Subcompact crossovers are all the rage these days, but Hyundai was the one hold-out in this segment. With the launch of the all-new 2018 Hyundai Kona, though, Hyundai finally has a vehicle to go up against a multitude of B-segment CUVs that include the Chevrolet Trax, Toyota C-HR, Ford EcoSport, Mazda CX-3 — just to name a few.
The 2018 Hyundai Kona might be fashionably late to the subcompact CUV segment — but at least it’s fashionable. By this point, most people have probably seen the Kona and its unique styling, but we wanted to dig a little deeper to see how Hyundai’s newest crossover stacks up in one of the industry’s hottest segments. For that, we spent a week in a fully loaded 2018 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD for this test drive review.
2018 Hyundai Kona Exterior
There’s no denying that the overall styling of the 2018 Hyundai Kona is polarizing – to say the least – but this crossover does have two things going for it. First of all, the Kona competes in a segment chocked full of quirky design languages ranging from familiar (CX-3 and Jeep Renegade) to flamboyant (C-HR and Nissan Kicks); the Kona easily falls into this latter group. There’s also the fact that we’ve already been warmed up to this particular front end design with vehicles such as the 2014-18 Jeep Cherokee and Nissan Juke.
The Kona’s styling goes far beyond its front end, which is highlighted by the LED daytime running lights/turn signals positioned above the headlights. Every angle of the 2018 Hyundai Kona adds some level of distinction to the overall design including the sharp creases along the side of the body. The rear end gets a similar treatment as the front where the LED taillights (standard on Ultimate) have a narrow, horizontal layout and the reverse lights/turn signals are separate dropping down to bumper height. This Kona looked about as low-key as you can get it with the Thunder Gray paint job rendering the matte-gray plastic cladding less obvious. If you want maximum visual impact, check out some of the Kona’s more extroverted colors such as Lime Twist, Pulse Red or Surf Blue.
2018 Hyundai Kona Interior
As we’ve seen from some of the bolder Hyundai products (specifically the Veloster and Santa Fe) recently, the interior of the 2018 Hyundai Kona isn’t all that different from other Hyundai crossovers. The available lime green accents spice up an otherwise all-black cabin, which is far better looking than others in this segment such as the Chevy Trax. Despite the Kona’s small footprint, this CUV has a surprisingly roomy cabin with sufficient room tall adults to ride in the back, and overall cabin space that isn’t that far off from the compact Elantra GT> hatchback; there’s also 19.2 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats up and 45.8 cubic feet with the seats folded flat not to mention some hidden storage compartments under the cargo load floor.
In terms of content, even the base Kona comes well equipped with features that include a large, seven-inch touch-screen infotainment system, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as well as a large center console with armrest – not a given in this segment. Although we’ve yet to sample the Kona in a lower trim level, this Kona Ultimate has a cabin experience that might be on par with more luxury-minded subcompacts like the Volvo XC40 offering added amenities such as leather seating with heated front seats, head-up display, wireless smartphone charger, Blue Link connected services, rain-sensing windshield wipers and a bigger eight-inch touch-screen with navigation, HD Radio and an eight-speaker Infinity audio system.
2018 Hyundai Kona Powertrain
The 2018 Hyundai Kona is a looker with a great interior, but my best impression of this baby CUV was how it drove. A base Kona gets a more efficient and value-oriented powertrain consisting of a 2.0-liter four-cylinder paired to a six-speed automatic, but if you want a little more fun, then Hyundai has you covered. The optional 1.6-liter turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder mates to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, and it delivers a peppy output of 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are available with either front- or all-wheel drive, with this tester (a turbocharged, AWD model) receiving EPA-rated fuel economy estimates of 26 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway** – FWD and AWD models have identical combined mpg rating with the base (30 mpg) and turbocharged (27 mpg) engines.
With its optional powertrain, the Kona is extremely fun to drive exhibiting handling and acceleration that is better than the Mazda CX-3 – a perennial favorite in this segment. Hyundai has already proven that it can create fun small cars as evidenced by the Elantra GT Sport and Veloster Turbo, and the Kona 1.6T AWD is even more proof. In its Normal driving mode, the Kona rides like your typical small CUV, but push the button for Sport mode and the throttle and steering response tighten up for better driver engagement. The AWD is also a better choice for enthusiast-minded drives thanks to its multi-link independent rear suspension, which replaces the FWD’s torsion beam rear axle.
The Kona even has some decent off-road potential with 6.7 inches of ground clearance, impressively short rear overhang and an AWD lock button to keep the powertrain in AWD at low speeds. I drove the Kona AWD on some rocky terrain where the wheels had plenty of grip seamlessly sending the engine power to the ground without fuss and at no point did the suspension bottom out or body scrape the ground.
2018 Hyundai Kona Safety
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not yet rated the 2018 Hyundai Kona, but this little crossover delivers big on passenger safety. With the exception of the base SE trim level, the Kona comes standard with blind-spot collision warning, rear cross-traffic collision warning and lane change assist. Stepping up to the Ultimate trim level adds rear park distance warning and Hyundai Smart Sense (consisting of forward collision avoidance assist with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist, driver attention warning and high beam assist).
2018 Hyundai Kona Overall
Hyundai sure took its time to join the red-hot subcompact crossover segment, but the 2018 Hyundai Kona is definitely worth the wait. If you can’t get past the Kona’s polarizing exterior design, then you’re missing out, because Hyundai’s newest CUV has an interior and powertrain options that are far and away the best in this highly competitive class.
And with a starting price of just $18,500*, the 2018 Hyundai Kona is a lot of car for not a lot of money. Of course, if you want the added performance, safety and technology shown on this tester, you’ll have to opt for the Kona Ultimate AWD, which comes loaded with no options and an as-tested price $29,805.
Make sure to visit your local AutoNation Hyundai dealership and test drive the 2018 Hyundai Kona today!
*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.
**Based on 2018 EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending on specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.