Our test car this week is a top-shelf Kona Ultimate with all-wheel drive. The car we drove was a 2018 model, though things have changed slightly for 2019. The Ultimate comes with LED lighting, keyless entry with push-button start, heated front seats, a heads-up display, wireless charging, an upgraded stereo and more.
Senior Editor, Green, John Beltz Snyder — I found the Kona in the parking lot, hopped in, synced my phone, and headed out in a bit of a daze. I immediately started to relax driving the Kona, though. It was easy to drive and easy to use, if a bit more of an appliance than a thing of fancy. The lane-keep assist worked surprisingly well, and did so without being intrusive. I popped up the little mechanical head-up display and, even though my mirrors and windows offered a good sense of what was around me, I liked being able to keep my eyes forward and know when a car was in either of my blind spots.
It wasn’t until I got home and my large son (an absolute unit, that lad) pulled me outside to show him the Kona. He was taken by it, and, eventually, so was I. It looks great in this sort of electric blue, and the exterior accents make it look somewhat sporty (even if Sport mode does little to actually make it feel that way). The rear view is better than the face, though, I’ll admit.
I’m glad I didn’t have to give the little man a ride, though. That rear seat is tiny, and my boy’s big car seat and long legs wouldn’t have been a great fit.
Associate Editor Joel Stocksdale — I’m quite a fan of the Hyundai Kona. I love its funky aggressive styling, even after it’s been on the market for a while. And I quite like the way it drives, with either engine. A big part of this is that it’s a sprightly little handler. The steering is quick, well-weighted and precise, and the car turns in quickly and confidently. It also doesn’t feel as top-heavy as the Ford EcoSport. The handling doesn’t come at the cost of ride quality, either. It is on the firm side, but does manage to keep the body smooth and steady over minor bumps, so it doesn’t feel busy or nervous. And regardless of whether you choose the turbo or non-turbo engine with front-drive or all-wheel-drive, you’ll get the same chassis dynamics.
You’ll also find both powertrains to be pleasant. I’ve driven the non-turbo model, and it feels just as quick as the rest of the fairly slow subcompact crossover set. Its automatic is smooth, too. The turbo engine is the most fun, though, and makes the Kona the hot rod of the segment. It comes with a dual-clutch automatic that shifts fairly quickly in manual mode, and picks gears decently. I did run across a couple of times that it felt the clutches were slipping too much, which makes me wish the torque converter automatic was also on the turbo model.
The Kona is an easy car to use, too. It has Hyundai and Kia’s sensible infotainment system augmented with plenty of handy physical buttons. There are even nice tech upgrades such as a crisp heads-up display. Visibility is excellent, as well. The only downside is that the Kona is a little tight inside, especially compared with Crosstrek and Eclipse Cross. It’s also a somewhat drab interior with just dark gray plastic. Non-turbo models get houndstooth upholstery that adds some flair, and the top model in green gets neat green accents that help brighten things up. Overall, though, the Kona is a stylish fun crossover that’s a great choice in a big segment.
Video Production Manager Eddie Sabatini — I took the Hyundai Kona home the other day, but I’m having a hard time coming up with much to say about it. Not because I dislike it, I don’t — it’s fine but just doesn’t really inspire me. The color is easy on the eyes. The interior is nice enough with good tech/creature comforts, but it felt boxy and the cabin seemed to echo some. It rides and handles fine, but acceleration isn’t great — even in “Sport” mode. All things considered, I’d prefer a CX-3.