it is! The Hyundai Kona.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

It’s the entry-level crossover SUV in Hyundai’s lineup and slots in just below the Tucson compact crossover.

Hyundai

In the market, the Kona’s rivals include the Mazda CX-3, …

Mazda

… Honda HR-V, …


… Nissan Kicks, …

Nissan

… Toyota CH-R, and…

Toyota

… The segment-leading Jeep Renegade.


Let’s start with the most controversial part of the Kona. Its styling. It’s quirky and unconventional. While I’m not in exactly in love with it, I have to admit the modern looks fit the upbeat personality of the car.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The front end is the least conventional part of the design. Even though the hexagonal Hyundai corporate grille takes up the most real estate, it’s the headlight setup that receives the most attention.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The LED running lights are up top and the fog lamps are at the bottom. The actual headlamps are actually located midway between the two.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Here’s a close up of the head lights.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

It’s a similar in setup to the pre-facelift KL-Series Jeep Cherokee.

Jeep

Click here to read our review of the 2019 Jeep Cherokee.


The Kona is 13.7 feet long and 5.1 feet tall.

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The Kona’s side profile is highlighted by its pronounced wheel haunches and short rear overhang.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The rear end is also modern and a bit unconventional.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

I’m a fan of these spiffy alloy wheels.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Inside, the Kona is far more conventional. In fact, apart from the lime green accents, it’s almost understated.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Our test car’s interior felt well-put together with quality materials. The 8-way power leather seats were remarkably supportive.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The cabin proved to be well designed and easy to use.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

In front of the driver is a pair of clear and concise analogue gauges that flank a 4.2-inch colour information display. Lower-spec Konas come standard with a 3.5-inch display.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Ultimate trim Konas come standard with this flip-up colour head-up display.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Our Ultimate trim Kona came equipped with an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment display. All other Kona trim levels come standard with a seven-inch unit.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The Hyundai infotainment system proved to be remarkably easy and straightforward to use.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The on-screen prompts mesh well with the physical buttons located around the screen.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Our test car came with a built-in navigation system.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

All Kona’s come standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Our only major complaint with the Hyundai system is regarding its voice activation function that proved to be very finicky and inconsistent.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The back up camera also lives in the touchscreen.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The Kona is also available with wireless charging.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The Kona’s second row boasts ample room for two adults.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

There is 34.6 inches of legroom and 37.8 inches of headroom.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Lift up the tailgate and…

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… You’ll find 19.2 cubic feet of car space. This is where it falls behind rivals such as the Honda HR-V which boasts 23 cubic feet. Fold down the rear seats and capacity goes up to 45.8 cubic feet.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Under the cargo floor is a storage tray which…

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… Covers up the spare tire.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Under the hood, our test car came equipped with a 1.6 litre, 175 horsepower, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine. It’s standard on Limited and Ultimate trim levels.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

It’s paired with a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. Lower trim Konas come with a 2.0 litre, 147 horsepower, naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine that’s paired with a traditional six-speed automatic.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

EPA fuel economy estimates for the AWD Turbo Kona are 26 mph city, 29 mpg highway, and 27 mpg combined.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Our test car returned an impressive 30.2 mpg of fuel economy in mixed city and highway driving on the roads in and around Atlanta, Georgia.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

For those who want to take the Kona off-road, there is 6.7 inches of ground clearance.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The all-wheel-drive system comes with a locking center differential. An uncommon sight in crossovers of its type.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

What’s it like to drive?

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The Hyundai Kona is one of the most impressive small crossovers we’ve driven. The turbocharged engine and dual-clutch transmission work well together, delivering its bountiful power with aplomb.

The chassis feels tight and well sorted. The torque vectoring system makes the already nimble little crossover even more capable around the twisty bits.


The verdict.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

To say we were surprised would be an understatement. The Hyundai Kona certainly snuck up on us.

And we are thankful to have had the chance to drive it because it’s a seriously good little crossover.

What stood out to us was all the features one wouldn’t normally find in a subcompact crossover. Features such as torque vectoring, a locking center differential, a head-up display, and dual-clutch transmission.

Hyundai certainly didn’t cut corners with the Kona.

So, if you’re in the market for a fun little crossover SUV, don’t worry about the funky styling, the Hyundai Kona is well worth it.

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